Reflections on Anwar Ibrahim’s flaws

Reflections on Anwar Ibrahim’s flaws

From Terence Netto

Pakatan Harapan (PH) supremo Anwar Ibrahim is being blamed for the poor performance of the coalition in the Melaka state polls.

Detractors have asked him to resign.

However, senior PH leaders like Lim Kit Siang are saying that Anwar alone should not be blamed for the debacle.

The 80-year-old’s demurral sounds like special pleading: the DAP veteran knows if Anwar has to go, he and his son Lim Guan Eng, will have to follow suit, as part of a necessary refurbishment of the now-aged and staid PH leadership ranks.

The support for Anwar staying on should not deflect focus on his weaknesses that contributed to PH’s feeble showing.

Anwar is better at espousing principles than living up to them.

Well, most politicians are like that, but in Anwar’s instance, the defect has been more consequential.

This is because the defection of 10 PKR MPs to the Bersatu-led Perikatan Nasional (PN) in late February 2020 had ensured the downfall of the 22-month PH government.

Defections are a life-threatening issue to PH; a PH supremo ought to be hypersensitive to it.

The initial batch of defections from PKR to Bersatu and the independent benches in Parliament was followed by the departure of three more PKR MPs in 2021, making the issue of party-hopping a cause celebre.

Not just people who voted for PH in GE14 were appalled, non-partisan observers of Malaysian politics were aghast.

This heightened calls for a law to ban party-hopping.

Yet, bitter recriminations did not stop Anwar from encouraging the withdrawal by four state assemblypersons from the Barisan Nasional-led government of Melaka on Oct 4, and the fielding of two defectors in the PH line-up for the state polls triggered as a result.

The abject defeat of three of them last Saturday conveyed voters’ anger at party-hoppers.

Anwar had sensed, in the defections, a waystation en route to reversing the backdoor takeover of the federal government on March 1, 2020 by a Bersatu-led coalition.

Anwar prevaricated when reminded that defectors were toxic to PH.

Nevertheless, he allowed the fielding of two defectors in the PH line-up at the Melaka polls.

The ensuing disaster – ignominious defeat for the defectors, a PKR wipeout and a shrivelling of the DAP representation – constituted a pallid PH performance.

Absolving Anwar of responsibility for the disaster tells you why victory has a thousand fathers while defeat is an orphan.

Opportunistic expediency and evasion of responsibility are not Anwar’s only flaws.

His more emblematic one is George Bush’s in the war on terror: if you are not for the anti-terror coalition, you are against it.

The reason former strong supporters and allies have grown disillusioned with Anwar over the years is because of this binary perception of loyalty: if you were not for him, you must be against him.

Among the PKR MPs and other members who followed former party deputy president Azmin Ali when he defected to Bersatu were longstanding allies of Anwar, such as Kamaruddin Jaafar, Mansor Othman, and Khalid Jaafar.

Some had suffered a lot from being in the political wilderness while Anwar was in jail in two spells over a 10-year period on corruption and sodomy charges. But they stayed loyal throughout.

However, when Anwar was in jail in Sungai Buloh in a second spell (2014-18), several former loyalists gravitated towards Azmin.

A combination of factors was responsible.

These were Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah’ Wan Ismail’s, inept handling of party affairs; Razifi Ramli’s mounting and polarising antagonism towards Azmin; Nurul Izzah’s prima donna ways; and Anwar’s growing insecurity stoked while being briefed in Sungai Buloh on party and PH affairs by secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution, as Anwar nemesis Dr Mahathir Mohamed started to assemble an anti-Najib Razak coalition in the period 2015-18.

The upshot after a toxic gestation: a PKR candidate list for GE14 that made sure burgeoning support for Azmin was nipped.

The most egregious instance was the preference of a non-entity over incumbent Padang Serai MP N Surendran, a party stalwart and accomplished human rights lawyer.

Comparably asinine choices saw Natrah Ismail preferred over Tan Poh Lai in Sekijang and Rusnah Aluai chosen for Tangga Batu — the latter of the “Drinking Timah whiskey is like drinking a Malay woman” fame.

Anwar did not learn from his more pathetic candidate preferences in GE14.

His dropping of Ginie Lim, PKR incumbent for the Machap Jaya seat in the Melaka polls, displayed the same weakness for the mediocre loyal over stellar, if suspect, performers.

Ginie is a Melaka-grown potential. She had been cultivating Machap Jaya from before the 2008 general election, was defeated for it in GE12 and GE13, and, then, tenaciously and deservedly gained victory in GE14.

Anwar is too insecure to be a good prime minister. But he has two singular qualifications to be PM.

He considers poverty an abomination in resourse-rich Malaysia and will push a needs-based approach towards its eradication. The country needs this approach like it needs the Covid-19 pandemic to evanesce.

His second qualification is that he can render high flown philosophical speculation in the vernacular of the street.

Political discourse in Malaysia must be raised to higher levels, otherwise, it will hover around Rusnah Aluai’s standards.

A premiership by Anwar, to succeed, must have the backing of critiques of its content and style from people who are presently not found within PH.

But if there were, would Anwar be secure enough to listen? FMT

Reflections on Anwar Ibrahim’s flaws

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