|KUALA LUMPUR, Mac 8: Two years ago today, little-fancied PKR, DAP and PAS gave the mighty Umno-BN a run for its money, taking five of the country’s 13 states and 51 percent of the popular vote on the peninsula.|
Twenty-four months hence, is the Pakatan Rakyat stronger or weaker? To get a gauge, let’s assess what Pakatan has been up to since.
Firstly – as in most importantly because it is a key indicator of their commitment to each other - the trio has applied to be registered as a formal coalition. They have also signed a Common Policy Framework that lays out their targets, goals and duties to each other.
Then new kid on the block PKR, seen as the coalition’s weakest link with just about a decade of political history, has begun a much-needed purge or cleaning-up exercise to raise the quality of its lawmakers and restore voters' confidence in the party.
Its much-more established partners PAS and DAP – formerly ideological opponents – have learnt to co-operate with each after a baptism of fire. All three have learned to communicate better among themselves and with the public at large.
In Selangor, former corporate captain Khalid Ibrahim is fitting well into his role of Mentri Besar and there is little there that doubt Pakatan will retain the state in the next elections – despite or perhaps thanks to the overkill from his predecessor Khir Toyo in trying to regain the state.
To north in Penang and east in Kelantan, the chances of Umno-BN returning to power is zero. The next general election is due latest by March 2013, but snap polls are widely predicted for 2011.
In Perak, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s chances of retaining the state he wrested from Pakatan’s Nizar Jamaluddin with trickery most foul are slim.
Even in Kedah, PAS Mentri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak is ahead in the race. He will soon announce bold changes to the state executive council and only those who work hard and service the people will be retained. This is the new Pakatan thrust to stay in the game.
Performance the key
Indeed, performance is the latest clarion call of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim. It is déjà-vu for the charismatic leader as he faces jail on a second round of sodomy charges, this time trumped up not by Mahathir and Daim but by Najib and Rosmah.
That is how afraid the Umno-BN is of Anwar and Pakatan.
In the past two years, it was not only Anwar, who enjoyed a surge in popularity. The national profiles of Hadi Awang, Nik Aziz, Kit Siang, Guan Eng and Karpal Singh have jumped and they are now giants in their own right. Anwar and team are now the leaders Malaysians turn to in the hope that they can steer the country into a new era, not the Umno-BN.
At the Pakatan March 8 2008 Second Anniversary rally held in Malay stronghold of Kampung Baru on Sunday, with the Twin Towers providing a brilliant backdrop for the thousands who thronged the event, impassioned shouts of ‘reformasi’ rang out spontaneously throughout the night.
“Let me tell you, do not trust them, the Kampung Baru villagers must decide the development plan,” an in his element Anwar told the cheering crowd.
Concrete steps for the coming two years
But Anwar and his Pakatan team know rhetoric can only take them so far. Indeed, they are more than the mere idealism and emotionalism that Najib and his Umno-BN would like Malaysians to believe. The Pakatan team are actually seasoned politicians with long-standing experience in leadership and administration.
In conjunction with the March 8 2008 Second Anniversary, Pakatan has announced concrete steps to take it to Putrajaya.
As Umno creates Malay NGOs like Perkasa and MPM to boost its communal credentials, Pakatan will counter this rightist swing with concrete steps to assure Malays that their rights and slice of the economic pie will not be marginalized despite the coalition's multi-racial platform.
Mechanisms specifically tailored to alleviate the lives of poor Malay folk especially those living in rural areas were announced over the weekend by PAS strategist Dr Dzulkefy Ahmad and PKR vice president Sivarasa Rasiah..
A micro-credit scheme is on the cards and provision of financial aid to those who fall under the poverty line will get top priority. Abandoned projects on Malay reserve land will also receive quicker attention.
Pakatan states led by Selangor will be the test beds for these programs. Money to run the schemes will be raised by allowing leasehold land to be converted into freehold status at reasonable premiums. Other poor folk - regardless of ethnicity - will also have access to the special aid programs.
Public amenities and housing will also be a priority, with local councils tasked to ensure better basic services - that roads are tarred, rubbish collected and drains cleaned.
Promises and reforms
Penang and Selangor have also set in motion previous campaign promises to hold local council elections and to create laws that ensure freedom of information.
A Selangor State Assembly Services Enactment (Selesa) will soon be tabled to protect the people's rights, preventing a recurrence of what happened in Perak during Najib’s notorious coup d’etat in 2009, where Perak folk lost their fundamental rights to choose their state government.
“In the past two years, Pakatan has achieved in the states that they control what the Umno-BN could not in 52 years of hegemony,” Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng told the euphoric and mostly Malay crowd at Kampung Baru.
Indeed, if the reception the Pakatan received in Kampung Baru on Sunday, in Kepong on Saturday and the standing room-only nightly ceramahs in Kelantan the past month are a harbinger of what’s to come, then Najib should be really worried.
Perhaps that’s why he sent the police to derail the rallies. But with the police's usual bullying ways and easily seen through excuses, the Umno-BN may only be shooting itself in the foot.
After all, change and reforms are what Malaysians want. But where is the change from BN, where is the Umno reformasi?