Lesson #4: The secularism and middle-class character of Iraqi society was overrated. The same applies here. We lost the battle for secularism a long time
ago. Former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad may have been dead set against the
Islamists, but it was under his watch that the process of Arabisation
flourished under the watchful eye of the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim. The
Malay middle-class may be split, especially in the urban area, but this
too does not mean they are for a secular state.
The inclusion of PAS into mainstream politics and the ‘PAS for all’
propaganda ensured that this Islamic sect gained credibility, but more
importantly further entrenched ideas that were anathema to a secular
state. The opposition’s propaganda is that Malaysia is a secular state or
that the opposition professes secular ideas, but the reality is that the
opposition has done nothing beyond aping similar BN tactics in its
political war with Umno.
This is extremely important because Umno’s use of Islam as a
political tool has resulted in the malice of Islamic State (IS) and
other Islamic groups at our doorstep, aided by Malaysian citizens
sympathetic to their cause. The opposition does not encourage a progressive Malay middle-class or secularism when it:
1. Makes and then breaks alliances with Islamic sects. 2. Continues to fund state Islamic concerns and in some cases doubles the funding of such organisations. 3. When the opposition refuses to take a stand against certain
Islamic provocations or demurs to engage with blatant discrimination
because of the fear of offending their Muslim/Malay base or appearing
anti-Islam. 4. When the opposition takes an agree to disagree position instead of
engaging with Islam based on their supposed secular values, because to
do so would jeopardise their electoral chances. I will say it again. If the opposition does not become organised in a
secular manner, the opposition will continue to be paralysed by Islam.
Lesson #5: Don’t listen to ambitious exiles.
The problem with high-profile defections or ejections from Umno is
the tendency to believe that suddenly the opposition has newfound
allies. There is a difference between an ally and an antagonist whom you
share a common enemy with. This does not mean you reject this
antagonist but it does mean making sure that you continue advocating
issues based on principles but not on what is mutually acceptable to
your newfound friend.
Anwar was acutely aware of this and as I wrote about his letter
from prison, “However, of greater concern is when Anwar says, ‘…the
idealism which once fired PKR appears to have been doused by the lustre
of power and funds.’ Anyone who knows anything about the political
funding of the opposition would know that the opposition has diverse
streams of funding from the unlikeliest of sources.
“However, the inclusion of Mahathir in the opposition mix has also
granted the opposition with a new source of funding with the aim of
toppling Najib. Now, not everyone avails themselves of this new funding
source but there are many, who find that it is easier getting down to
the work of removing Najib when they don’t have to worry about funding
to sustain their position. Mind you, this is not solely a PKR problem.”
This talk about former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin leading Pakatan should not even be part of the discourse. Furthermore, the idea that an alliance could be in the works with
Najib refuseniks led by former prime minister Mahathir should be met
with a great deal of scepticism. The reason why this keeps cropping up
is because the opposition has always found it easier to rely on
personalities to further its agenda.
The dearth of individuals capable of helming the opposition pact are
the result of dynastic politics, feudalistic mentalities and a value
system that values “strong man” over any form of organised leadership.
Lesson #6: It’s very hard to improvise an occupation. While I do not think that the opposition gaining control of certain
states is akin to an “occupation”, let us just roll with the analogy.
When the opposition gained control of certain states, it was bolstered
by populist support that the opposition honestly did not expect. Soon the opposition found itself battling not only an entrenched Umno
bureaucracy but also having to learn on the job. Add to this the
internal power squabbles of an opposition unused to dealing with real
power and the various schisms erupting within the disparate alternative
coalition, the rakyat was witness to blunder after blunder, involving
everything from religious rights to corruption charges and a near change
of leadership that could have toppled the state government.
Nobody seemed to have planned for anything and it demonstrated that
the opposition’s rhetoric did not manage to live up to expectations.
Despite what critics say about Penang, the only opposition state that
got its acts together was the one led by the DAP. Perhaps there are
lessons to be learnt there, maybe not political lessons but at the very
least administrative ones.
What this demonstrates is that the thinkers in the opposition, those
who have had experience with the system, are overshadowed by the
flashier polemists. The opposition needs to have firm policies in place,
capable bureaucrats who are willing to operate without fear or favour
but most importantly, abandon the system of patronage that works for
Umno but does not for the country.
Lesson #7: Don’t be surprised when adversaries act to defend their own interests, and in ways we won’t like. Carrying on the “occupation” analogy from above, it should come as no
surprise that Umno “insurgents” would carry out a very dirty war
against the opposition. Islam of course is used because it is reliable
and has always worked in the past. Outsourced Umno red-shirted thugs harass and intimidate opposition
parliamentarians and supporters. The federal government uses the police,
attorney-general and various other government agencies to persecute
opposition figures in hope that this would destabilise the opposition.
This is to be expected and the manner in which the opposition deals
with these threats is indicative of how effective they are as an
opposition. If all the opposition does is to ratchet up the rhetoric or
appeal to the sympathy of specific racial or religious demographics, in
the end they will lose populist support because Umno is ever ready with
throwing crumbs from the gravy train and most often people know when
they are taken for a ride. In the end, pragmatism will trump idealism if all the rakyat witness is the same old game being played by the opposition.
Lesson #8: Rethink US grand strategy, not just tactics or methods. In the beginning of the year, I wrote this:
“Here in Malaysia, politicians who have power, or seek it, are so
afraid that new ideas would impede their efforts that they are content
to let the rot continue so long as the old ways, the old ideas, maintain
them in power. Meanwhile, the disenfranchised of society regardless, of
race but with very little options, plays the part of maintaining this
charade we call a democracy.”
This one is perhaps the most important point. Whenever I talk to Umno
establishment and opposition operatives, all they talk about are
tactics and stratagems. I have always argued that Umno is intellectually
and morally bankrupt. The old ways work for them. What about the opposition? In order for the opposition to rethink its grand strategy, the
opposition and its supporters must first define what constitutes a