It is said that a single picture is worth a thousand words.
One of the pictures (above) that came out of the recently concluded PKR party congress neatly summed up the disarray in the opposition: Dr Mahathir looking like he’s taking a selfie (he was actually recording the event) while other opposition leaders held up placards in support of Anwar Ibrahim.
Egos getting in the way of opportunities
At a time when Malaysians are having to put up with rising costs, unimaginable corruption, the abuse of power, a crackdown on civil liberties and a nation being torn apart by religious and racial extremism, one would expect the opposition to quickly seize the opportunity to come to agreement on at least a minimal political platform and settle upon someone to lead the charge at the next elections.
It is also a time when UMNO is arguably at its weakest, beset by scandal and internal division, when UMNO-aligned parties like MCA, MIC and Gerakan are close to extinction, when there is an abundance of critical political, economic and social issues just crying out for attention.
With the yearning for change never greater, Malaysians are looking to the opposition for hope, inspiration and leadership.
Instead, what we see are egos getting in the way of opportunities, yesterday’s battles and old rivalries hindering today’s possibilities, and leaders who appear unwilling to make the kind of hard choices necessary for victory.
Who, what, where?
At the PKR congress, one leader said, to thunderous applause, “The victory will be for the people if they unite behind us in GE14.”
There is no doubt that many Malaysians, perhaps even the majority, are ready to support the opposition; what they want to know is follow who, follow what, and follow where?
One thing is certain: people are sick and tired of grandstanding and generic statements that don’t mean anything. They are tired of obfuscation and disingenuity especially on critical issues. They’ve had that for decades under UMNO-BN and they don’t want more of the same from the opposition.
Leaders not seat-warmers please
Dr. Wan Azizah, always the faithful wife, may declare that she is proud to be a seat-warmer for her husband, jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim but, respectfully, at this critical juncture, we need more than seat-warmers.
We need a leader who will inspire and motivate Malaysians to believe that the change that Anwar fought for is still possible. We need a leader who can convince voters, especially the rural Malay electorate, that the opposition stands for something better than anything that UMNO-BN has to offer. We need a leader who can provide leadership to the opposition on make or break political and religious issues and seat allocations.
And we need a leader who can galvanize as many Malaysians as possible to work and vote together in the herculean task of defeating UMNO-BN in the next elections.
Of course, it would be awesome if Anwar Ibrahim would be that man but he sits unjustly incarcerated in prison and cannot realistically lead from behind bars. It’s unfair, it’s unjust, it’s another reason why UMNO-BN should be denied another term but, for now, opposition leaders need to be pragmatic enough to choose a leader, a prime minister-in-waiting, that is free to go around the country campaigning and inspiring the electorate to get behind him and the coalition he leads.
If Mahathir turns out to be that man, if he ends up becoming premier, so be it. Like it or not, he’s the best candidate there is (out side prison) with the gravitas and the standing to go head to head with Najib Tun Razak. Despite the considerable baggage he carries, he is well placed to assuage Malay-Muslim concerns while meeting at least the minimal expectations of the non-Malays.
And if he is not acceptable or won’t run, then settle on the next best person. If Wan Azizah has the confidence of the opposition parties, then let her lead, not as a seat-warmer but as leader and prime minister-in-waiting.
If Anwar gets released and can make a comeback, well and good; if not we will still have a prime minister we can look up to and get behind.
Whatever it is, the time has now come for the opposition to unite behind a single leader, a prime minister-in-waiting, before it can ask the people to unite behind them. They should make the best choice under the circumstances and run with him or her for better or worse.
Deferring the choice of leader till after the elections is a copout, a fig leaf to cover indecision and disarray. At this rate, the battle will be lost long before the first ballots are cast.
[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 23rd May 2017]