Welcome to the Real World
Raja Petra Kamarudin (1st November 2001)
From the 8th to 11th November 2001, the National Justice Party (keADILan), which was two and a half years old on 4 October, will be facing its first party election. As anticipated, as soon as the Sarawak State Elections ended – and with less than desired results, may I add – the campaigning heated up.
Deputy President Dr Chandra Muzaffar’s decision not to seek re-election, followed by Hamdan Tahar’s resignation from the party under unhappy circumstances, cast a glum scenario indeed. Earlier, one of the party’s three Vice Presidents, Zainur Zakaria, who is also one of Anwar Ibrahim’s solicitors, announced his withdrawal as well. Zainur had, in fact, filled that post when another Vice President, Marina Yusoff, resigned in a huff a year or so earlier.
Less publicised was Johari Abdul’s resignation from the Supreme Council, a personality strongly linked to the Reformasi movement and regarded as one of its masterminds. This further widened the gap between the party and the Reformasi movement that claims it is being sidelined though the party would not have existed if not for the movement.
Rumours are rife that further resignations are in the cards and time will testify to this speculation. But people come and people go and, at the end of the day, one has to subscribe to the philosophy that no one is indispensable. If keADILan falls apart because of the exit of a few key figures, then it is no party to start of with, as a political party cannot revolve around a handful of people.
At first glance it looks bad. KeADILan appears to be breaking apart. And, from the feedback received, this is certainly the perception of those on the outside looking in.
The party supporters out there are extremely disappointed. Some are even angry and speak about the present goings-on with a bitter tone in their voice. They ask, were they wrong about the party and have they wasted the last three years supporting Reformasi and the party just to see its demise even before it can make inroads into Malaysian politics?
This is understandable. They had heralded keADILan’s birth as the coming of new politics for Malaysia. They saw this new party, mothered by Reformasi and made possible due to the Anwar Ibrahim political crisis, as the future. They saw change and reformation on the horizon and the end to corrupt and racial politics - where nothing is regarded as immoral - that has been the accepted norm for Malaysia these last three generations.
Also understandable is the fact that keADILan’s supporters are idealists. They had always shunned politics and politicians. But when they saw what they thought was the purity of the new party, they rallied forth. Some never voted in their life and now, for the first time, they actually registered as voters to play their role in ensuring the new party garnered enough votes to make a difference – maybe even enough votes to form the next government.
Now they realise that keADILan is…well, just another political party, and they are disappointed. They do not want just another political party. They want a different kind of party, and they stood up to be counted because they thought it would be a different kind of party.
Well, welcome to the real world! KeADILan is just another political party, but with a slight twist. To be realistic, keADILan needs to be another political party to last the distance. If it was that ideal, straight-laced, and an almost virtuous party that many thought it was and wish it would be, then it would be doomed from the word go.
Let’s face reality. KeADILan is up against UMNO. UMNO is no saintly organisation. UMNO fights dirty. Anything goes as far as UMNO is concerned. UMNO will stoop to anything to win the elections and, given half a chance, will wipe the still-wet-behind-the-ears keADILan from the face of this earth.
Can keADILan withstand UMNO’s onslaught if it fought with kid gloves? KeADILan too needs to be devious, street-wise, and blood thirsty to beat UMNO at its own game. So, keADILan too needs to be another political party to do this.
We are presently seeing what we believe is turmoil in the party. We are seeing factionalism and groupings formed - each trying to outmaneuver the other. We are seeing battle lines being drawn. We are finally seeing the aspiring candidates behaving just like any normal politician would.
But what is so wrong with this? What’s wrong if keADILan’s leaders and aspiring leaders act like politicians? This is, after all, what politics is all about. Politics is about contesting, and winning. It is about maneuvers and strategies. It is about outdoing and outsmarting your opponents.
KeADILan has so far never held any internal party elections. Seven months after it was formed, it faced its first general election, followed by a few by-elections and, most recently, the Sarawak State Election. There was nothing clean about these elections. As Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad promised in November 1999, the Tenth General Election was the dirtiest in the history of this country. And keADILan was ill prepared for all this.
KeADILan needs to learn how to fight, and how to fight dirty. If it cannot even get through an internal party election, how does it face UMNO in the next general election? Contests are good. That’s what politics is all about. How one prepares for this contest is also very important. Slogans alone are not enough. Idealism does not cut any ice with the voters. One needs to do more than that to make any headway in Malaysian politics.
We should not look at the impending party contest as something negative. KeADILan needs to go through this and the faster the better. As it is, the contest is already too long overdue. The present crop of leaders was never elected, they were all appointed - the President included. They now need to legitimise their positions by getting elected into office.
So, the fighting is intense. Well, as they say, if the fire is too hot get out of the kitchen. If you think it is hot now, just wait until the next general election comes around. It’s going to be worse than this and worse too than the last general election in 1999.
So, there are groups and camps. So what? Politics is about allies. Show me one political party that does not work on the principle of allying yourself. Some members and aspiring leaders feel that it should be a “clean” fight. What do they mean by clean? Do they mean everyone should be an “independent” candidate and not belong to any team?
Politics does not work that way. If every soldier were to do battle as Lone Rangers, without being part of an army, he would die the first day into battle. Have you even seen a football game won by a bunch of Prima Donas? If there were no team and no teamwork they would never win the match.
On whether the candidates badmouth each other and use money to win, I suppose the members will have to decide on this one. Fighting is one thing and slandering is another. The members will have to demonstrate their maturity by rejecting uncouth aspirants. And if they still get elected into office nevertheless…well, then probably those that left before this knew what they were doing.
KeADILan’s true colours revealed - which is a shade of UMNO
Raja Petra Kamarudin (26th November 2001)
The media had predicted fireworks in Kemaman. Many had hoped that keADILan would fall apart due to the intense infighting. Most people had expected nothing less than the worst when Parti Keadilan Nasional held its first party election last weekend in Kemaman, Terengganu. However, what came out of it instead was a delightful surprise. The members, in a demonstration of their maturity, elected a whole new team of leaders whom they felt would strengthen the party.
The media had played up the ABIM versus ex-UMNO issue to the hilt. They made it seem like there was a power struggle between two major groups in keADILan to wrest control of the party. If this were so, then how come Irene Fernandez got in as the Women’s Deputy Leader and Tian Chua as one of the three Vice Presidents when both are neither ABIM nor ex-UMNO members?
The keADILan contest was just a normal contest for party posts. All political parties in Malaysia go through it. But when the other parties see a contest it is not a big deal. For keADILan, however, it is front-page news with doomsday predictions thrown in. Maybe, as this was the party's first internal contest, all eyes were on it to see how it manages its elections with the backdrop of a fierce fight.
It was quite apparent that the contest was between groups and not individuals as nearly every delegate was armed with a complete list of who to vote for. There may have been about three or four variations of this list but the main players would be what were perceived as the ex-UMNO group of Abdul Rahman Othman, Saifuddin Nasution, Azmin Ali and the ABIM group of Dr Mohd Nur Manuty, Mustaffa Kamil, Anuar Tahir and Ruslan Kassim.
As in any block voting, an entire team would be voted in and the other sidelined. In this case, the perceived ex-UMNO group came in as the winner. How unhappy the “other side” was at losing was demonstrated when most who lost did not attend the closing session of the AGM. It was estimated that only about 300 of the 1,004 delegates turned up which puts to question whether there was any quorum for the closing session.
Party President Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail tried to justify the high absentee rate by explaining that many had to return to their hometowns or go back to work. But no amount of explaining could dispel the impression that these were sore losers who would rather boycott the remaining session of the AGM because they did not get voted in.
If this is the attitude of the losers then maybe, in the first place, it was best that they did not win. Everybody knows how to manage victory. Only the matured know how to manage defeat. And if this is a demonstration of how they manage defeat, then they are certainly not matured enough yet to lead the party.
The campaigning was another source of anxiety. Some of the campaign tactics were rather dirty and centred on character assassination. In the euphoria to win seats and defeat their rivals, some candidates would resort to anything just as long as they win in the end. It was good that these people did not win, as this is certainly an unhealthy culture that should be rejected.
KeADILan preaches justice and fair play and urges the populace to reject the corrupt Barisan Nasional and its leading partner, UMNO. However, some of the keADILan leaders showed that they are no better than the BN or UMNO leaders. Why, therefore, would Malaysians need to kick out the ruling party just to replace it with a party that has the same practices and culture?
The next contest will be in March 2002 when the more than 120 divisions will be up for grabs. If the recent AGM was anything to go by, expect an equally intense and filthy contest during the division elections. If this happens, this would be the beginning of the end for the party.
Many supporters are disgusted with what they saw the last month or so with reported dirty tactics a la UMNO and fist fights at MPT meetings. Some of the die-hards are now becoming cold towards the party and no longer want to support it. They feel keADILan has deviated from the right path and has become just another political party. Worse than that, it has become another UMNO-like party.
If keADILan wants to continue getting the support of the people, it needs to demonstrate that it is a matured and responsible party. The test would be in March next year when the campaigning for the divisional elections heats up. If the Kemaman affair is repeated, then expect many to turn their backs on the party for good.