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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When you don’t trust your own people

In other words, Pakatan Rakyat does not trust their own party members and they also don’t trust their own candidates. So they have to keep the names of the candidates a secret until the eve or the morning of Nomination Day.

NO HOLDS BARRED

Raja Petra Kamarudin

There are two areas of concern that the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM) would like to thrash out with the three Pakatan Rakyat political parties contesting the elections.

One is the problem of which party gets to contest which seat.

Second is the eleventh hour decision in naming the candidates resulting in candidates ‘parachuting’ into the constituency and most times the voters do not know them from Adam.

222 parliament seats and 505 state seats were contested in the last general election. If we include the 71 state seats in Sarawak then the total number of seats would come to 798.

In the previous general election, the opposition won 82 parliament seats (so they lost in 140 parliamentary constituencies) and 196 state seats (so they lost in 309 state constituencies). This, of course, does not include the 71 Sarawak state seats because Sarawak did not hold the state elections at the same time as the last general election.

This means, in the last general election, the opposition won 37% of the parliament seats and 39% of the state seats (Sarawak not included), roughly one-third of all the seats contested. In other words, the opposition lost almost two-thirds of the seats.

That is not so bad, really, because, first of all, there are only three parties in the opposition versus 14 in Barisan Nasional. Secondly, even then the opposition managed to garner almost 50% of the popular votes. Unfortunately, though, because of the gerrymandering and the ‘first past the post’ system, it is seats and not votes that determines the winner.

And this is exactly the grouse of the LibDem party of the UK and which has also been my grouse since way back in 1999 when I wrote that the opposition would need to garner 60% of the votes to win 51% of the seats (if you analyse the 12 general elections since 1959, in particular the 1969 general election) -- which is almost impossible for the opposition to achieve.

Okay, we are talking about almost 800 seats in all (if we include Sarawak) and the opposition, at best, appears to be able to win less than one-third these seats. So how does the opposition decide which party should contest which seat?

Now, I can understand PKR, DAP and PAS being very protective of the 82 parliament seats and the 196 state seats that they won in 2008 (total 278 seats). These are seats that they ‘own’, since they already won them. But what about the remaining 520 parliament and state seats (Sarawak included) which they lost? Who owns those 520 seats, which the opposition lost and Barisan Nasional won?

And herein lies the problem. PKR, DAP and PAS will not quarrel over the 278 seats. After all, those seats are seats that they already won so they 'belong' to the respective parties that won them. No one would dispute that the winner gets to keep those seats, especially if the party that ‘owns’ the seats had won it the last three, four of five general elections in a row. It is the balance 520 seats that they lost and which Barisan Nasional won that is the problem.

PKR, DAP and PAS considers those seats that they lost as also ‘belonging’ to each respective party based on who contested those seats in the last general election (or last few general elections). The fact that they lost those seats (sometimes many general elections in a row) is not important. It is who contested those seats, even though they lost those seats, which will be the criteria to decide who ‘owns’ those seats.

For example, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (Ku Li) has never lost his Gua Musang parliamentary seat. And PAS has always contested that seat against Ku Li and has lost every time. So who from the opposition ‘owns’ Gua Musang?

Why, PAS, of course. PAS 'owns' the Gua Musang parliamentary seat because it has always contested that seat and lost each time.

Okay, what if PKR or DAP has a good candidate to face Ku Li in Gua Musang and probably could even win? No way! Gua Musang 'belongs' to PAS so only PAS can contest that seat even if they do not have a good candidate who can give Ku Li a run for his money.

Now, Gua Musang is just an example, although it may not be the best example, to help you understand the issue about ‘seat ownership’.

What if there is another candidate who is not a member of PAS but a PKR/DAP member who is actually the best candidate for Gua Musang? Well, tough luck. Gua Musang 'belongs' to PAS and if this candidate is really very good then he or she can always contest that seat but will have to do so under the banner of PAS. There would be no way that PAS would ‘surrender’ Gua Musang to PKR/DAP even if there is a better chance that the opposition can win that seat if PKR/DAP contests it instead.

The opposition does not work on ‘winability’ (actually that word does not exist). It works on ‘traditionally’. Traditionally, which was the party that contested that seat in the last election (and lost)? That party would then ‘own’ that seat. Winability is not the issue.

The opposition has to discard the ‘Barisan Nasional formula’ of deciding which of their 14 parties contests which seat. That is Barisan Nasional’s formula. That is old politics (politik lama). We should look at politik baru(new politics). And it should be ‘winability’ and not ‘traditionally’ that we use to decide on which party contests which seat.

Another thing to note is: since there are three parties in the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat -- PKR, DAP and PAS -- then the seats are divided three ways (one-third to each party). So we use this ‘equal share’ calculation and then fight over which seats are yours and which are mine.

So, PKR, DAP and PAS each get roughly 74 parliament seats and 168 state seats (Sarawak excluded) to contest. Where these seats are is a second issue, which will be resolved after a great battle (and sometimes when they can’t be resolved there will be three- or four-corner fights like how history has proven).

But do PKR, DAP and PAS have enough candidates for all those seats they now ‘own’?

Apparently not! And that is why many have to contest two seats (both parliament and state as well) -- plus PKR, DAP and PAS are forced to pick lesser quality candidates of low capability, no integrity, and zero honesty.

PKR, DAP and PAS are greedy. They just focus on numbers (quantity). Quality is of no concern. The MCLM wants to engage Pakatan Rakyat and talk about quality candidates. Don’t just play the numbers game. Take only as many seats as you have candidates. And if you are short of candidates then hand the seat to one of the other parties, or let MCLM assist you in filling these seats with civil society candidates.

This has been done before since 1999, although not on a grand scale. Of course, in 1999 none of the civil society candidates won mainly because the time was too early and Malaysians were not ready for change yet. But the fact that the civil society candidates did not win in 1999 or 2004 is not because of the lack of quality of the candidates.

No, PKR, DAP or PAS need not ‘surrender’ or give up their seats. They can keep the seat. The civil society candidate will contest under the respective banner of the party that ‘owns’ that seat, like what happened in Johor where PAS fielded an Indian-Hindu woman lawyer (note: professional). And if PAS can accept not only a woman candidate, but also an Indian-Hindu on top of that, this means that PAS is not adverse to the idea of fielding non-party professionals as its candidate.

The final issue is about the eleventh hour decision on naming candidates, sometimes the morning of Nomination Day itself. This needs to change.

Let’s say the civil society movement wants to contest the Bentong seat. We will then have to work the ground early, maybe a few years before the election. But if suddenly on the morning of Nomination Day we are told that that seat will be given to us, we shall have to scramble to look for a candidate (if we can find one). And then that candidate will have to rush down to Bentong to file his or her nomination papers.

However, most likely not many voters in Bentong will know who this candidate is. And he or she has just a week to ten days to meet the voters and become known. How can seven or ten days be enough time?

Now, the reason given as to why the party does not want to announce too early their candidates is because, firstly, they want to avoid internal sabotage by their own party members, and, secondly, they want to make sure that Barisan Nasional will not buy over their candidate.

In other words, Pakatan Rakyat does not trust their own party members and they also don’t trust their own candidates. So they have to keep the names of the candidates a secret until the eve or the morning of Nomination Day.

What does this say about the opposition? This would mean the opposition is no different from Barisan Nasional who holds back announcing the names of their candidates for exactly the same reason.

If your members are committed to the cause there should be no issue of internal sabotage. And if your candidates are people of integrity, you should not be worried about them being bought over by the other side. It appears, however, that this is not so.

This is even more the reason why the opposition should revamp its criteria of how candidates are chosen (and also how seats are decided). Months back the MCLM (which was then still only in the pipeline) already started identifying suitable candidates and started talking to them. Many, of course, said they want to wait and see first as to whether the idea is acceptable to the opposition. The last thing on their minds is to enter the fray in three-corner fights with Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat.

We are not worried about announcing their names too early. After all, if Barisan Nasional wants to ‘steal’ them then better they do it now and not after they win the election (not that I think they can be bought).

And -- as has been proven over the last two years -- even if you announce the names of your candidates late this does not mean they will not be bought, like what happened to about ten or so Pakatan Rakyat candidates who have since jumped to the other side.

The voters need to know whom they are going to be voting for. It is okay if the candidate is a high-profile figure like Karpal Singh, Lim Kit Siang, Anwar Ibrahim, Nurul Izzah, Hadi Awang, Mat Sabu, Hannah Yeoh, etc. But what if it is someone you have never heard of before? Don’t you want to know whether he or she is suited for the job of wakil rakyat?

And that is why the prospective candidate needs to work the ground early, move around the constituency, meet the voters, talk to them, discuss issues, answer questions, do some community work (even though he or she is not the local wakil rakyat), and much more.

And this can only be done if, today, we know who will be contesting that constituency in the next general election, whenever that may be.

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