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Get real, Pakatan Rakyat

ONE odd thing about the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s inaugural convention on 19 Dec 2009 was the fact that none of the grassroots level members were given the chance to debate the common policy framework.

Instead, those who “debated” the document after it was unveiled were mainly second-tier leaders from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), PAS and the DAP. It suggests that PR leaders were eager to push the common platform through and were not about to face dissent from the grassroots.

Perhaps that’s why the overall document seems to offer little more than the usual feel-good policy statements made during by-election ceramah. It does, however, contain certain reforms which, unfortunately, have now been overshadowed by debate over the omission of restoring local council elections. After that fiasco, can anything else the PR says be taken seriously?

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang and Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang
from PAS, having signed the common policy on behalf of their parties

Proposed reforms

Some interesting pledges in the common policy:

putting the appointment of the police chief, attorney-general, anti-corruption commission chief and auditor-general before Parliament;

re-delineating constituencies to reflect proportional representation, instead of the first-past-the-post system in elections, to ensure fairer representation in legislative houses;

giving political parties campaign funds based on the percentage of votes obtained in general elections;

decentralising federal management of state economies;

introducing an Equal Opportunity Act to eliminate employment discrimination;

ensuring minimum wage for all Malaysian workers;

free broadband internet service to reduce the digital divide;

prioritising individual entrepreneurs when granting taxi permits over large companies;

having a royal commission to study the overlaps between civil and syariah laws, and having a mechanism to resolve such cases justly;

passing an act to ensure women obtain just treatment in all fields;

increasing the female workforce to 60% within 10 years;

having 30% women representation in all political and government leadership levels; and

guaranteeing 20% royalty from petroleum income to state governments to eradicate poverty.

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim did the first draft of the policy framework,
which was re-worked by the PR parties. He later said the final
version closely mirrored his draft, except for the omission on
local elections

Blurred vision

These are sound proposals, but the framework is short on implementation specifics. It provides no clarity on what a federal government under the PR would look like, or how the PR intends to carry out these policies.

PR leaders, meanwhile, say that work to formulate steps forward will continue. By now, however, people are impatient to see just how the PR plans to carry out the reforms it has been promising since 8 March 2008.


Sure, PR states are sidelined in federal government allocations. And the PR in Penang and Selangor are new and learning the ropes and realities of governance. But the three parties still largely behave with an “opposition mindset” of issuing counter-statements, making revelations of wrongdoing, and holding ceramah tours regularly.

Not that any of this is wrong, but where are actual examples of PR governance at the federal level? For example, it was 16 months after the general election before the coalition finally announced its version of a shadow cabinet. Other than statements by prominent PR leaders on the prime minister, on the economy and finance policies, and occasionally on education, we don’t hear much from the other PR shadow committees, do we?

Instead, the PR distracted itself with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim‘s supposed 16 Sept 2008 federal government takeover. And in between campaigning for nine by-elections, it has had trouble reining in errant members, a near fall-out with PAS over unity talks with Umno, and both inter- and intra-party skirmishes.

Getting real

The PR might be more convincing as a federal power if, in addition to the common policy framework, it had also crafted a timeline of policies it will prioritise as a ruling government. It would be impossible and unrealistic for it to implement everything in the framework upon taking over Putrajaya. Many of the proposals involve momentous changes to the status quo in the civil service, private sector and political culture.

The PR has promised a lot in its policy framework, just like it did when its parties endorsed a return of local council elections and made it a 2008 election promise. But what should we make of its common policy, if it had at one time promised to restore the third vote but is now stalling on it? Does the PR not think through the details, like required amendments to the federal act or resistance from member parties, before committing to a stand? What obstacles might there be in the common policies which the PR hasn’t thought about yet?

A rare sight is DAP chairperson Karpal Singh seated between
PAS leaders Datuk Seri Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat (left) and Hadi
Awang. Karpal is an outspoken critic of PAS’s Islamic state
For 2010, my New Year wish for the PR is to produce that timeline of priorities if it were to form federal government. The timeline should include a checklist of mini-reforms that need to happen systemically in order for larger reforms to be implemented. For example, what laws need to be drafted or amended; what happens to judgements by the courts if there is to be a mechanism to resolve civil and syariah overlaps; how foreign investments will be affected if a minimum wage is implemented; how an Equal Opportunity Act can be passed when the Federal Constitution grants bumiputera a special position; and how to ensure a decentralised government will not be stymied by BN-loyal civil servants — just to name a few.

The PR, particularly through the DAP, did well on its proposal for the government to buy back tolled highways from concessionaires and eliminate tolls in a certain number of years. It seems the ruling government is prepared to consider this. If the PR can get cracking on more workable reforms, Malaysians can then have a real choice come election time.

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16 Responses to “Get real, Pakatan Rakyat”

  1. Sean says:

    Your second point in the ‘Proposed reforms’: are they re-delineating constituencies to correct gerrymandering, or are they bringing in proportional representation – in which case, no great need to re-draw boundaries?

  2. sumairi hashim says:

    I see that the overall vision and mission are already there for Pakatan Rakyat to rule Putrajaya. But more important is the way foward in the implementation, tracking down and detailed policy installation, and the best practical implementation to benefit majority of RAKYAT are not there yet. These issues require a lot of effort, time, experience etc.

    The second most important are the abovementioned to reach the majority of the RAKYAT by all the means of the media – electronic TV, suratkhabar, flyers, banners etc. It requires a lot of effective planning and implementation. So far the majority of the RAKYAT know little what/where/how PAKATAN RAKYAT is to do for the RAKYAT. This is a real issue to be thought out/planned/implemented and feedback needs to be received from the RAKYAT, or otherwise it’s as good as “CERAMAH” only.

    Sumairi Hashim

  3. sam says:

    It seems Deborah wants a baby to grow into an adult within two years. Give it time.

  4. terence says:

    From my impression of the current PR people, for the most part they highly capable people who are happy to listen unlike their BN counterparts. I believe they had no choice but to push this framework from the top down. No good would come from getting “grassroots” support for it and it would have wasted a great deal of time. A detailed implementation of change also DOES NOT have to be available at this point because what PR is doing and should continue doing is provide an understanding of their common platform to the regular Joe and to their own people (should they step out of line). Once that platform starts “sinking in”, they can start releasing specific policy implementations.

  5. aland says:

    If you have listened to the speeches made, you would understand that the mechanics and details of the implementation will be worked out in time. Why would Pakatan want to reveal a detailed plan and then let Barisan Nasional hijack them claiming it as their own? We have seen too much of Barisan doing just that. Let’s get really real, the only choice for Malaysians IS for Pakatan Rakyat to rule.

  6. Anonymous Coward says:

    That three different and disparate political parties could come together and build a common platform, especially in Malaysia, is a staggering achievement. Teething problems exist, of course, but as it is, I feel that Pakatan Rakyat has shown that they’re serious about trying to make the country better. I mean, when was the last time Barisan Nasional had a meeting like this with their constituent parties? BN is Umno, for better or worse. At least in this case, we know that the three separate voices are counted when it comes to policy-making.

    I see the concession to local elections as that: concessions. They probably won’t have the political power or will to ensure that local elections be restored. Truthfully, I suspect that many government servants would work against Pakatan Rakyat should they come to power. Pakatan Rakyat not overcommitting is a good thing: they don’t want to overpromise and not deliver.

    I understand the frustration with Pakatan Rakyat — for example, I’m not really a big fan of statements made by Hasan Ali — but at least we now have a real choice. Before, there was only BN and look where that’s gotten us.

  7. Justitia says:

    1. It is short sighted of PR to advocate for an Equal Opportunities Act (EOA) to deal with discrimination in employment only. What about discrimination in other spheres e.g., when trying to get into local universities or to rent a house? It would make more sense to advocate for an Equality Act (EA). The main points of resistance will be the same whether they advocate for an EA or an EOA, so why aim for the narrower legislation? It is not often that a person faces discrimination on only one ground – the more usual case is a person facing a few forms of discrimination simultaneously. Can the EOA deal with that? Will it be able to deal with indirect and direct discrimination?

    2. Perhaps it was naive of us to expect PR to keep its promise on bringing back local government elections. How can it give up such a rich source of power and income? There are legal opinions which are available stating ways in which local government elections may be carried out without amending the Local Government Act, but we see no signs of any of the PR-controlled states even attempting to take the first step to test out the legal opinions. If the PR states meet resistance, then they will have to take matter to court.

    As a person who voted for PR in 2008, I am seriously considering not voting for them in the next elections: kata mesti dikota, lah!

  8. Beh Sai Kong says:

    A disappointing opinion piece. It displays a lack of understanding about the political process. The author cannot see beyond the surface and discern the deeper issues and problems. It is okay for such sentiments to be expressed in “coffee shop” talk. But regrettably, a published commentary needs to be more than that.

    For a start, you need to understand that a new coalition needs to get to the launching pad which in this case is the convention when its key policy platforms have to be debated and adopted. Do you seriously think that everybody should and can get into the act at this point of the process and PR would be able to get it passed there and then? There is nothing wrong to do as they have done.

    Now, while they await formal registration (if at all) by ROS, they can embark on a roadshow and get their grassroots supporters into the act by selling the policy to them and get their feedback. The kind of details you are wishing for only come later in the process when different task forces are formed to look into strategic action plans. This is not just for PR or political parties but all projects of any kind by any team. First, you draft a concept paper which captures what you wish to accomplish. The first round of debates is to win consensus for this. Then only can you begin to build on this consensus and put meat on the skeleton.

    To be sure, PR needs doses upon doses of criticisms to keep it on the right path but those of us who wish to join the chorus of criticism must at least know what we are talking about. To ask is easy but do we ourselves know what is the answer and how to get the answer? Sorry to know that you are disappointed but we are often the cause of our disappointments. We may need to do some serious thinking ourselves and try to understand process.

  9. Comrade Tan says:

    Main point: All for Malaysia, All for Malaysians, Democracy!

    Don’t put too much effort on ideologies, do more deeds for the rakyat.

    Enough of racism and discrimination, Malaysia for Malaysians!

    Viva PR!

  10. Foo says:

    If I can wait 52 years to see some tangible changes, I don’t mind giving PR time to be ready for Putrajaya, really.

  11. Vince says:

    Deb, say, or rather write, what you want.

    The bottom line is that more and more people are aware that after five over decades of Umno/BN rule has not only depleted the coffers but has left us without security, justice, proper health care. At least!

    Do you realise that we are short of 60,000 police officers? That’s virtually an army!
    Do you also realise that the so-called “National Health Insurance Scheme” has been more than a quarter of a century in the making and perhaps millions have been squandered in having experts to study it? Now, it looks like it’s going to be replaced by something else!

    Do you also realise that many Malaysians, mainly women, have been maimed or even killed by snatch thieves? […]

    Do you also know that what the Feds have done for the country or achieved in five over decades of ruling this country? Zilch!

    You still want to vote for Umno/BN?

    If you still want to continue to wallow in [rubbish], the choice is yours!

  12. mslim says:

    The Pakatan Rakyat is the alternative government to Barisan Nasional for sure and after 52 years the rakyat has a choice.

    Whether their policies are up to the mark remains to be seen but at least PR can refine it on the way. From the policies all of us can see that PR is the more credible of the coalitions to rule Putrajaya.

    We would not not want to be informed almost every day that there is a scandal, be it corruption, missing equipment parts, murder, sexual misconduct etc. from the BN government. This is not good governance and transparency should prevail at all levels of government dealings.

    To expect PR to be up to the mark within two years is asking too much from the writer. After all, BN had been on the job for 52 years and the state of economy is fast declining, the cost of living is on the rise, racial unity is getting worse by the day, the crime rate is climbing sky high until we see almost every taman has their own security, real income is declining etc.

    The rakyat will decide the government of the day, say what you will.

  13. kamal says:

    “These are sound proposals, but the framework is short on implementation specifics.”

    And this is an important point that Deborah makes. We shouldn’t be distracted by the age of the coalition – all the actors are seasoned politicians and newly-minted MPs are part of a team that have political experience. This is also not their first take at forming a coalition so they know the challenges.

    The parties and politics are not new. We have every right to expect them to be effective. If they have fundamental differences they have to decide the nature of their coalition – not us. And the same logic applies to BN as well.

    As for some of the comments posted here – do you really want to see the government come up with a privatised healthcare scheme? It may spell compulsory insurance and an end to the public system we have today – which far from perfect at least is accessible to everyone. We have been enjoying fantastically subsidised healthcare and I think we should work to maintain it – rather than an insurance model where you get treated based on what you can afford. Comprehensive and sound healthcare I believe is a fundamental right and should be available for everyone. And the government should provide for it – just as they should ensure well-built and maintained public roads, a national electric grid, effective armed forces, internal security agencies, an objective and effective legal system, etc.

    There seems to be some agreement to the need for an alternative to a BN that is growing too big for its pants. But the resolve to demand the alternative to be better should strengthen and not be weakened. In the end, we have to value our needs and being critical doesn’t display a personal dissatisfaction or defect, it may very well be an observation of real gaps. A policy is only as good as its implementation. So a critique of practice is important. We know what we want, but how are we getting there?

    In the end we are independent citizens and taxpayers. We should want the best government to manage our resources to the best of our interests. Malaysia and Singapore are probably the only democratic countries left in the world where the government at independence remains the ruling government. In most other cases, the ruling party has lost at least once (even Mugabe negotiated with the opposition party). And I agree with the views that PR needs to do more. Sympathy or empathy can only bring us so far. The public needs to demand from their elected representatives for a fairer society, for a better managed society, for a better participatory and representational government, and for a safer society. The question is how are we going to get there? These are the pathways that need to be translated from policy into practice.

  14. wayan says:

    Pakatan Rakyat should first start their reforms and policies in their own PR states, Kelantan, Penang, Kedah and Selangor.

    Talk is cheap!

  15. pei ling says:

    Same goes for their environmental/”green economy” policy too, fuzzy broad-based language with no meat. *sigh*

    PR needs to step it up, it’s not like they don’t have the experts and talents they need, especially when you compare them to BN. They need to put these people in positions where they can influence and bring about progressive change. Time to kick the old crackpots outta the game (or ask them to retire in more polite terms).

  16. Merah Silu says:

    To me PR is just like a rainbow. It appears after rain and then will disappear. To many Malay [Malaysians] who voted for the opposition, they will come back to support Umno/BN. Malay [Malaysian] unity is far more important than personal satisfaction. These people hated a few personalities in Umno and not the overall objectives and the struggle of Umno. The greater majority of Malay [Malaysians] still subscribe to Umno’s struggle. A person like me who considers myself a multicultural person and comfortably participates in activities that promote the objectives of 1Malaysia, could easily see how the newly-confident decendants of the economic-seeking-immigrants exert their influence in every aspects of life in Malaysia. During my primary and secondary school in the late 60’s, Chinese and Indian [Malaysians] could easily be termed as kaum asing. They all understand who they are and where they come from.

    Malay [Malaysians] as higlighted by Tun Mahathir are always mudah lupa. They cried at the fall of Malacca by Portuguese. The regretted of their own rampant corruption committed by orang asing. They should not repeat the same mistake again. That is why PR will fail and the Malay [Malaysians] will come back to Umno. The history of modern Malaysia has shown that.

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