What Can Ensure a Real Political Breakthrough

Recently I wrote of developments on the opposition side that had the potential to lead to a political breakthrough for the country. I was referring to the formation of a new party led by Pas moderates and progressives.

I had also written on the need for the new Islamic party to adhere to the Common Policy Framework and reject a hard line and extremist Islamic ideology; oppose the move to introduce hudud in Kelantan and the federal parliament; support the constitutional position on democratic and human rights and the equality of all citizens, irrespective of race or creed and to fight racial and religious extremism wherever it comes from.

But in politics it is not enough to have the right manifesto or ideology. To win power, it is equally – if not more important – to have the right leaders. Today we have a clear political leadership crisis in the country in both government and the opposition.

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In the opposition we have seen the jailing of Anwar Ibrahim effectively remove him from being a key player in the current political situation.  Although Anwar can continue to be a rallying point to remind the electorate how unscrupulous the Barisan Nasional government has been in trying to hold on to power, the Pakatan coalition will have to be realistic and move on to the post-Anwar leadership team if it is to topple the ruling government.

It is pointless and even politically suicidal to insist that Anwar continues to be the leader of Pakatan and to have the next election campaign focus around him or be directed by him from prison. Without a direct physical presence and involvement in daily politics,  Anwar cannot lead Pakatan’s or even PKR’s campaign. He can be an adviser and moral icon at best.

Hence, the present and future of the opposition coalition is best taken care by a replacement leadership team in PKR; and the electoral energies of PKR is best put to other causes such as GST, 1MDB, etc.

Who can be the replacement leader or leaders is the 64 thousand dollar question.  This is particularly important for PKR whose participation in the opposition coalition is crucial to Pakatan winning power. PKR cannot wait till the elections are around the corner before it decides on its new team, especially in terms of Malay leaders. It has to be done now. 

What is PKR and Pakatan’s “A” Team

Here are my suggestions on this new replacement team.

Azmin Ali: He has passed all the tests of leadership in Selangor as well as in PKR. He has been a fighter for the opposition cause for the longest time and has ability and credibility. He has also strong multi-racial support and has not played the religious or racial line or game. In my opinion, Anwar should send a clear signal to the nation by passing the baton of leadership of PKR and Pakatan to Azmin as soon as possible.

Muhyddin and Zaid Ibrahim: Efforts should be made to recruit Muhyiddin Yassin and Zaid Ibrahim to the PKR, Harapan Baru and Pakatan side.

Zaid Ibrahim has been fighting a lone battle against Islamic extremism and for moderation and sanity in religious and racial politics. Some people regard him as a prima donna. But I feel he can be an asset rather than a liability to the opposition. He is one of the clearest political thinkers in the country and has a big following among the educated and upper middle class which cuts across race.

As for the former Deputy Prime Minister, it is clear that his political future is finished as far as UMNO is concerned.  To pacify him, Najib may reward him with a foreign posting or a GLC plum job. But if that happens, everyone will know that he has been bought off.  I hope Muhyiddin’s sense of pride and honour will not permit him to be bought off.      

Many of my Malay friends say that they respect Muhyiddin for speaking out on the 1MDB fiasco despite the knowledge that it may kill off his political future. If Muhyiddin wants to remain relevant in national politics, the only place for him now is in the opposition camp, perhaps with the Harapan Baru grouping. It is not only Najib that he has to fight against within UMNO. Zahid and other UMNO rising stars will want to consolidate and maintain their position. That basically means Muhyiddin and his supporters will be marginalized within the party.

Although it may be futile to get Muhyiddin to cross over, his more idealistic supporters may now be convinced that UMNO is beyond redemption and that the opposition deserves a crack at running the country.  If so, they may decide to boycott the elections or even provide support to the opposition cause.

A combination of Azmin, Zaid and Muhyiddin’s supporters even though Muhyiddin remains within UMNO  – together with the present DAP and Harapan Baru stake players – could be an unbeatable team leading Pakatan to a resounding victory in the next elections. No amount of electoral gerrymandering or BN dirty tricks can stop the changeover of government that will take place if this combination or some variation of it comes about. What can stop it is if a new leadership team is not set up within PKR and Pakatan, and the party and coalition remain rudderless.     

A final word of advice to Anwar’s staunch supporters: Anwar’s cause will be best served if he facilitates the urgently needed leadership transition in PKR and Pakatan.

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