Selayang MP William Leong contested under PKR in the 2008 general election. This was a time when PKR was a one-seat party, and association with the party or with opposition politics at all was something most people shied away from.
Leong took quite a stand by quitting the party’s political bureau this last week, which consists of its most powerful leaders, and (in theory at least) decides most of its day-to-day affairs – and all this over dissatisfaction over the party’s inability to take a decisive stand on PAS.
I have been saying for a long time that PAS, more likely than not, has a positive role to play in the long term future of Malaysian politics. That said, by now, it is far from clear that pursuing a relationship with PAS, ahead of the next general election, is a good idea.
How should we understand what the various factions in PKR are trying to do, and what is the most logical way forward for them?
Falling between two chairs
At this point, we’re nearly at ‘any day now’ status, regarding when the 14th general election will be called.
In the world of horse trading politics, this could still mean a lot of time, given that all sorts of deals can theoretically be struck at the last minute.
In the world of more honest politics, work needs to be done on the ground, and voters need to be given a clear picture of what candidates stand for. Succeeding in either requires a considerable amount of lead time.
My feeling is that the longer PKR remains disunited about the PAS issue, the weaker it will be in facing the general election.
In trying to sit between two chairs – one with PAS and one without – PKR will eventually fall between them.
Why still courting PAS?
The reason Azmin Ali is still courting PAS is fairly obvious.
I have written many times that the electoral math is difficult, enough even with PAS as a full ally, as evidenced in the 2013 general election.
With PAS as an opponent, historical data (especially from the recent by-elections) would suggest that an opposition victory is all but impossible.
Azmin understands this perfectly, and he isn’t ready to simply give up the next general election by plunging headfirst into three-cornered fights.
Azmin selfishly prioritising Selangor?
There’s another obvious reason, of course, that Azmin and his faction consider PAS important.
Just as it is essentially impossible to win the next general election without PAS, it will be nearly impossible to hold Selangor without PAS.
That would mean Azmin losing his kingdom, and PKR losing its biggest bread basket.
It may even be the beginning of the end of Azmin’s career, as Azmin’s detractors could easily blame him personally for the loss.
Long story short, there’s a huge amount at stake for Azmin.
Time and the hand of Anwar
It was really quite surprising to see PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail accompanying Azmin on these talks with PAS.
Something tells me neither of these two individuals enjoy working with each other, or being in each other’s company, even. There is a history of animosity.
It’s only my personal conspiracy theory, but my interpretation of this strange cooperation is that Anwar Ibrahim is most likely also involved in trying to broker some sort of deal with PAS. I don’t see how, or why else, Kak Wan (photo) would be involved.
I suppose there’s a lot at stake for Anwar as well. God knows he rightfully believes he deserves to be out of prison, and having the opposition win would certainly be a step in that direction.
Should BN continue to rule, then Anwar will continue to be at their mercy. That is understandably not the position he wants to be in.
Furthermore, at his age, there are only so many more general elections Anwar will see, unfortunately. Time is of the essence (though waiting until the last minute before committing is certainly not out of character for Anwar).
I suppose it’s normal that as we grow older, our dreams grow smaller – simply because we have less time to finish them.
This brings to mind the axiom that only truly great individuals invest heavily in planting seeds of trees that they will never enjoy the shade of.
PAS’ writing on the wall
If the opposition does win and Anwar does get released, I will be as happy for him as everyone else.
That said, given all the millions of other lives and livelihoods also at stake, Anwar’s needs cannot be the only guiding factor in deciding political strategy.
What approach would be best, if we considered all the other Malaysians, especially those with many, many more elections ahead of them?
I have always hoped for cooperation with PAS, not least for the kind of bridges such an alliance can build between the very diverse peoples of Malaysia.
That said, sometimes you just have to read the writing on the wall.
PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang has all but blurted it out – he believes that PAS needs to take a more Umno-friendly stand.
Through his political manoeuvring, and with the Amanah exodus, Hadi has a firm grip on all the leaders that still matter in PAS – a party whose strength has always been in party discipline, discipline that far exceeds that of any other party’s.
I do believe he’s made up his mind, and I do believe we are light years away from seeing any sort of internal revolt against his leadership.
As someone who’s been called a PAS apologist, it isn’t really my first instinct to say “leave PAS behind”. That said, there comes a time where the cold hard facts tell you that you have to give up the ghost.
So, unless Azmin and gang know something genuinely important that the rest of Malaysia doesn’t (which I highly doubt), pursuing PAS any further is a fool’s errand.
The long game
Sometimes in life we get dealt dud cards, but we still have to play the hand the best we can.
If PAS is committed to go down the road it is on, then perhaps it is best we just agree to disagree.
In fact, we can even afford the party a modicum of respect, for at least being committed to the decisions that it has made.
In this, perhaps PKR should learn a thing or two from them.
If you are serious about working with PAS (which back then, especially, was still a legitimate option), then you shouldn’t have foolishly tried the Kajang Move, shouldn’t have encouraged the formation of Amanah, shouldn’t have created Pakatan Harapan, and so on, and so on.
Now, all that is spilt milk under the bridge, so to speak.
I’m an old foggey who probably prefers the Pakatan Rakyat formula; but at this stage in the game, if you’ve gone the Pakatan Harapan way, then go the Pakatan Harapan way all the way.
That’s better than wiffle waffling, and perpetually trying to hedge your bets.
As for PAS, I would advise against antagonising the party, even as you fight three-cornered fights.
We may have the odds stacked heavily against us in the battle ahead, but the long term war is far from decided. I wish us all good fortune in those wars to come.
WRITER: NATHANIEL TAN