Harapan squabbling bad optics but it won’t sway supporters - By Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Malaysiakini : “Voters thereby prove themselves bad and indeed corrupt judges of
such issues and often they even prove themselves bad judges of their
own long-run interests, for it is only the short-run promise that tells
politically and only short-run rationality that asserts itself
effectively.” ― Joseph Alois Schumpeter, ‘Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy’
COMMENT | PKR president Wan
Azizah Wan Ismail is right when she says that the squabbling for seats
in Pakatan Harapan is temper tantrums thrown by spoilt children. Well, she was more pleasant about it, but really mine is a fair
interpretation. She need not worry though because while press reports on
these squabbling are bad optics, it will not dissuade hardcore Harapan
supporters - is there any other kind? - from supporting any candidate
Harapan belches out.
Admittedly, Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali claiming that he had no
knowledge of the candidates' list before the big reveal by Harapan big
shots was dodgy and furthered the narrative that it was amateur hour at
PKR HQ, not to mention it had a whiff of mala fide. Also the tears flowing
at the press conference of Rawang assemblyperson Gan Pei Nei was
self-defeating as was Batu incumbent parliamentarian Tian Chua’s
rejoinder to whoever to be careful.
While all of this may earn the scorn but not rejection of the Harapan
faithful, undecided voters may think that sticking with the
establishment may seem a better idea since Harapan projects itself as an
organisation which could not organise, so to speak, an orgy in a
brothel. Like former Bersih co-coordinator Ambiga Sreenevasan, I too received
far too many phone calls about PKR’s public spats but none of the phone
calls, although filled with complaints, acknowledged that this would not
dissuade them from voting Harapan.
Harapan has framed the narrative that this is a do-or-die election
for Malaysia, hence supporters are naturally inclined to believe that
any choice beyond what Umno/BN is offering spells doom for this country.
What some people do not seem to understand is that if the opposition
political operatives really believed that this is a do-or-die election,
political operatives from the opposition would not be squabbling for
As with all politicians, what they value is their political careers
and political life after these "do or die" elections. While some
supporters believe that it is the end of the world if their candidates
do not win, professional politicians understand that there is always a
new round of the game. What is important is that they remain in the
This is why this idea of “safe seats” should be the most insulting
idea for voters. “Safe” actually means that voters are so predictable or
gullible that the political career of the political operative is safe.
It is about identity politics sure, but it also demonstrates something
deeper. Something rotten in a political system that allows politicians
I was never a fervent believer in party loyalty because most often
the needs of the particular constituency are more important than the
needs of the party. More than loyalty, you have an obligation to serve
your constituents. Party loyalty is about surviving in the right cliques
and servicing power structures within the party.
Playing well with others should be vague enough not to trump the
needs of the people who you serve and savvy political operatives
understand the utilitarian value of playing well with others but not at
the expense of the rakyat they serve. Remember, the people you serve are not the base of the political party but the people who voted for you.
This is why I skeptical of parachute candidates whose very existence
is predicated on the knowledge that political elites understand that
people vote along party lines. This is why the idea of term limits that
Harapan is floating about is very important.
There should be no job security in this game. You are there to serve
your constituency for a period and then you move on. In so doing, you
set a benchmark for your political party which either means you did a
good job or voters look somewhere else.
Harapan political operatives complain that they wish there was more
discipline in the opposition coalition, which really means they wish
that their parties were as disciplined as the DAP but I always scoff at
these complaints. I have no problem with “indiscipline”. Kowtowing to
the political leadership under the propaganda of being a “team player”
is the kind of fascist tendencies that supporters encourage in their
preferred political parties.
Factionalism, squabbling and the rest of the theatre of politics is
what democracy is about. While some politicians fight over craven things
like seat allocations, this idea of being a “team player” often bleeds
into other issues that disrupt the process of debate, which is what
political parties need in order to evolve and remain relevant.
All this “fighting” may be bad optics but I would rather have this
fighting out in the open rather than in the darkened corridors of
power. Opposition supporters should understand and acknowledge the
tribalism and factionalism that is in their political parties so that
they can, if they wish, make rational informed choices when they vote or
just vote along party lines.
Harapan political operatives also remind me that the seat negotiation
is also to curtail the despotic tendencies of the chosen one. This is
to ensure that the democratic process in this country is not further
eroded if they come into power.
Yeah, that’s it. Look, if the math dictates that Malay sensitiveness
when it comes to the alliance with the DAP means that the party holding
the most power should be Bersatu to dispel any notion of “Chinese” rule,
then there is nothing really the opposition can do to ensure that there
is check and balance beyond superficialities. Don’t piss in my ear and
tell me it’s raining.
On the same note, I have no idea what undecided voters could be
undecided about. You either vote for stability (the establishment)
narrative or change (the opposition narrative). Sure, there are
undecided voters who think that sticking with the devil you know is
better than going with the devil you used to know.
Indeed, it is too late to chase their (undecided) votes. But if
Harapan's infighting for seats loses votes, then the internal sabotage
in Umno/BN balances it out.
This is really about identity and personality politics. This is why
at least with the Harapan faithful, the bad optics will not get in the
way of their votes.