Friends in the Pakatan submarine keeping separate beds

This was first seen at The Malaysian Insider, July 7 2009. I’m putting up my old copies up. Some of the information, ideas and thoughts may be dated in retrospect.

JULY 9 — It is a Greek tragedy of sorts, the ever-increasing admonishments of Pakatan Rakyat — for its alleged rising ineptitude, communication breakdowns, tantrums and obtuseness.

The Kampung Buah Pala saga, PAS-Umno talks, PKR-DAP hostilities in the Seberang Perai Municipal Council and more, resulting in some claiming that this coalition of the willing risks the ire of an electorate and may lose its present gains in the next general election, probably in 2012.

Fair enough, the warning.

Never have opposition parties, in cahoots or not, matched a good result with a follow-up.

The rising spectre of the socialist menace in 1969 was doused in 1974 by the rousing entry of a reformed Alliance as an all-embracing Barisan Nasional. The sabre-rattlers of Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (Semangat 46 and PAS) with a friendly DAP did win Kelantan in 1990, but fizzled in a whitewash in 1995 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at his zenith. Even the rise of supposed Malay discontent in 1999 following Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s incarceration was reversed by the promise of a Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi break from authoritarian rule in 2004.

So is PR failing itself, tripping over its own lack of oneness? Or are we weighing them with a faulty scale, a case of us failing to understand the dynamics of a modern coalition?

What is a coalition, and when does it fail? An observation first.

Without realising — despite the wholesale, non-stop and aggressive assault on all that is Umno — many of us build our understanding and theory of a working political system on what was and is Umno.

Umno’s leadership of BN, its rein of coalition partners and opaque decision-making process.

We launch our analysis from it. Since even opposition parties often form their thinking from paradigms realised by Umno-rule.

BN is a fixed coalition, and with 13 other parties, an oddity in the world. Australia’s Liberals-National have a fixed relationship, but in most instances coalitions are formed after elections, and even in complex pre-election compacts, which are the norm in India, there is no master-slave relationship.

Jayalalitha’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has walked in and walked out of Congress’ national government, purely on self-interest.

Which is the central drive of getting into a coalition, to meet your self-interest.

They are in a coalition because they cannot beat a 54-year-old incumbent not loathe to using its grip of the state apparatus and powerful business lobby, by working separately.

There was no PR leading to Election 2008. Anwar and his team mediated an “electoral understanding” between DAP and PAS — which was only finalised at the eleventh hour.

They succeeded by riding the wave of discontent in the country, without forcing the voter to choose whom he wants to support after he had already made the bold decision not to cast his vote for BN.

PR was a formal construct for opposition parties post election, but these are separate political parties with long-term intentions of governing the country. You don’t set up a national political party with the intention of being a perpetual deputy designate — not everyone is MCA.

So these parties and their leaders are unlike each other. If they were clones, they’d be in the same party. They have clear distinctions and have longstanding disagreements.

Lim Kit Siang does not quite fancy an Islamic state. Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat’s understanding of the separation of church and state is basic, to put it politely. Anwar was the second highest ranked person in Umno for half a decade — those who left with him out of Umno have experience in an Umno-style government.

DAP grapples with being a non-racial party, with a sway to one race and one language. PAS continues its haphazard and organic interest in an Islamic-principled state. PKR is an all-in-one gathering while being a few formulas short of being actually diverse.

Crucially inside PR they are all equals. Anwar is head because he has actual experience running the country and his party has the largest share of seats inside PR.

They will agree on most things, they will attempt to stay clean. However, they will disagree on a substantial number of things, and publicly do so.

When we get to see disagreements in the open, we are then able to see their resolution in public too. The instant nature of modern media accentuates the differences, but there is no denying, there are differences.

What we have to do is to decide which are material differences and which instead are teething issues of parties learning how to rule, pardon, rule together. Let us also not forget, the forging of these parties has coincided with the general public will — to drop Umno a peg or two.

That they have managed. Therefore the voting rakyat as much as the benefitting parties have won.

An inventory count has to be honest to the stock-minders and the stakeholders, equally.

We are just too naïve sometimes — expecting tyranny to be replaced by orderly reforms with no growing pains.

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