The opposition is indebted to Anwar Ibrahim

“If I’m sincere today, what does it matter if I regret it tomorrow?” ― José Saramago, Blindness

COMMENT | Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is not the only person who is indebted to political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim.

The opposition, its supporters and whoever is contemplating regime change in this country is indebted to the hopefully-soon-to-be-released political prisoner. Without Anwar, there would be no opposition in this country.

While it is easy being critical of someone like Anwar, whose political and historical baggage defines the political landscape that some Malaysians desperately want to change, I would argue that there would not even be an opportunity for some sort of change if it were not for Anwar and his compromised crusade against the Umno regime.

We must never forget that before Mahathir, the newly-christened PM-designate of Harapan, exhausted all possibilities of removing Najib Abdul Razak from within Umno, he was still committed to vilifying Anwar and the opposition.

While hatchets may have been buried, the opposition owes the people who support them a commitment to the reformasi agenda that was, and still is, a threat (albeit muted) to the Umno weltanschauung (world view).

It is important that a political leader like the DAP’s Lim Guan Eng reaffirms his support for Anwar, it is even more important that the opposition remains committed to the reform agenda that is the basis of Anwar’s struggle against the Umno regime.

While some people may scoff at that premise, the reality is that opposition supporters who vote for this compromised coalition want something more than the “stability” and “social contract” offered by the Umno establishment.

Here is a reality check. When Amanah’s Mat Sabu (photo) reminds us that non-Muslim majorities in Japan and Korea reject establishment corruption but in a country like Malaysia, “The Malays listen to khutbah on a weekly basis, but the more they listen the more they (seem to) support corruption,” it is an indictment against the racial and religious politics that dominates this country.

However, the irony is that Bersatu, a political party designed to combat Umno, carries on the narrative that this country is defined by race and religion. This last part is axiomatic and to invest further in this narrative is not the point of this article.

Anwar could have gone the route of creating a solely “Malay” power structure but instead he followed the path of the DAP and attempted something unifying instead of following in the footsteps of Umno.

Now, some would argue that the factional politics in PKR is Malay-dominated but the same criticisms could – and have – been levelled at the DAP. Racial politics so long ingrained is hard to shed but it is a process, not merely a destination.

If Anwar Ibrahim had just created another clone of Umno, instead of gambling on the belief that Malaysians were ready for change, would he have succeeded? Certainly, the old master Mahathir plays for keeps and what Anwar did when he was ejected from the Umno paradise seems idealistic and naive.

While my criticisms against the DAP and PKR are a matter of public record, the reality is that both parties are attempts at multi-racial collectives – so too is Amanah, with certain ideological qualifications – which have crashed into the reality of Ketuanan politics. Hence the need for Bersatu.

Some folks would argue – and they do have a point – that is Harapan really an alternative? Is Harapan an alternative to the desideratum of mainstream Malay politics? Are we not just changing the driver and not the direction of this country? This of course is an important question, and it would be disingenuous of me if I did not mention that I have posed the same question:

“In partisan politics, which is an illusion (in case you did not know), each side would point to certain issues that set one apart. Partisans would then claim that these issues, sometimes major sometimes peripheral, are the only thing separating right from wrong. The smarter ones link them to some sort of ideology and this becomes easier for identity politics to get in the way of facts. Every issue becomes a Manichaean struggle and people become invested in the side they choose to support.”

So people question how we can move beyond race and religion when the majority sought after by the opposition are defined by these concepts. Okay, maybe the majority of opposition supporters are not preoccupied by this question. They are preoccupied with kleptocracy. But in case you are a supporter of the opposition, which is troubled by the religious imperatives of mainstream Malay power structures, where do you go from here?

Which brings us to Anwar’s Islamic credentials and the need for religion – Islam – in the political strategies of this country and Harapan. To understand the dialectic, we have to refer to Dr Ronnie Ooi’s Open letter to Anwar Ibrahim – Is a secular Malaysia, the only way to save Malaysia? From the letter – “In this letter, I have argued that the fault line between the Islamism of the PKR, Amanah and Bersatu and the secularism of the DAP is only over the word secular, ie, only an argument over terminology and not an argument over substance.

“So long as the DAP does not insist that all component parties of PH must call the country secular, no harm is done. The idea that the Malaysian public will only be impressed if all PH MPs sing the same tune all the time is outdated, counterproductive and stands in the way of achieving desirable political objectives. PH must be a broad tent with room to agree to disagree.”

(Apropos everything, in another piece, I will attempt to answer the very important question that Dr Ronnie Ooi raises.)

All of this, of course, has brought the opposition to where it is today. You could say, everything old is new again. This is where it will all end, in the beginning. A time when former prime minister Mahathir attempts to reimagine the political landscape of Malaysia.

Some would argue that we are waking to a nightmare but I would argue that Anwar Ibrahim may have given us a chance for a different, maybe even better Malaysia, because in politics anything can happen.

People should not forget that the opposition gets to roll the dice because of the efforts of political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
Read more at https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/407911#cX7toXU5Ccu3TL6B.99

Artikel disiar pada January 8, 2018 - 3:32 pm oleh Susan Loo

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