By Ooi Kok Chin
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim flirted with his smartphone throughout the 4th Pakatan Rakyat Convention on Monday. The fact that he took the convention so nonchalantly and let others run the show is a sign of how much things have changed in the opposition camp. Back in 1999 when DAP, PAS and Keadilan first formed a pact, the Barisan Alternatif, he was the shadowy overarching figure behind bars. Anwar Ibrahim, the man, was the glue, the purpose and the Messiah.
Anwar is so deeply intertwined with the very existence of Pakatan and its predecessor that many people couldn’t imagine how Pakatan can move together when Anwar is no longer around. However, while the former Deputy Prime Minister is still a very influential leader, Pakatan has outgrown the man.
The Making of Anwar and Pakatan
To know how Pakatan can take on a life of its own beyond the PKR de factor leader, we have to understand why Anwar is so important at first. He’s able to play the mediator role like no other politician and in no small part this is due to the fact that he and Tok Guru Abdul Hadi Awang has known each other for more than 30 years since their days in Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM). In fact Anwar was so closely associated with PAS in his youth days and him joining UMNO was seen as an act of betrayal by some. But the bond they once shared was not broken, in fact resurrected in 1999.
Anwar’s relationship with PAS is a clue to understanding his political journey. He understands PAS’s ideology, its values and its history. He knows how things work according to the party’s tradition. Hence he is able to fit in and accepted by most leaders and members, discounting those who have personal feud with him or find his history in Barisan Nasional too much to swallow. The same principle applies to his association with DAP. Anwar’s ability to churn out verses from the Koran is as good as his ability to quote Shakespeare and Edmund Burke. He’s incredibly informed about secular and democratic principles which are cherished by the DAP. DAP’s leaders and supporters have no better representation of an ideal Muslim-Democrat than Anwar, the Newsweek‘s Asian of the Year in 1998. This is no small matter in demonstrating why he’s able to fit in. He understands them and they accept him as a man who knows their tradition and values. This is someone they can trust.
That is also the main reason Anwar Ibrahim is Pakatan’s Prime Minister candidate as agreed by Tok Guru Nik Aziz, Lim Kit Siang and well, Datuk Seri Wan Azizah. Hadi Awang is the preferred candidate by some in PAS but that’s precisely the limit of that claim. Lim Guan Eng is even more unlikely. This is something worth clarifying. It is not that a non-Malay cannot become the Prime Minister. It is constitutionally legal as Article 43 makes no prohibition on this matter. But the Prime Minister must be someone trusted not only by the majority in Parliament but also by his or her political allies from the top to grassroots level. The leader of the coalition must be able to act as the glue and rallying point. A non-Malay or/and a female will only become Prime Minister when he or she gains such trust on a large scale, like Barack Obama. And of course, good governance, fluency in the national language and appreciation of Islamic values improve one’s chances.
Beyond the man
On December 2010, Anwar did not speak at the 2nd Pakatan Rakyat Convention. The rejuvenation process has started without many of us noticing. Anwar was planting trees under whose shadows he would not sit. It seemed that his colleagues and him agreed that it was necessary to not be over-dependent on him and hence let others take to the platform and shine. Over the last four years, we have seen the result of such deliberate strategy through the younger batch of leaders like Rafizi Ramli, Tony Pua and Mujahid Yusof Rawa who are playing more important roles. Faces which we barely recognize years ago are now the key spokespersons for their parties.
Just like how Anwar, Hadi Awang and their cohorts first developed their association, Pakatan’s next generation leaders are having the same, in fact more opportunity to cultivate trust and bonds. After five or more years of working together in their 30s and 40s, the crucial years in which one’s political career, they must have established at least a working, if not a much appreciated relationship. More of such cross-party collaboration, understanding and unity are catalysts for creating trust among those young leaders. Indeed there are much more dynamic cross-party interaction and cooperation in Pakatan than ever before, especially in Selangor.
At the Shah Alam Convention Center, Rafizi, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad and M.Kulasegaran presented the coalition’s new election manifesto. Pakatan’s decision to let the next generation leaders craft and deliver the manifesto is a clever one. Indeed this is something Barisan must learn.
Celebrated football coach Jose Mourinho said “Individuals don’t win you trophies. Teams win you trophies.” Pakatan has an impressively talented and youthful team with the likes of Rafizi, Kulasegaran, Dr Zul, Guan Eng, Hadi Awang, Nik Nazmi, Nurul Izzah, Tony Pua, Anthony Loke, Ong Kian Ming, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Liew Chin Tong, Hannah Yeoh, Baru Bian, Jeff Ooi, Teresa Kok and of course Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim. From young professionals to religious scholars, highly educated intellectuals to civil rights lawyers, financial consultants to GLC executives, they have much variety. These individuals cannot compete with Anwar but as a team, they can fill in his shoes. The whole team is bigger than the sum of individuals.
In addition, new members and future politicians from my generation do not have deep loyalty and attachment to figureheads. Many of the new cohorts join Pakatan not because they idolize Anwar. They do so because they want policy changes in the government to represent and enhance the interests of the Rakyat. They want better education, affordable housing schemes, economic growth, crackdown on corruption, secure border control and a more inclusive, united Malaysia. In short, it’s not for Anwar though he may be the means for those ends. This is in contrast with Keadilan 15 years ago when most of their members were Anwar’s political friends, family members and hardcore supporters. The coalition still needs Anwar, Kit Siang and Hadi Awang to lead the way for the next few years. But it is definitely bigger than the personalities now.
Perhaps it is by fate that when I first saw Anwar, he said to the audience “Men come and go. But the river stays.” As such, after laying the foundation and painting the vision for the coalition to move forward, Anwar can congratulate himself for kick-starting a wheel of change that will keep on rotating. As the clock ticks, new waves of men and women are emerging and grasping the meaning of democracy. Pakatan will survive beyond Anwar and the wheel of change, that spirit of Reformasi and new politics, will survive beyond Pakatan.