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ATImes: Whither now, Keadilan?
By Anil Netto

10/11/2001 6:49 pm Sat

[Banyak khabar angin yang tidak menyenangkan bertiup mengenai Parti Keadilan sejak akhir-akhir ini bila beberapa buah tiba-tiba gugur (dipetik orang?). Walaupun begitu jangan bimbang kerana pohon ini masih berbunga lagi dan inilah satu-satunya parti yang muda-muda buahnya tetapi begitu berbisa sehingga dipetik awal-awal lagi walaupun belum masak - jika tidak akan nahaslah BN nanti.

Keadilan sebenarnya bukan sebarangan parti sebab itulah ia kerap menjadi sasaran peluru BN saban hari. Bukankah BN begitu banyak meniru stail (gaya) Keadilan selama ini?
- Editor

November 7, 2001

Southeast Asia


Whither now, Keadilan?

By Anil Netto

The wife of Malaysia's jailed former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, is set to be elected unopposed as president of the opposition National Justice Party (Keadilan) in inaugural party polls this weekend, but the party she leads is at a crucial crossroads.

Wan Azizah will be unchallenged as party president in Keadilan's first elections since it was formed in April 1999 during the throes of reformasi. All 120 party divisions nominated her for the president's post.

Close to 2,000 party delegates are expected to assemble in the Kemaman Municipal Council Hall in Terengganu state, which is controlled by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), Keadilan's partner in the rump opposition alliance. The other partner in the alliance is the tiny, multi-ethnic Malaysian People's Party (PRM).

Keadilan's third annual general assembly comes at a time when question marks hang over the future of the Barisan Alternatif (Alternative Front), after the pullout of the multi-ethnic but ethnic-Chinese-based Democratic Action Party. The DAP pulled out of the alliance in September after disagreeing with PAS's goal of setting up an Islamic state in Malaysia.

The DAP's pullout was a major blow for the opposition alliance's multi-ethnic and multireligious credentials especially in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the United States. Though Keadilan is also multi-ethnic, it draws the bulk of its support from the majority ethnic-Malay Muslim community and the DAP was seen as a party that could have bolstered ethnic-Chinese support for the alliance.

On the heels of the DAP's withdrawal came another jolt: news of Keadilan deputy president Chandra Muzaffar's decision not to defend his post in the party polls, although he said he would remain as a party member. Chandra's decision had a dampening effect on morale within the opposition alliance, which had already become bogged down in inter-party wrangling. An academic-turned-politician, he was widely perceived as a moderating influence in the alliance and provided it with greater intellectual depth. His departure has also left a vacuum of sorts in the top leadership of the party at a time when several key second-echelon leaders are under indefinite detention under the dreaded Internal Security Act.

There is no shortage of candidates to take over the deputy presidency, though. Six, including Chandra, had been nominated for the post, with Chandra receiving the highest number of nominations even though he will not contest the seat. In the end, though, the contest is expected to narrow down to two relative unknowns.

The contest for the vice presidency and supreme council posts are similarly expected to be hotly contested. Sixteen candidates have been nominated for the three vice president posts while there are 103 nominations for the 20 supreme council seats.

Talk has been rife about the presence of factions within Keadilan - of candidates linked to the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (ABIM), the movement Anwar led in the 1970s, trying to take over key leadership positions. Others argue that factional alliances are the norm in democratic party elections and the party could emerge stronger after the elections.

Keadilan was formed to provide a political platform to the public outrage and clamor for change that erupted after Anwar's ouster in 1998. It brought together a spectrum of groups and individuals: ABIM members, non-governmental organization (NGO) activists, members of the Jemaah Islah Malaysia (JIM - an Islamic reform group), ex-members of the ruling-coalition parties - most of them Malay, but also ethnic-Chinese and -Indian activists.

There are, however, two routes the party could take after this weekend, and this is why the coming general assembly is going to be so crucial.

The first path could see the party getting mired with factional infighting and backstage power plays. The jostling for positions could push debate and discussion of pressing political, social and economic issues into the background. Electoral and realpolitik considerations could stifle the idealism that surrounded the birth in 1999, jeopardizing the reform agenda that eventually found its way into the opposition alliance's Common Manifesto. Shorn of its non-Malay support, the party would eventually ally itself more closely to PAS, resort to ethnic politics, and capitalize on Islamic opposition to the ruling coalition.

The other route would be for the party to take a more principled stand in restating and clarifying its position on the various pressing issues of the day, including repugnant laws and the eroding credibility of key institutions of government. It would attempt to flesh out alternatives to the current stagnant political and economic order, which has led to a mood of widespread pessimism. In particular, Keadilan would clarify its stand toward both the ruling UMNO party's claim that Malaysia is already an "Islamic country" and PAS's goal of an Islamic state. In stating its stand, Keadilan would also strengthen its commitment to ethical, multi-ethnic and multireligious politics that would draw in a broad spectrum of groups and individuals committed to such idealism in building a civil society while engaging with political Islam.

If it takes the first route, Keadilan would become a reflection of many of the ruling parties in Malaysia today and offer little alternative to the Malaysian public. It would be just more of the same old depressing politics, only with different players. In the end, Keadilan would lose much of its dynamism and the goodwill it enjoyed among significant sections of the Malaysian public.

If it takes the second path, though, and affirms idealism, justice and ethical politics, Keadilan can then count on the support of many Malaysians who feel that the country deserves better - in politics, economics and in almost every aspect of their day-to-day lives.

That is why the coming assembly will be watched with keen interest - to see whether the party has the gumption and the vision to rise above selfish political considerations to chart a new course of Malaysian politics based on principles and ethics, justice and good governance