By Helen Ang
COMMENT The side-effects from Zaid Ibrahim's ousting is a windfall of political capital for Barisan Nasional in the next general election (GE).
Remember that Zaid is popular with urban Chinese and Indians for his liberal views. So when GE comes around, BN candidates contesting against PKR opponents in mixed seats will bring up this disgraceful episode of Anwaristas attempting to drag Zaid's name through the mud.
He was the outsider whose aborted candidacy caused the siege mentality to erupt in PKR's entrenched establishment. The bashing of Zaid by the party leadership was not only an overkill but encouraged a feeding frenzy by the rank and file.
The piranha-like devouring of Zaid in certain alternative media will not bring PRK any new converts, particularly among the traditional Malay ground (think civil servants or those inclined to Umno but not card-carrying party members). These are segments of the electorate that normally watch TV3, RTM and the free-to-air channels, and those that read Utusan, Berita Harian and The Star.
On the other hand, the ferocity of the personal attacks on Zaid is immensely offputting and may lose PKR some potential goodwill from the fencesitters and non-partisan crowd.
Unlike the PKR diehards and Pakatan Rakyat loyalists, reasonable members of public are able to surmount the contrived distractions and appraise the damaging issues raised by Zaid with greater rationality. To make good their ambitious road to Putrajaya, Pakatan desperately needs these swing votes beyond the secure electoral constituencies.
The trump card that BN will slap on the table in its GE campaign is to ask how can the rakyat trust a PKR-led coalition to run the country when the party cannot even conduct its own internal polls in a manner that is above board.
Who's got more Umno DNA?
Zaid had stood for Umno in the Kota Baru parliamentary seat against a PAS candidate in the 2004 GE and did not suffer any smear campaign. Compare how in the race for PKR deputy president, Zaid is deluged by an avalanche of dirty tactics employed against him. What does this say of the party?
The intensity of the infighting is a sign of the eager scramble by individuals to position themselves for the spoils, should Pakatan conquer Putrajaya. Similar factional power struggles are occurring in the DAP.
What just transpired in PKR has been most illuminating of the way Anwaristas operate, the two planks of which are fear and loathing.
A comment from Azmin Ali's aide Muaz Omar, reported in The Star, accurately sums up the fear:
“People know that actual change can only be via a two-party system and any effort to undermine Pakatan is seen as allowing Barisan Nasional to hold on to their hegemony. Zaid’s actions went against this sentiment.”
Zaid fingerpointed Anwar as the originator of the “Trojan Horse” and “sore loser” labels. Those in the know or formerly from Umno have murmured that these insidious methods had been characteristic of Anwar when he previously unseated his rivals in Umno.
How can anyone credit the wild accusation that Zaid is an Umno plant when it could hardly have been Najib Tun Razak who invited Zaid to join PKR, could it? And who promoted Zaid to his high status in Pakatan? Who handed Zaid the responsibility of drafting the coalition's common policy framework? Not Najib.
It wasn't Najib either putting a gun to Lim Kit Siang's head to compel the DAP stalwart to tout Zaid as "the first minister in the nation’s history to have resigned from the Cabinet on a point of principle".
Umno wasn't the one heaping praises on its supposed “mole”; it was Pakatan that did so of its own accord.
The other main motivator of the opposition movement is loathing. An overarching hatred of Umno is what binds the motley crew of politicians and political groupies recently tearing into Zaid with gusto.
Even incumbent PKR vice-president (who is trailing behind the top five contenders) Sivarasa Rasiah resorted to the Umno bogeyman, saying Zaid's revelations are "something that we normally only hear from Umno-BN politicians" and a "very Umno-BN-like criticism".
For Sivarasa to dwell on Zaid's so-called Umno taint is disappointing, to say the least. While Zaid's former law firm was arguably an NEP beneficiary (and how many of the ex-Umno office-bearers even now in PKR have not been?), Zaid's political career in Umno reached its zenith as Kota Baru division head.
Zaid has never even been an Umno supreme council member whereas Anwar, as deputy president, rose to within a whisker of the apex of the party hierarchy.
So, in whose veins is flowing the thicker Umno blood?
No saint but quite sane
The Anwaristas have decried Zaid's opening of the proverbial can of worms. Nonetheless, Pakatan is misguided in thinking that any criticism of its leaders equates to an endorsement of BN.
Take this analogy: Jill says Jack is unattractive. Her remark is not to be construed as Jill believes the other fella John is good-looking.
Among the labels heaped on Zaid is that he's a “loose cannon”. On the contrary, he threw several curve-balls that the cabal-around-the-personality-cult could not catch.
Misgivings that PKR is rudderless stem from the following considerations:
- The hallmark of any democracy is its election process. Why then is Anwar the “de facto leader” when he has not put himself up for elected office?
- Why is the anchor party of the Pakatan axis being helmed by a seat warmer? Will party president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is flying PKR on auto pilot, defer to her husband like a good Muslimah when push comes to shove? To paraphrase Kit Siang's ubiquitous “First-er” question: What is she? "Party president first or wife first?"
- PKR claims to have 364,098 registered members, yet the voter turnout hovered at a meagre 8.4%. What kind of mandate does Azmin wield with his own fraction of 14,751 votes garnered (as at Nov 21)?
- Why should loyalty be the most important criterion? Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was loyal and rewarded for his loyalty by being made Umno deputy president/deputy prime minister and later prime minister. Azmin, like Abdullah, lacks intellectual depth and gravitas albeit both were loyal men.
- The “reformasi” faithful demand that newcomer Zaid should be “grateful” that he was parachuted into prominence in PKR. Well, so was Tunku Abdul Aziz when appointed DAP vice-president without paying his dues. Doubtless the Tunku is a man of calibre and fulfils DAP's race formula requiring Malay window-dressing... But alas DAP fails to practise the democracy it shouts from the rooftops.
- Should Zaid have kept his peace? Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has remained in Umno even though he has lately not agreed with some of the party's doings. One wishes though that Ku Li has a bigger and more meaningful role. Zaid can play a bigger role. What he should not do is play second fiddle to Azmin, anointed successor though the latter may be (but still at the end of the day lacking intellectual depth and gravitas).
- However is PKR going to shed its image that it is a party wherein a de facto leader pulls all the strings?
Granted Zaid made a fatal miscalculation in trying to do a reverse takeover of the family business (whose company logo is the Anwar black eye). He underestimated how the Anwar agenda is first priority. Therefore Zaid is quite correct in his decision to quit now.
PKR should be left to its own devices of seeking justice for Anwar, who will sorely need it when his sodomy trial reaches a verdict.
Physician heal thyself
In its article “Anwar lashes out at former party colleague”, Malaysiakini reported that "Anwar Ibrahim, who delivered a speech at yesterday's (Nov 19) event aimed at closing party ranks in the state, said that he would not elaborate on what had happened to Zaid and his eventual exit from the party."
But wait! "Yet [Anwar] spent the best part of his address talking about the Zaid imbroglio."
In the short interim since the BN electoral setback of March 8, 2008, we've witnessed several other inherent inconsistencies of the above nature.
Another example: Pakatan and its supporters were furious at the two state assemblymen and the Jelapang state assemblywoman who, by deserting the coalition and declaring themselves “BN-friendly Independents” caused the fall of the Perak government. Yet it was Pakatan which embraced the very first “frog”, and a triumphant Anwar was pictured in the papers with his prize catch.
The Bota state assemblyman eventually did a double hop, from Umno to PKR and leaping back to the BN camp again.
Zaid's Dec 16 resignation date is a dig at Anwar's Sept 16 failed coup, a stratagem of enticing a pondful of BN frogs. Ironically, the Pakatan polity was later to be up in arms over the three Perak tadpoles. If PKR is intent on framing itself as a reformist party, it should most certainly adhere to higher standards than the status quo.
With the benefit of hindsight and looking at how Perak remains unsettled, one should – after going through the necessary postmortem and soul-searching – possess enough humility to admit that Anwar's promised Sept 16 would have backfired ethically, not to mention send standards plummeting irrevocably.
After the dust settles on the PKR three-ring circus, the truth (already glimpsed by the clearer-sighted) will be discernible to more and more Malaysians. Zaid is no “traitor”, merely the boy who blurts out that the emperor is wearing no clothes.
The heart of the matter is not that the boy has been naughty (he should have been doing his exam revision at home instead of sneaking out to watch the royal parade) but whether it is true that the emperor is buck naked. Or do we mean butt naked?