Friday, September 5, 2008

Question of legitimacy looms as Sept 16 draws near

ANALYSIS By Wan Hamidi Hamid, The Malaysian Insider
Thursday, 04 September 2008 14:43

Twelve more days and it will be revealed whether Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's Sept 16 takeover of the government is a reality or nothing more than the former deputy prime minister's psychological warfare against Barisan Nasional (BN).

One thing is real though – BN, especially its backbone Umno, is under a tremendous pressure, both externally and internally.

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's stern warning to Anwar last week – at the end of his 2009 Budget speech in the Parliament – was a reflection of what was going on in his mind at the moment.

"Efforts by certain parties to destabilise the country by attempting to seize power through illegitimate means, and without the mandate of the people, must be rejected.

"I will not permit the mandate given by the people to be seized from Barisan Nasional, which had won the last election with a majority of the seats, based on democratic principles," said the Prime Minister in a direct reference to the takeover plan.

The question of whether a new Federal Government formed through mass defections has a legitimate plank to stand on remains even among strong supporters of the Opposition.

Anwar has been pushing for the plan since the political tsunami which swept BN out of five states and lost the coalition its precious two-thirds majority in the Parliament.

And even in those early days in March, there were already debates among the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) supporters, including some academics, on the legitimacy of forming a government through mass defections.

Political researcher Ong Kian Ming wrote in in April that "a mass migration of 30 or more BN MPs today would mean Pakatan could no longer maintain the moral high ground as it would be guilty of employing the dirty tactics used by BN during the Mahathir years".

Academic Dr Mavis Puthucheary, while agreeing with Ong on the evils of party hopping, argued that in coalition politics, political parties were free to enter into and withdraw from coalitions as they wish.

"This happened in the period immediately following the 1969 elections when several opposition parties were co-opted into the newly formed Barisan Nasional. So too in 1990, when the Parti Bersatu Sabah left the BN to join the opposition alliance. In such a situation the question of the moral hazard of party hopping does not arise," she said.

She also proposed that it would be better for the Pakatan, if parties, rather than individual MPs, crossed over to their side.

"In doing so the leadership of these parties ought to get the broad agreement of their membership so that the rank and file understands the importance of switching sides. This would reduce the unhealthy wheeling and dealing that is associated with the defection of individuals".

Those arguments were made before Anwar came up with the Sept 16 deadline.
To many PKR leaders, they have to go along with their leader Anwar. Even those who are not really convinced – with the date, not the takeover plan – the best they can offer when asked about it is, "Insya Allah" (God willing).

To PKR allies however it's a different story. No doubt many harbour the hope that Anwar could pull it off. Yet for Pas, the oldest partner among them with the most formidable grassroots election machinery, its senior clerics are not convinced.
Even Pas spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat who is supportive of Anwar has reminded his party members not to be obsessed with the Sept 16 date, saying that it was just a technical matter.

"What is important is that the government must change its policies and mindset to appease the needs of the people," said the Kelantan Mentri Besar.

To DAP leaders, many were initially unfazed with the idea of party hopping. And many more were convinced later when Anwar explained that the offer was to get a fresh mandate to reform the country.

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