Coming apart at the seams
The bubble has burst and Pakatan Rakyat leaders are finding the road to Putrajaya more uphill than they thought it would be.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has been doing a lot of travelling over the last one year.
He is currently in Cairo on a speaking engagement and before this, he was in Sri Lanka and the United States.
He has been keeping quite a high international profile so much so that some of his supporters here have complained he is not spending enough time at home especially now that there is, as they say, trouble in paradise.
Anwar left for Egypt shortly after the controversial reshuffle of party chiefs in Sabah and Sarawak.
By the time he landed in Cairo, more trouble was brewing in Selangor and a couple of days later, PKR’s Port Klang assemblyman Badrul Hisham Abdullah announced he was quitting the party.
PKR is not the only one having problems.
PAS, the other Pakatan Rakyat partner, is in even more dire straits. The political differences between the party’s two leading ulama over ties with Umno came to a head last week.
It was a very public and glaring split between the pro-Umno group led by PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang and the anti-Umno group headed by supreme leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and the media lapped it up like a cat taking to spilled milk.
The glue that had held Pakatan parties together seems to have become unstuck.
In hindsight, it began to fray around the edges after Sept 16 came and went with Pakatan still in the opposition.
The notion of coming to power was an effective adhesive. It made individuals and political parties defer disagreements while keeping their eye on the big prize.
But the bubble has burst and, as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad put it, the marriage of convenience between PKR, PAS and DAP has become rather inconvenient.
Their incompatibility is spilling out in a public fashion and it looks like Badrul is not going to go quietly into the night but is gearing up to wash dirty linen in public.
After falling off from the radar for months, Badrul appeared at a press conference insisting that there was nothing mentally wrong with him and he was making insinuations about the power couple of PKR.
It was quite a riveting twist in PKR politics. It was also a rather bizarre scene given the way Badrul needed prodding from an accomplice about what to say and the sight of his wife hiding behind huge sunglasses.
This is not the first falling out in PKR. A few months ago, its assemblyman in Kedah quit the party and declared himself “friendly to the Barisan Nasional.”
Ruffled by internal politics
And, of course, there were the pair of Perak assemblymen who crossed over to Umno, causing the Pakatan state government to collapse.
PKR’s woes are mainly internal politics resulting from conflict over the spoils of war and also the slip-shod pick of candidates in the general election.
The problem in PAS is much more serious. The faction around Hadi is not only flirting with Umno but is anti-Anwar. They want Hadi and not Anwar as the Prime Minister in the event of Pakatan coming to power.
Anwar is quite aware of how this powerful faction in PAS feels about him but the savvy politician in him has chosen to turn the other cheek to their insult.
Meanwhile, Datuk Dr Hasan Ali, their assemblyman in Selangor, has single-handedly alienated non-Muslims and moderate Malays with his moral policing stunts.
Some have even pinned PAS’ crushing defeat in Bagan Pinang on his ultra antics in Selangor. Dr Hasan may be a hero in PAS but his actions are going to cost his party and the coalition big time in the next elections.
It is erroneous to believe that the non-Muslims and moderate Malays who voted for PAS in the elections did so because they believed in the party.
Many of them were fed up with the Abdullah administration and also because they admired Nik Aziz and saw Kelantan as a model PAS state.
Hence, PAS politicians who imagine that middle Malaysia is ready for Hadi as the Prime Minister are probably living in an air-conditioned cocoon.
To make matters worse, they have shown middle Malaysia just how rigid and intolerant they can be of the lifestyles of other communities.
The road to Putrajaya, the Pakatan euphemism for federal power, is no longer as clear-cut, especially with Anwar’s sodomy trial looming in the horizon.
“I don’t think we have an answer to that right now. We have to take it a day at a time while we put our act together. Arriving in Putrajaya will have to be deferred barring divine intervention,” said a PAS central committee member.
Anwar’s upcoming trial is going to take up a lot of his time, energy and attention. Some have noted that he seems distracted and has not been as focused on Pakatan politics as he should be.
“He is still his usual self. He makes us feel confident, he is serious when he has to be serious, he knows when to joke and laugh,” insisted PKR deputy Youth chief Faris Musa.
The failure of Sept 16 has also impinged on his credibility and the party’s recent troubles in Sabah and Sarawak are in sharp contrast to the advances made by Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in those states.
The Prime Minister’s decision to declare Malaysia Day a holiday was another strategic blow to Anwar’s aspirations.
“The PM has been delivering on our promises because he knows the ground is still for change,” said DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong.
However, Liew is confident that getting to Putrajaya is still possible for three reasons.
The aspiration among Malaysians for a clean, transparent and responsive government; the growing cohort of young people with no strong attachment to patronage politics; and what Liew sees as a lack of structural change in the system.
The DAP has been the most focused and pragmatic about their political survival.
For instance, party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng has told his people that “we can show that we are cleaner and more efficient but, ultimately, we have to deliver prosperity if we want the people’s support.”
Much will hinge on how Anwar fares in his trial even though the Pakatan people insist that the coalition is not just about one man.
The possibility of his going to jail is a daunting prospect for his supporters.
The question is: will people give the mandate to a coalition whose top leader is embroiled in yet another trial of the decade and who faces the possibility of imprisonment?
The inter-party friction in Pakatan will continue to dominate in the months ahead but Anwar’s legal challenges will determine the coalition’s road map for the future.
Pakatan leaders are still talking about the road to Putrajaya but their supreme leader is at a critical crossroads of his career.