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Friday, August 30, 2013

Anwar's national dialogue call timely


To a government that won in the parliamentary sweepstakes but lost out in the popular vote, the offer by the opposition leader of a national dialogue to make headway against the country's daunting array of problems must seem palatable.

The Najib Abdul Razak administration can no longer sustain the pretense that its win in Election 2013 was authentic, so it has to reach out to the opposition.

Yesterday, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim suggested that a national dialogue be held on the nation's state of affairs in which all political parties should take part.

NONEHe proposed this idea in his Merdeka Day commemorative speech, implying that he believed the dialogue would be an avenue out of the stalemate that presently prevails between an administration hamstrung by its lack of a credible mandate and an opposition sizeable enough to shout but not shift things.

Short, admittedly, of being stone cold certain that Prime Minister Najib had offered in the middle of June a deal to PKR to join BN in a unity government, we know that Najib does not think that the present status quo is healthy.

That is why Jusuf Kalla, the former Indonesian vice-president, was again pressed into service as intermediary between Najib and Anwar, after a failed mission by the Indonesian in Jakarta in mid-June.

A breathless Jusuf appeared in the wee hours one day towards the end of the fasting month at Anwar's residence in Bukit Segambut in another quest for the forging of a unity government between BN and PKR.

NONEJusuf had come bearing another offer from Najib to Anwar but again his mediation was unavailing because the opposition leader felt that the PM was only interested in breaking up the opposition Pakatan Rakyat by enticing one component to link up with his government, leaving the remnant to fend for itself.

To Pakatan supremo Anwar, this was a non-starter. The opposition leader had wasted no time in apprising his colleagues in the Pakatan leadership cohort of Jusuf's most recent mediation and its unacceptability, just as he did when the initial proffer was made in Jakarta in mid-June.

Of course, the Prime Minister's office, in a statement, felt obliged to deny the whole thing, backed up by a denial by Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who was reputedly in secret negotiations with PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution.
Not out of kilter

It was not just a question of there being no smoke without fire: the notion that well-connected persons from neighbouring countries do have the mediatory panache to broker breakthroughs in stalemated situations is not something unusual.

Malaysian emissaries have mediated between the Manila government and Islamic insurgents in Mindanao, so Jusuf Kalla's mediations are not something out of kilter.

His mission only served to underscore the perception in Asean capitals that the political situation in Malaysia is at a standoff between incumbent governors, BN, whose writ is ambiguous, and an opposition that can do little more than shout itself hoarse.

NONEIn other words, matters are at an impasse which would be tolerable if the national indices did not point to grave peril - from the threat of looming insolvency from annual deficits and consequent rising debt; from mounting crime rates caused marauding gangs faced with a dysfunctional police force; from a contagion of racial and religious issues; and from endemic corruption against a background of ineffective agencies set up to combat the scourge.

Against this backdrop, the call by the opposition leader for a national dialogue cannot be seen from the one-upmanship angle assumed by Khairy Jamaluddin, the Umno Youth leader, who deprecated it as indicative of a mood of desperation on the part of its proponent.

Contra Khairy, the desperation is more national than it is individual, so that in the face of a national psychosis, it would be frivolous to dismiss a call that savors of national salvation, not of personal expedience.

The time for political gamesmanship has passed, for partisan feint and maneouvre is over, because the array of problems the country is faced with is much too urgent for frivolous and partisan dismissal.

The time for disengagement with mere politics is nigh. The call for a national dialogue by the opposition leader is simply a proposition whose time has come.

There is a time for politics and there is a time for statesmanship. Now is the time for the latter. Over to you, Prime Minister.


TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent. 

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