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Making sense of crossovers, Part 5: Parting thoughts

As hard to believe as this sounds, I am both for and against the crossover efforts. In fact the only thing that would make me happy would be mass by-elections or fresh general elections. On September 11th, PKR Vice President Sivarasa Rasiah stated that the Opposition would hold general elections 6-12 months after seizing control of the government, so there is hope that the voters will get a say in who runs their government.

The main reasons the Opposition made any headway at all in the five states was the dissemination of information. The mainstream media has its mouth gagged on many issues, so the Internet and sms was used to great effect to spread the word.

However for states such as Terengganu, Sabah, Sarawak and Pahang where the Internet user base and income level is much lower, spreading information is difficult. It takes time to change people’s minds in these states. By-elections would not result in a big swing towards the Opposition.

The only feasible way for the Opposition to take control of the government is via crossovers. I strongly hope that laws are amended so that the Federal government does not have the kind of control it has now over the State governments. Until those amendments are made our democracy will never mature into a two-party system. A mixed cabinet of BN and Opposition MPs would help too.

The BN government has made full use of their Federal control to make life difficult for the Opposition state governments. Let us hope that the Opposition does not do the same once it takes over.

Since I completed this article we have witnessed the use of the Internal Security Act on Raja Petra, Teresa Kok and Tan Hoon Cheng. This scare tactic which appears to be initiated independently by the police begs the question of who is pulling their strings. It is legal for them to use ISA to detain people for questioning, but there are many other laws they could use instead of ISA. Someone must have encouraged them to do so.

The ISA is so strongly linked in the minds of the people as ‘government intimidation’ that I seriously doubt the PM or his Cabinet members were responsible in the case of Teresa Kok and Tan Hoon Cheng. Those arrests made no sense whatsoever. Raja Petra is a special case because people within BN and PKR view him as too outspoken. While what he has said about Islam makes sense to people like me, it upsets many more. I am curious how much attention Raja Petra’s detention will receive in the form of candlelight vigils, forums and so on now that the other two have been released.

Anwar Ibrahim did not meet his September 16th deadline, citing unrest caused by the ISA. He has tried to arrange a private meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss a handover of government, which the PM rightfully denied. I saw a copy of the letter sent – it was vaguely written and mentioned no list of crossovers. The PM must show strength and not give in to unsubstantiated facts (factoid).

On September 17th SAPP pulled out of BN, yet chose to remain independent. It appears they too wish to see if Anwar has the numbers.

Anwar then asked for an emergency session of Parliament for September 23rd, which I assume won’t happen either. He even stated he would see the Agong to seek intervention.

I am patient enough to wait a few weeks until October 13th when Parliament reconvenes. In my view Anwar fixed a deadline and didn’t finish his preparation work. Private meetings with the PM would be part of this work.

BN MPs finding it difficult to reach the Peninsular is not relevant, because they can submit their resignations in writing. Their lives and their families’ lives were always at risk, the usage of the ISA did not change that. Has some form of protection been given to them, or will they be left to fend for themselves like the private investigator Bala after giving his statutory declaration on Najib?

Anwar said he would take over the government on the 16th and he failed, plain and simple. When meeting the Agong was mentioned I knew that it was an act of desperation to save face. I do not doubt that he will take over the government eventually – I just wish he would be more patient.

To date, there is still no evidence of the 31 BN MPs ready to join the Opposition.

Making sense of crossovers

This series of articles tries to analyse the unending efforts of the Federal Opposition to take over the government by getting BN MPs to join them. Their goal is to get at least 31 BN MPs to change their allegiance on September 16th.

Part 1 looks at how PKR grew and the state it is in now, as they are the prime mover of the crossover ‘operation’.

Part 2 discusses the many justifications heard to support the crossovers.

Part 3 discusses the moral and democratic issues and suggested alternatives.

Part 4 describes ways to prevent and encourage crossovers.

Part 5 offers some parting thoughts and views on recent events

Written by ak57

September 24, 2008 at 7:00 am

Making sense of crossovers, Part 4: Strategies to encourage and prevent

The Opposition wants MPs to cross over to their side, and BN wants to halt their efforts. Both sides will do everything possible to achieve their goals, and this article discusses some strategies.

The factoid approach

Factoid (noun) : A piece of unverified or inaccurate information that is presented in the press as factual, often as part of a publicity effort, and that is then accepted as true because of frequent repetition.

– American Heritage Dictionary

The usage of factoids by the Opposition is quite obvious – not long after the March ’08 elections Anwar Ibrahim has repeatedly said that he has enough BN MPs willing to crossover. To date he has offered no evidence, but the constant repetition has caused many Opposition supporters to accept his statement as fact.

Due to the lack of evidence, supporters searched desperately for clues and signs that the crossovers were real. The tabling of a vote of no-confidence against the Prime Minister by SAPP was seen as a silent support of the Opposition, possibly indicative of SAPP crossing over. The various ex-politicians from UMNO and Gerakan joining PKR in the past few months were also seen as a ‘crossover’ of sorts. But no actively serving MP in BN has come out in support of the Opposition.

The power of the factoid lies in how easy it is to repeat to others. Events that are imagined to be evidence are woven into the factoid, further enhancing its credibility. For how many months has the public been subjected to Anwar’s repeated claim that he has the numbers to take control of the government?

In the secret discussions held between the Opposition and the BN MPs, factoids play a role as well. An MP may be told that his compatriots have already ‘signed on’, thereby pressuring him to join the Opposition. In today’s age where phones are tapped, SMS’s traced and the threat of detention without trial looms, the MP may be fearful to confirm the truth about his compatriots. He may even go another route by telling other MPs that certain big names in BN were confirmed to be crossing over, according to ‘reliable sources’, but he himself was not. Whether he is aware of it or not, the MP would be doing the Opposition’s work for them, by spreading the factoid of the signed-on MPs.

Opponents of Anwar Ibrahim tried to use a factoid as well, as can be seen in the allegation by Saiful Bukhari that Anwar sodomised him. To date there has been no evidence that sexual assault of such nature occurred, yet charges were filed and Anwar was forced to undergo a medical examination.

Fans of the sodomy factoid hoped that it would cause Opposition supporters to lose faith in their leader, yet it backfired. Anwar is seen as being under attack once again, as he was previously accused of sodomy in 1998 and served a prison sentence before being acquitted. The factoid served to increase support for Anwar and reduce support for BN, as they are believed to be the masterminds behind the 1998 and 2008 sodomy charges.

The Permatang Pauh by-election spawned another factoid – that the nation completely supports Anwar Ibrahim as the next Prime Minister. As Opposition members put it, “How else does one explain that Anwar won despite BN throwing ‘everything it had’ at the election?”

This flawed argument ignores the fact that it was a safe seat, and that money in elections matters less than the message being spread. On the one hand you have the established leader of the DAP-PAS-PKR coalition promising lower petrol prices and a better economy for all races, and on the other hand you have a man whose campaign focused heavily on pushing their sodomy factoid. Even the most objective would have to say that Anwar’s message was stronger.

All these factoids have helped a great deal in boosting the image of Anwar Ibrahim and the Opposition as being in control of government already, if only the present government would let go. Voters may be influenced to pressure their MP to cross over, and MPs may feel they should so they are not left behind.

Increased funding and power to BN MPs

Sabah and Sarawak are two states that have been publicly targeted by the Opposition for their crossover operation. There is no reason to believe that MPs in other states are not being courted as well, but with the frequently publicised ‘secret meetings’ BN leaders would do well to court their own MPs as well. Increased funding to Sabah and Sarawak, and perhaps some more investment in improving their infrastructure and quality of life would do well to earn their loyalty.

The arrogant attitude shown by BN in the past does imply that they may ignore the Opposition’s claims altogether. By doing so they are missing out an opportunity to secure the loyalty of their MPs.

A public pledge of allegiance

This was attempted by BN in Sabah in August ’08, but was rejected as the Sabah MPs viewed it as insulting. Eventually it took place in early September, with more than 40 MPs from Sabah and Sarawak pledging their loyalty to BN.

It could be argued that such a pledge could easily be revoked by joining the Opposition and saying, ‘I was coerced into pledging’ – so why bother?

Sequestering BN MPs

An agricultural study trip to Taiwan was held in early September for 50 BN MPs. The duration of the trip conveniently put them out of the country on September 16th. The Opposition sent three PKR elected representatives to Taiwan as well, to maintain the ambiguity over the reasons for the trip.

Opposition supporters view this trip as an act of fear by BN, and an opportunity to have secret discussions.

Others saw this as a ploy by BN to see how far the Opposition was willing to go- apparently far enough to send two MPs and a State Exco member over there.

Resignations to the Dewan Rakyat can be submitted in writing. There was nothing stopping the MPs from changing their parties while overseas. However the Opposition had to maintain their factoid by sending people over there, so this action is forgivable.

Removing Anwar from politics

This can be said to be in-progress with the sodomy charges pending a trial. Without Anwar there would be no Pakatan Rakyat and PKR itself would not be as strong.

This is a nation where politicians have been murdered publicly in the past and the results of the investigations were either inconclusive or not publicised – swept under the carpet. Anwar has been a threat to BN since his release from prison, but the lack of harsh action against him indicates he has some form of protection. What that is we will never know.

Replacing the Prime Minister

The people’s faith in the Prime Minister is at an all time low. UMNO could just replace Abdullah Ahmad Badawi with someone else, such as Najib Razak or Muhyiddin Yasin. With a new Prime Minister in charge, perhaps announcing some grand changes such as a reform of the Civil Service or Election Commission, the Opposition would find it more difficult to increase support for their crossover plan.

A major incident

This can take the form of any event that would sway public opinion, and can be used by both sides.

A racial event (riot/hate speech/hate crime) involving Opposition members could cause voters to run back to BN ‘for protection’. BN has always capitalised on the racial divides in our country, and such an event could be engineered or instigated. The same event, if not handled correctly in the media, could benefit the Opposition instead if BN is seen as the cause of it.

Mass arrests could be seen as a clampdown on free speech in this country, and build up tremendous resentment towards the present government. In the present political climate where distrust of BN is high, there is no way for BN to put a positive spin on arrests of Opposition politicians – not without hard evidence.

Opposition supporters are fearful that either of these events would lead to the government declaring a State of Emergency. But they fail to realise that BN is not so foolish as to cripple our economy just to retain their ‘power’. A crippled economy and a drop in foreigners confidence in our government serves no one, not even the purportedly selfish BN politicians.

Back pedalling

The crossovers have a firm date of September 16th set for them. If it does not happen then the Opposition, specifically Anwar, will have to come up with a range of excuses. It could be fear due to a major incident. It could be due to evidence disproving his factoid.

Early on the Opposition stated that all the MPs would crossover at a specific time. If one MP crossed over and some punishment befell him, the others may be too scared. But the problem with the factoid approach is that on September 16th, all the MPs may be waiting to see who takes the first step before committing themselves. If nobody steps forward then we will see the Opposition engage in some face saving exercise. Only time will tell.

Making sense of crossovers

This series of articles tries to analyse the unending efforts of the Federal Opposition to take over the government by getting BN MPs to join them. Their goal is to get at least 31 BN MPs to change their allegiance on September 16th.

Part 1 looks at how PKR grew and the state it is in now, as they are the prime mover of the crossover ‘operation’.

Part 2 discusses the many justifications heard to support the crossovers.

Part 3 discusses the moral and democratic issues and suggested alternatives.

Part 4 describes ways to prevent and encourage crossovers.

Part 5 offers some parting thoughts and views on recent events

Written by ak57

September 24, 2008 at 6:56 am

Making sense of crossovers, Part 3: Moral and democratic issues; Suggested alternatives

It is clear that the pursuit of crossovers by the Opposition has been to gain power. The power to change government policy; to do good for the people; to make Anwar the next Prime Minister. That last reason looks less altruistic than the rest, but serves as a reminder of the cult of personality that is PKR.

There are many Malaysians who are against a change of government taking place by the crossover method. The common argument focuses on morality and democracy.

Subversion of democratic process

Democracy (noun): Government by popular representation; a form of government in which the supreme power is retained by the people, but is indirectly exercised through a system of representation and delegated authority periodically renewed; a constitutional representative government; a republic.

– Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary

The Federal Government of Malaysia follows the Westminster system of government inherited from the United Kingdom. Under this system there is a Head of State (our Agong), Head of Government (Prime Minister) and Parliament consisting of lower house (Dewan Rakyat) and upper house (Dewan Negara).

The Prime Minister is appointed based on the Agong’s judgement that he commands the majority of the Dewan Rakyat. In practice this position goes to a representative from the largest political party. The Prime Minister then appoints his Cabinet ministers from either house. It is even legal under our Constitution to have a mixed Cabinet of Opposition and BN members, though that has never happened.

If the members of the Dewan Rakyat lose confidence in the Prime Minister, they can choose to show this lack of confidence by refusing to pass a vital Bill such as the Budget, or take a vote of no confidence. The Prime Minister can then resign his post or call for general elections.

The crossovers being discussed are of members of the Dewan Rakyat – our Members of Parliament (MPs). They are individually elected by voters in their constituencies during the General Elections.

To put it simply, in practice:

  1. Voters vote for their MP in the elections
  2. The total MPs that are elected are tallied up and the majority party is determined
  3. The party that holds the majority is presumed to have control of the government
  4. The Prime Minister is selected from the majority party and appoints his Cabinet members
  5. The MPs may call for a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister
  6. Voters who want change of government vote for the party they support in the next election

The voting process is how the people exercise their power over the government, satisfying the definition of democracy. That is what happened in March ’08 – an unprecedented number of people were tired of BN and voted for the Opposition.

The excuse given by the Opposition is that voters select an individual candidate based on personal capability and character, not party. As such the candidate is free to make independent choices based on what serves the constituency first. So if the candidate feels he is unable to perform his duties by virtue of being in the wrong party, he should feel free to cross over.

This is an academic point of view.

This excuse ignores the fact that not all voters have the luxury of getting to know their candidate. In the fast paced life we live in today, many find it impossible to make time to attend speeches or look at the candidate’s track record. Ideally the voters would get to know all the choices and arrive at an informed decision.

The reality is that countless voters voted based on party, not individual. The rights of these voters need to be respected, and that is why crossovers are viewed as a betrayal of the voter. It is not fair for the academics to point at these voters and say they were wrong to vote based on party.

There are voters who voted for an Opposition candidate solely because they wanted Anwar Ibrahim as Prime Minister.

There are voters who voted for a BN candidate solely because they wanted the rights of their race to be protected.

There are voters who voted for an Opposition candidate solely because they had lost faith in BN.

There are voters who voted for a BN candidate solely because they did not trust the Opposition.

Do their votes not count? How they choose to vote is their right, and no-one should question their reasoning.

The moral argument

When one talks about morality, it is important to realise that right and wrong depends on the point of view taken. Coming back to the crossovers that are expected to occur:

1. It is immoral because it betrays the voters who voted primarily based on party. It also betrays the party members who supported the MP’s rise to power. The MP is viewed as a representative of the party first.

2. It is moral because by virtue of being elected the MP has the confidence of his constituency and can choose to serve another party so long as it benefits the constituents. The MP is viewed as a representative of the constituents first.

Given that both points of view are true, advocates of either view are not wholly right or wrong. Yet they behave as though they are morally superior to their opponents. Talking about morality is time-wasting at best. If you are a voter and your MP is crossing over, ask yourself these questions:

1. Is the MP’s party that you voted for still the party you wish it to be?

2. Is the party that the MP is crossing over to one that you trust and share ideology with?

3. If the crossover will cause a change of government, do you have faith in the leaders of this new government?

Suggested alternatives

We have seen that the act of getting MPs to switch parties to force a change of government is a subversion of democratic process. Regardless of whether you view it as moral or immoral, the voters did not get a say in it. What follows are a number of suggested alternatives.

Ask MPs to step down and have by-elections

An election is the only way to confirm that voters in a given constituency want change. This is the best alternative because it does not raise any democratic or moral issues and helps legitimise the formation of a new government by the Opposition. However it is not feasible for a number of reasons.

Any MP who steps down is barred from being a member of the Dewan Rakyat for five years (Federal Constitution Article 48 Clause 6). Not only would this be a political setback for some, but their income has to be considered as well. If they have been fulltime career politicians, they may not be able to enjoy the same level of income by seeking employment elsewhere.

So you would be asking the MP to sacrifice their status in their constituency and money. It is true that they would gain goodwill by doing this act of charity ‘for the nation’, but goodwill does not put food on the table and fades altogether very quickly. How many politicians out there would take such a personal loss to serve others?

The Opposition cannot be seen giving them money to make up for the loss, or making them Senators so they can still enjoy their privileges. It would be interpreted immediately as a bribe.

The election process is still viewed by the Opposition as corrupt, so they would not trust any by-election. In the March ’08 elections Sabah and Sarawak voted almost entirely for BN. It was only six months ago, so how much of a swing could be expected? Crossovers are the safest way for the Opposition to seize control of these constituencies.

Get voters to sign petition of endorsement/condemnation

While not as strong as asking MPs to step down, this alternative can show the public whether the crossover is supported by the voters in that constituency. It helps pressure the MP in making a decision on whether to make the leap or publicly state he won’t.

Call for a vote of no-confidence

The Opposition had tried to push a motion of no-confidence for debate in Parliament on July 14th 2008 but it was blocked by the Speaker of the House. Such a motion if passed would not even have resulted in a vote, yet it was blocked. On the day itself the Parliament House and roads surrounding it were put under heavy guard by the police, even to the extent of placing barb wire.

Parliament will reconvene in October, so there is still a chance for a no-confidence motion to be made.

Component parties leaving BN

If component parties such as MCA, MIC and Gerakan left BN they would still retain their independence and not be seen as opportunists jumping to the Opposition. Their supporters could still remain loyal as the party had not joined the ‘hated Opposition’. Once the BN coalition becomes smaller it would no longer command the majority in Parliament and the Prime Minister would be forced to resign.

SAPP would most likely be the first to do this, as they publicly showed a lack of faith in BN in June.


If it were another country, waiting for the next election would be the norm. However the present government has a history of using existing draconian laws to clamp down on freedom of speech – not to the extent of military rule, but just enough to create fear in the majority. It has made no effort these many decades to foster a strong Opposition.

In practice we live under a one-party system which is in dire need of change. The moral issues with crossovers still remain, and as a nation we will never know how acceptable crossovers are to us until the next election. The power to change the government should always rest with the voters and we must strive to keep it there.

Making sense of crossovers

This series of articles tries to analyse the unending efforts of the Federal Opposition to take over the government by getting BN MPs to join them. Their goal is to get at least 31 BN MPs to change their allegiance on September 16th.

Part 1 looks at how PKR grew and the state it is in now, as they are the prime mover of the crossover ‘operation’.

Part 2 discusses the many justifications heard to support the crossovers.

Part 3 discusses the moral and democratic issues and suggested alternatives.

Part 4 describes ways to prevent and encourage crossovers.

Part 5 offers some parting thoughts and views on recent events

Written by ak57

September 24, 2008 at 6:47 am

Making sense of crossovers, Part 2: Justifications

The March ’08 election results took everybody by surprise. The Opposition never expected to seize control of five states and was totally unprepared. They had been conditioned by events in the past to have no faith in the Electoral Commission and electoral process. But in recent years uncontrolled media such as the Internet helped expose acts of corruption endorsed the ruling party. BN was seen as being corrupt and self-serving.

Voters voted against BN, not for the Opposition. Instead of realising this, the Opposition felt they had the mandate of the people and were it not for the ‘corrupt electoral process’ they would have seized the nation. So they embarked on a quest to seize control by getting BN MPs to switch parties. PKR has been the prime mover of this quest, with PAS and DAP giving silent support of this course of action.

Never mind the fact that these BN MPs are the same MPs that have been hated all these years. Never mind the fact that an overwhelming number of elected representatives in the Opposition are new to politics and unaware of the responsibilities of an MP or ADUN.

When you are part of a group and the leaders do something you disapprove of, you may fall into a state of cognitive dissonance. “I am part of a group of good people and everything we do is right. Yet my leaders are proposing something I know is wrong. Both points of view can’t be right!” To stay in the group one has to believe the leaders are right, and the best way of doing that is by convincing others.

So justifications were needed to ensure that Opposition supporters are still part of the morally superior bloc they claim to be. The diehards repeat it to everyone out of blind devotion, while the fence-sitters repeat it to everyone to convince themselves they are with the right group.

Here are some of the common justifications:

1. To rescue Sabah and Sarawak

Sabah and Sarawak have been suffering economically for decades, despite being our main sources of petroleum exports. Sabah in particular has been accepted as a ‘permanent’ BN state due to the immigrant population outnumbering the locals – immigrants who always vote for BN. The people living there have long been exploited and ignored by their politicians, and the promise of the Opposition to better their lives is an attractive one.

But how would you explain a crossover of Sabah MPs, when come next election the voters will vote BN again? Four years is too short to make the grand sweeping changes that people imagine the Opposition to be capable of.

2. To make it easier/possible to govern the opposition states

Ronnie Liu (DAP – Pandamaran) highlighted this fact in a ceramah. He said that state governments had their hands tied when it came to simple tasks like constructing a hospital or a post office. Too much money and power is concentrated in the Federal Government, so much so that winning the state did not accord that much control after all.

It would seem that our nation has been structured in such a way that a political coalition must control the states and the federal government in order to effectively govern the people. This seems like a good argument, but to what extent is it true and why is this message in particular not widely spread?

It could be because this justification only emerged after a few months of governing, so it could not contest against the earlier, more popular justifications.

3. To fight cronyism and corruption

This caters to the long standing tradition of the Opposition of exposing corruption. However there is a big difference between exposing corruption and fixing it. We are living in a nation saturated with corruption, and too much exposure can cause a serious collapse of systems within the government.

To be effective in the long term, the Opposition has to slowly make changes to the way things are run. But it promises swift change. It is the equivalent of rushing to build a house on a foundation infested with termites.

4. Because the majority of the nation supports it

This justification is used by the diehard haters of the electoral process in the country. Their view is that as long as most of the states support the Opposition, the others should fall suit. Apparently votes belonging to voters in the ‘losing team’ don’t matter.

If the electoral process was as corrupt as they claim, BN would not have allowed five states to fall into Opposition hands.

5. Because UMNO leadership is in disarray since the election

UMNO has had a lot of infighting and finger pointing to try and explain their loss to themselves. They are another victim suffering from cognitive dissonance. For so long they had been unbeatable and now they had lost so much overnight it is almost impossible to accept. This internal conflict shows a weak leadership.

But what about the leadership of the Opposition, is it strong? The Pakatan Rakyat coalition of DAP-PAS-PKR has no constitution, or agreed-upon guidelines for governing the nation. PKR in particular is suffering from its cult behaviour and undefined culture, having a large number of newly elected leaders unclear on what their party ideology is.

6. Because BN might sabotage Pakatan Rakyat

Some members feel that BN may try something drastic in order to hang on to their power. This drastic action may be an assassination, detention without trial, perhaps even a racial riot. Yes, we have draconian laws in this country. But our nation’s public image is a top priority for the ruling government, thus they try their best not to invoke them.

They have used media control to limit the information that reaches the masses, but the Internet has been used to get around this control. BN can’t censor the Internet – that is viewed internationally as the act of a totalitarian regime.

Despite the demonisation of BN they have not initiated mass arrests of Opposition members or shot them. Since Anwar was freed from prison he has been a threat to them, yet no action was taken against him. Since March ‘08 the entire Opposition was a threat, yet still no action was taken. Any drastic action runs the risk of street demonstrations, with the threat of escalation leading to a State of Emergency. In our globalised economy we cannot afford to invoke Emergency Rule, which would cripple our economy for years.

All that BN allegedly has done since the election is create a sodomy case against Anwar and arrest Perak politicians on fake corruption charges. Not the hard-lined action that supporters of this ‘sabotage’ idea are expecting.

How does being in fear of a BN controlled government justify courting BN MPs? To put it another way, it is like telling them, “Please sir, we’re scared you’ll lock us up, why don’t you join us so we can be sure we are all friends?”


More often than not, the Opposition does not communicate their goals to the people very well. Actions are taken and decisions made but the reasoning is unknown. In explaining and rebuking some of the justifications for crossing over, it is hoped that you have a better understanding of the arguments of the Opposition.

Making sense of crossovers

This series of articles tries to analyse the unending efforts of the Federal Opposition to take over the government by getting BN MPs to join them. Their goal is to get at least 31 BN MPs to change their allegiance on September 16th.

Part 1 looks at how PKR grew and the state it is in now, as they are the prime mover of the crossover ‘operation’.

Part 2 discusses the many justifications heard to support the crossovers.

Part 3 discusses the moral and democratic issues and suggested alternatives.

Part 4 describes ways to prevent and encourage crossovers.

Part 5 offers some parting thoughts and views on recent events

Written by ak57

September 17, 2008 at 12:18 am

Making sense of crossovers, Part 1: The state of PKR

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is a multi-racial political party in Malaysia founded in 1999 following the arrest and persecution of Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim on what many believe to be fabricated charges. Its early goal was to fight corruption in the government and judiciary, and free Anwar from prison.

The granfalloon strategy

Kurt Vonnegut introduced the term ‘granfalloon’ in his book, Cat’s Cradle (1963). He defines a granfalloon as a proud and meaningless association of human beings. This is a bit subjective, but one example is the bond we make with people based on where we grew up or where we worked. Have you ever been to a party and met someone from your hometown or alma mater? Did you then take an instant liking with that person? At that moment you became part of a granfalloon.

Sharing a hometown with someone doesn’t mean anything really – does it mean that you share the same activities, values, ideology or beliefs? Yet it provides an easy way for us to be a part of a group and start to bond. As part of a group we can then demonise those on the outside, further enhancing this bond we share.

A bond founded on a meaningless association.

The Opposition have long touted their selves as being morally superior to those in the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN). They see themselves as championing the cause of the just, a worthy fight indeed. BN on the other hand champion the cause of their individually represented races, a cause that seems archaic in the global economy we live in today.

Between championing the cause of justice and equality and championing the cause of your race, which sounds better? There’s no denying the former sounds better. So that became an unofficial part of the recruiting strategy – ‘if you want equal rights, if you want a judiciary free from corruption, join PKR’.

But what does it mean to be part of PKR?

In 1999 it meant supporting the release of Anwar from prison.

By 2004 Anwar’s incarceration had resulted in waning support from all but the most diehard supporters, who were focused on fighting for social justice and freeing Anwar.

In 2008 it meant supporting a change of government long seen as corrupted, and making Anwar the next Prime Minister.

But what does it mean in terms of action? During elections PKR members turn out in droves to lend their support, but what about the intervening years? Are these branches and divisions (organisational entities within the party) doing community service and other activities to promote the party name? No, they are not.

They gather together in coffee shops and chit chat about current affairs, perhaps trading stories about recent acts of corruption by BN. They have some infighting for ‘positions of power’ like Branch Chairman. Without activities such positions are symbolic, yet they reinforce the sense of belonging.

Outsiders who show interest in the coffee shop gatherings are shunned, but once they join PKR they are welcomed with open arms. So members sign up without even knowing what the party manifesto is or how it intends to achieve its goals.

That is the power of a granfalloon – it is easy to create and self-sustaining. It feeds the human need to group together and feel popular, even more strongly if there is a perceived threat e.g. a government that can have you jailed for speaking your mind.

A party that grew too fast

PKR is a young political party that has yet to establish a firm identity for its members. Here is a list of groups within the party (there are overlaps of course):

  1. Close friends of Anwar
  2. Activists (human rights/civil rights)
  3. Former BN members (mostly UMNO)
  4. Power hungry people looking for fame

It is the last two groups that people should take notice of. In 1999 party membership was high, after all Anwar was seen as the next Prime Minister. His sacking, the sodomy trial and incarceration made a lot of people angry. This was also a time when people from UMNO entered the newly setup PKR.

This should come as no surprise. It is not believable that the majority of the party is made up of people who were never involved in politics before. This causes problems because the former UMNO members in PKR still retain the culture of UMNO. These are people who are interacting with the grassroots and teaching them the wrong things, not out of malice but out of ignorance.

By 2004 on a national level things had become quiet, but after Anwar’s release from prison PKR started to grow again. There is no denying that his personal charisma is very strong. In the wake of the March ’08 elections, membership has increased exponentially. Being part of the ‘winning team’ is quite a confidence booster for a new member and a great opportunity for the power hungry.

PKR started with a growing membership base that then shrank and at this moment is growing very rapidly. At each stage the infrastructure was not set up to condition members on what the party ideology is and what the party’s stand on the issues of the day are.

That is why today you find PKR members acting as boorish as their BN counterparts. They have no idea how they are supposed to behave or what they are supposed to do. This lack of guidance shows in PKR State Assemblymen (ADUNs) and Members of Parliament (MPs) today. There are racists, religionists, and power hungry people focused on fame.

A cult of personality

Throughout its history, PKR’s life has revolved around Anwar. Its members have a blind devotion to him that has caused many to lose their objectivity. Look at the party structure, which from lowest to highest level is:

Branch > Division > State > Supreme Council > President > Anwar (Party Advisor/De facto leader)

Anwar’s word is law within the party and nobody is willing to criticise anything he does. It is accepted fact that Pakatan Rakyat (the DAP-PAS-PKR coalition) would not exist without him. Party members, even ADUNs and MPs are at his beck and call. They have to drop what they are doing if he wants their presence. They know this reinforces the cult perception, yet they do so without question. It shows a leadership that is weak. Effective leaders know when to question their superiors and public dissent can sometimes show strength, not weakness as commonly believed.

The legion of supporters at the Permatang Pauh by-election in August ’08 demonstrated this cult behaviour quite well. Anwar contested in a safe seat and won, yet supporters talk about the election as though the entire nation voted for him, not Permatang Pauh. That it was a political tsunami, like the March ’08 elections where voters voted against what was expected. When intellectuals within PKR say such things it shows how blind they are.

This creates a bad perception of the party for outsiders. Power should not rest in one individual. Should anything happen to Anwar the fragile alliance of Pakatan Rakyat will be put in jeopardy.

The party needs strong leaders with a strong public presence, to show that it is an organised, well-functioning body and not just a group of followers whose lives revolve around one man. It needs a well established culture like its counterparts in Pakatan Rakyat. There are individuals who are starting to push for an establishment of this culture – hopefully their efforts succeed before things fall apart within the party.

Note: PKR was originally called Parti Keadilan in 1999, and merged with Parti Rakyat Malaysia in 2003 to become Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

Making sense of crossovers

This series of articles tries to analyse the unending efforts of the Federal Opposition to take over the government by getting BN MPs to join them. Their goal is to get at least 31 BN MPs to change their allegiance on September 16th.

Part 1 looks at how PKR grew and the state it is in now, as they are the prime mover of the crossover ‘operation’.

Part 2 discusses the many justifications heard to support the crossovers.

Part 3 discusses the moral and democratic issues and suggested alternatives.

Part 4 describes ways to prevent and encourage crossovers.

Part 5 offers some parting thoughts and views on recent events

Written by ak57

September 16, 2008 at 12:48 pm

NEP’s Twilight Years

The goal of the New Economic Policy (NEP), or Dasar Ekonomi Baru (DEB), was to eradicate poverty by redistributing wealth among the three major races in Malaysia – Malays/Bumiputras, Chinese and Indians. This was noticeably done by offering benefits to Bumiputras, akin to affirmative action. Some of these benefits are:

  1. Priority placement in universities (ethnic quotas)
  2. Discounts on housing loans
  3. Loans/Mutual funds available only for Bumiputras, or discounted for them
  4. Minimum percentage of equity owned by KLSE companies must be by Bumiputras
  5. Many government projects to be given only to Bumiputra owned companies

Unfortunately in the almost four decades since this policy has been implemented, all it has accomplished is:

  1. Redistribute wealth from other races into a minority of uber-rich Bumiputras
  2. Create a superiority complex among these uber-rich Bumiputras
  3. Encourage laziness/laid-back attitude among some Bumiputras because they don’t have to work as hard as other races to become wealthy
  4. Create the perception among non-Bumiputras that Bumiputras aren’t very smart, probably owing to the laid-back attitude (I’m not kidding, I have seen and heard this mentioned many times)
  5. Ferment unrest among other races due to the economic disadvantages of not being a Bumiputra
NEP #1

Personal Experiences

I have never made use of my Bumiputra benefits:

  1. I have never bought a house nor do I see myself buying one in the near future
  2. I do not own any Amanah Saham shares or taken the special Bumiputra-only loan that allows me to buy them at a profit (yes, it is a loan that pays for itself)
  3. I have not registered my company with the Ministry of Finance in order to gain access to government tenders
  4. I was offered a job once based on my Bumiputra status alone – the company didn’t even want to interview me! They merely wanted to fill their quota
  5. I once had a boss that constantly complained about how useless I was to him, because I did not look like a Bumiputra and was considered (by him) to be ‘not good enough’ to get government contracts
  6. Many non-Bumis automatically assume I am not very bright and act incredibly surprised when I prove them wrong, quote, “I never thought Malay could do that!”
  7. Despite them knowing about these facts, I still get some occasional verbal abuse from non-Bumiputra friends about how much they suffer because of people like me

Looking at this list now I must admit I seem rather silly. Had I taken advantage of the personal/business loans I would be much better off. Sadly I never really had the means to get started on the loan due to hovering in the lower middle class income range, and also because of my anger at being accused of being another free-loading Bumiputra. At least I can honestly retort that I never claimed any Bumiputra benefits 🙂

Enter PKR

When Keadilan was formed back in 1999 I was quite happy to be a part of the Lembah Pantai branch. During our early meetings I approached most of the members privately to discuss my idea to either phase out Bumiputra benefits, or to award benefits based on income level instead. Both approaches were supported 100%; the race of the listener was not an issue. I felt great, because prior to coming into Keadilan whenever I had mentioned this idea to Bumiputras they would get really angry.

NEP #2

In 2004 I was not able to take part in campaigning, though I did manage to look at the party manifesto and saw the dreaded phrase, ‘Abolishment of NEP’.

Why dread?

Take your tv remote control for example. Imagine if one day someone were to tell you they were going to take away your remote if you vote for them. How every time you want to change the channel, you would have to walk across the room to your tv set, twiddle some knobs and walk back.

I felt that the trick would be to slowly move the remote further and further away, thereby developing the capability of being able to run over to the tv directly. That’s the whole point of phasing out. This phrase in the manifesto is a sure vote-loser I thought. NEP needs to be phased out, not abolished!

NEP #3

The Threat of Abolishment

But who really fears the removal of NEP (i.e. economic Bumiputra benefits)?

  • The uber-rich Bumiputras, because it stops them from effortlessly becoming even more rich
  • The middle class who are currently gaining from it
  • The Bumiputras who view NEP as a shield that ‘protects’ them from economy controlling non-Bumis

However the poor and lower middle class (borderline poor) have not benefited from it. The economic gap between the uber-rich and the rest of the people is incredibly large. Unfortunately for the ruling party (many of whom are the uber-rich mentioned), the poor form the majority of voters in many states which is why during PKR’s recent campaign you see they spent most, if not all their time wooing the poor voters.

Unlike the 2004 Election, in the 2008 Election PKR had the Malaysian Economic Agenda (MEA), a replacement for the NEP that awards benefits based on merit (like income level) rather than race. With this replacement policy in hand, no voter could fear the statement of ‘Abolishment of NEP’.

Now with Kedah, Penang, Kelantan, Perak and Selangor in Opposition hands, the NEP is in serious danger of disappearing. Small wonder then that UMNO staged protests against it in Penang and Selangor, while using their own media viz. the mainstream media to play up the issue.

Articles related to the protests:

Malaysiakini: UMNO holds one hour protest in Komtar (link)
Malaysiakini: Penang rally, police warn ISA will be used (link)
NST: Rumour-mongers get ISA warning (link)

BN’s control of the mainstream media has given them an advantage because they can suppress any information on the MEA. But with five states in their hands the Opposition parties have proven that control of the media no longer gives total control over information, so this anti-NEP movement is bound to fizzle out soon.

Unless of course PKR amends the MEA to be merit and race-based, or makes other drastic changes to it. I think it is more likely BN will copy ideas from MEA and try to take credit for it.

While it is most doubtful that the Opposition parties would/could remove all the Bumiputra benefits overnight, we are definitely about to experience the end of the NEP. These twilight years should prove quite interesting 🙂

Written by ak57

March 21, 2008 at 2:31 pm