MARCH 18 — The second anniversary of the March 8, 2008 General Elections has been marked by defections and sackings of Parti Keadilan Rakyat MPs and former leaders.
It is unfortunate that this took place while Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is facing another round of persecution at the courts.
Defections and sackings are nothing new in Malaysian politics.
PAS sacked its Deputy President, Dato’ Hassan Adli, for defying the party whip on the Kelantan crisis in 1977.
Five years later, Datuk Asri Muda, the PAS President who sacked Hassan resigned from PAS along with his wife Datin Sakinah Joned who was the PAS Muslimat Chief and four PAS MPs.
PAS was then left with a single MP — a certain Nik Aziz Nik Mat from Pengkalan Chepa.
In 1989, the party’s Vice-President Ustaz Nakhaie Ahmad left to join UMNO.
UMNO itself lost its founding President Dato’ Onn Jaafar when it rejected his appeals to allow non-Malays to join the party. As a matter of fact, PAS was actually the religious wing of UMNO and they became separate political entities shortly after 1951.
During Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed’s time in office, the second and third UMNO Presidents Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn respectively chose not to join UMNO Baru and died outside the party.
As for the rest of Barisan Nasional, defectors from the MCA and Gerakan have cross-pollinated each other’s parties for decades.
The MIC too has lost members to the IPF. One could go on and on about the history of political defections in East Malaysia.
Within the Opposition ranks, the DAP has also suffered from its legislators hopping over. This has sadly been an issue for Keadilan since its beginning as well.
Deputy President Chandra Muzaffar, Youth Leader Ezam Mohd Noor and his stalwarts have all left the party.
So has Datuk Nallakarupan and now several of those elected on 8 March 2008.
While Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has personally apologised for the quality of candidates we had in the 2008 elections, we cannot view the situation without recognising that a lot it is also due to with the country’s debased political culture stemming from the elected dictatorship that we have suffered from for so long.
Politics has come to mean power for power’s sake only, or rather, for patronage. It’s sometimes the only thing you need to succeed in certain parties.
In addition, our social security system is dysfunctional. Often, our civil service does not function without political intervention.
As a result, people who need help have often nowhere to turn to except their legislators. While the actual power of our Parliament and State Assemblies has declined, the public’s expectations of towards their Yang Berhormats have grown. It’s no longer enough to be a mere legislator — the modern Malaysian MP or ADUN must also be a business lobbyist, welfare officer, garbage collector and even marriage counsellor!
In my sessions with my constituents, I grapple with all these problems and realise that is what ordinary Malaysians want from their Yang Berhormats.
Not that my colleagues or I resent that in any way. That’s why many of us ran for office in the first place, to serve the people. But it does give you an idea of the scale of the work we do.
Furthermore, Keadilan’s challenge isn’t limited to that of a young party. We’re also seeking to change Malaysia’s political for the better, as espoused in our primary objective to realise “a society that is just and a nation that is democratic, progressive and united.” That means turning Malaysian politics — corrupt, sectarian and authoritarian — on its head.
It means treading on toes and taking on vested interests. They will very often strike back without restraint, hence the dramas we’ve had to deal with.
Keadilan’s was born on the streets. We came to life in the battles for hearts and minds on university campuses and kampungs, during days of Reformasi, nourished by the blood, sweat and tears of the people.
Back then, facing water cannons and getting thrown into jail were and still are badges of honour.
The sacrifices our founding members made were great: civil servants were transferred to far-flung places, businessmen lost their contracts while students were warned or even expelled from universities.
What united the first Reformists were not the typical Malaysian threads of race and religion, but the very basic desire to stand up for liberty and justice.
Reformasi shattered the illusion that Malaysians are a fundamentally selfish people. Our best leaders and members didn’t fall from the sky or come out of the woodwork- they were tempered and tested and prevailed. And we will still prevail.
Seeing the mood of the people then, some thought the struggle would be short, and that success would come soon. Some were disappointed when in 1999 we managed to win only 5 seats in the Malay belt and many of our heavyweights were defeated.
So a whole bunch of them left or fell away. But that wasn’t the lowest ebb of our party.
Our most difficult moment came in 2004, when UMNO won 90 percent of the Parliamentary seats and Keadilan was left Permatang Pauh. Cynics concluded that Malaysia was not ready for multiracial progressive politics and that Keadilan would end up as another Semangat 46. They’re still saying that, come to think of it.
But the party loyalists and reformists laboured on. I came back from the UK a year later and immediately joined the Kelana Jaya division. It was one of the better divisions, but even then our meetings were held in mamak shops or the homes of members as we could not afford an office.
While most preferred to keep away, a dedicated kept the flame alive.
We organised bowling tournaments to reach out to the young and raise money for our youth wing. In a voluntary tuition project I started a few months before the election, a few friends and I gathered volunteers, designed and hung banners, distributed leaflets and taught the students.
We were driven, not by the hope that we would get contracts some day but by our belief that this was the party that Malaysia needed and that it had to be built from ground up.
As the youth wing tried to rebuild itself, we crisscrossed the country to distribute leaflets, motivate tired members and speak to the public in ceramahs.
I remember one of our youth excos, Kesavan, who declared proudly that he will only get married if he wins in the12th General Elections in Hutan Melintang, Perak. We laughed – if past performance was an indication, Kesavan might remain single for the rest of his life. When I stopped by his constituency to distribute leaflets, people did not know that Keadilan was still alive and kicking. It did not look good.
Thus the experience of power following our 8 March 2008 victory was a challenge (including for YB Kesavan, who, to the relief of family and friends won and could now get married!).
On the one hand, there we have reformists who are eager to break with the past and chart a new course for the country, seeking opportunities that were denied to them due to their political affiliation during BN’s reign.
Furthermore, with the public expectations as such, being an elected representative in Malaysia is indeed expensive and burdensome.
But there were other characters who thought that politics is a get-rich-quick scheme for them and their followers. They hoped for more of the same debased political culture, only with a new name.
When the Pakatan Rakyat governments persevered with our commitment to promote competency, accountability and transparency as the bottom line of our administrations however, they decided to hold the party ransom by using their seats as bargaining chips. Others, such as those in Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s Kuala Selangor division tried to embarrass Menteri Besar by ranting to the press.
With little regard for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s efforts on building Pakatan Rakyat as a credible coalition and a government-in-waiting, not to mention facing another round of political persecution, they put their interests first.
When their demands were not met by the party, they left, bellyaching about being disappointed with the party’s stand on Islam and Malay issues and expressed their dissatisfaction with other Pakatan leaders.
They portrayed themselves as high-principled statesmen, when the truth is that their motives were far more mundane and sinister.
While these personalities mob the headlines, the countless ordinary members, reformists and committed leaders of Pakatan continue the struggle quietly. They do so without reward or fanfare, often against great odds and temptations.
One of our state assemblymen told me of countless calls he has received from BN and their agents, trying to get him to jump ship. He has run up a RM40, 000 debt on his credit card, using the money to meet his commitments to his voters. He confided to me, “I can accept their offers and have an easy life. But how will I be able to face to the voters who gave me their trust?”
Another example: I recently bumped into another member at a mosque, who told me that he wanted to lie low after the 8th of March. When asked why, since he worked hard for our victory, he said he did not want to be seen as asking for favours now that the party is in power.
Building a movement that continues to be faithful to its founding ideals and embraces the entire diversity of the Malaysian public while facing a corrupt and authoritarian system will never be easy. But it is undoubtedly necessary.
Some thought that 2008 marked the end of the struggle. They were wrong. Our struggle continues, and it will not be over even on the day we take control of Putrajaya. The struggle to empower Malaysians, to return justice and liberty to our land will continue. It must continue as long as there are Malaysians who suffer or despair.
The work may never be complete in our lifetimes, but as John F. Kennedy said —let us begin. By embarking on this journey, we can God willing one day rest easy in the knowledge that we have done our part in leaving a better Malaysia to our children.
* Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad is the political secretary to the Selangor mentri besar and state assemblyman for Seri Setia. He was the youngest elected representative in the 2008 general election and blogs at www.niknazmi.com. His book, “Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st Century” was recently published by Marshall Cavendish and is available in major bookstores. The views expressed are his own.