From Terence Netto
In the rhetoric they deploy while campaigning for posts in the coming PKR polls, some members of the slate allied to Rafizi Ramli have asked themselves a question: What is the party all about?
It may seem strange that Rafizi’s allies pose that query some two decades after the formation of the party.
But, really, the question is not odd. For PKR, from its outset as Parti Keadilan Nasional in April 1999 before morphing into Parti Keadilan Rakyat a few years later, did not settle on a political philosophy.
It could not.
The party was a disparate collection of forces which were surer about what they were against – corruption, cronyism, nepotism, and abuse of power – than about what philosophies animated them.
The forces that came together in the late 1990s because of revulsion at the way Anwar Ibrahim was treated by Dr Mahathir Mohamad were too diverse to cohere ideologically.
Antipathy towards Anwar’s mistreatment was what drew together a slew of Umno renegades, assorted NGOs, freewheeling socialists, and Islamists in a concerted fight against the injustice of Anwar’s incarceration over what were widely regarded then as trumped-up charges of abuse of power and sodomy.
Even when the party won, as part of a coalition with DAP and PAS, the right in 2008 to rule the wealthiest state in the country (Selangor), PKR could not find the impetus to configure a political philosophy.
Dr Syed Husin Ali, sometime deputy president, tried to initiate a move to instil in party members, the younger set in particular, elements of a political philosophy and a modicum of training in how to project it.
Being from the left-of-centre Parti Rakyat Malaysia, which merged with PKN in 2002 to form PKR, he knew that to endure PKR would have to have, for its younger set especially, an ideological matrix that would help its leaders stick to an enduring vision amidst the shifting sands of time.
Syed Husin would get tepid encouragement from Anwar for this effort, but it was largely futile.
Syed Husin was not aware then of what has become obvious now — that Anwar knew the disparate collection, assembled to form PKR, could not cohere ideologically: the gulfs in their worldviews were unbridgeable.
Hence when Rafizi allies, Setiawangsa MP Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad and Tanjong Malim MP Chang Lih Kang, both contesting for vice-presidential slots, talked about getting PKR to go back to where the party originated, they are on a hiding to nothing.
It was Nik Nazmi, in a recent interview, who summed up this back-to-first base thrust.
He said: “We are proud of our party, our identity, and what we stand for. What Rafizi has been very clear about is that we have to go back and stand up for what PKR believes in.”
We know what PKR is against – corruption, nepotism, cronyism and abuse of power.
But what does PKR believe in?
Try asking the party collectively for its views on child marriage, and the unilateral conversion of minors to a religion other than what their parents, prior to estrangement, decided for their kids at birth.
Individual MPs of PKR may air what may be regarded as progressive views on these two issues, but not the party collectively.
In 2010, Nik Nazmi published his book, Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st Century, which was an argument for the freeing of the Malay mind from various bondages to outmoded thinking.
In the perspective of the 12 years that have gone by, we may as well ask if Nik Nazmi himself is free of captivity from orthodoxies that hold him back from the same century.
Terence Netto is a senior journalist and an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.