Praba Ganesan

Praba Ganesan is chief executive at KUASA, a democracy outreach organisation. It's time to be involved. You can contact him at praba.ganesan@mykuasa.org or follow him on Twitter @prabaganesan.

MAY 18 — A real no-brainer following leader of the Opposition Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s calamitous interview with international cable news station Al-Jazeera:

1.            She should not lead Pakatan

The middling, boring quality of the Opposition is heralded perfectly by its leader, who confirms “she rather not lead.”

Malaysia deserves better. It needs direct, aspirational and confident leadership from all contenders. It is a prerequisite to being called a contender.

No less when it is the top leader, the leader of the opposition pact.

They face the BN juggernaut, which has never lost, ever. Firing off lines about gerrymandering has moral properties but not political real estate.

Which is why “want to” has to be a job requirement, not a nice to have.

The guy on top must want it, want it badly. Compromise is not the future, it is the past we are asking Malaysians to walk away from.

2.            PKR members must demand leadership

The party is the spine of the Opposition, and it better act more than just as an arbitrator for all those committed to regime change.

The party has to parade its relevance and flex its ambition to become the next largest party in Malaysian politics.

It will be stuck in the muck with a “seat warmer” at the helm. I rather have Azmin Ali, and then the next guy or girl who leads.

What remains is if members are bold enough to raise it. This member is.

There is a party congress this weekend. Belatedly, members may need to wake up to the inconvenient truth that reform has to happen internally, as much as externally.

3.            She’s clueless about how to handle PAS

Before, during and after the interview, with every chance to clarify her view, Wan Azizah has gone missing when it comes to deciding about PAS.

The clumsy “We are aware PAS unfriended us but maybe, just maybe” is stale. It has been some time.

Voters can understand political parties not getting along, after all that is their choice, but what they will not stomach is a convoluted and uncertain present which persists with the promotion of all permutations of future relationships. It is befuddling.

Political relationships should not mirror closely popular TV dramas.

Her bewildering grasp of the sticky situation only underlines that there is no PAS plan.

4.            She’s clueless about the hudud stratagem

Hudud is political rather than religious, a wedge to separate Pakatan partners.

Politicians fall or rise based on how they tackle hudud, regardless if in support or opposition. 

Votes are lost and won on it.

The leader of Pakatan is expected to have a nuanced and fixed statement about it, and always refer to it in order not to be caught up in the passion of the moment.

Her open acceptance of PAS’ hudud on air to the surprise of the Muslim interviewer himself reeked of extraordinary naivety.

5.            Mixed up about Mahathir

The questions about new ally Mahathir Mohamad and his nonchalance to Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking and arrest in 1998 were on cue. The replies were not.

Suggesting that the ex-prime minister almost apologised without actually apologising is one more “key impasse” set to infuriate PKR members — who will now be unable to defend their conciliatory tone to Mahathir despite him not regretting his abuse of them in the past.

Mahathir bullied the opposition when he was in government, and now bullies opposition members as a cohort because it is on his terms, always his terms.

Wan Azizah clarified as much in her interview, that those working with Mahathir need to accept him as he is, and probably imagine an apology. I lived through Mahathir’s madness, I’d like my apology.

6.            Anwar the boss, bars are Jedi mind tricks

She set herself on fire to hoist Anwar onto his pedestal. As a wife, Sita would be proud.

But her jobs are leader of the Opposition and party president, not as the Anwar Ibrahim fan club president.

She made it abundantly clear that putting Anwar back as the top dog in the opposition ranks is her number one goal. That her role is to facilitate Anwar’s return, re-return and as many avatars it takes for him to actualise his ambitions.

Politics is not a family business. Someone missed the memo.

7.            Madam prime minister, not!

The value of a female prime minister is immeasurable.

PAS openly revolted against the idea of a woman on top, when it came to Selangor after the Khalid Ibrahim ouster. On theology, their presumed arguments rested on.

It is now the reference point to why politics has a glass ceiling for women. Wan Azizah has the opportunity to undo this perception cemented in an episode involving her.

Just as a generation of women joined UK politics after going to school during the Margaret Thatcher years, Wan Azizah as prime minister would obliterate countless patriarchal assumptions.

Alas, she thinks very little about this, as she just ignored the question of the impact to gender debate if she vacated the highest office for her husband.

8.            Won’t grow in her job

It’s been a 17-year job audition.

Compare with Corazon Aquino, Philippines first female president. Her path from her husband’s untimely death in 1983, heading the opposition and completing her presidency was only nine years.

Wan Azizah fills in, not sets an agenda to power. A person in the national limelight would be astute and protective of their own image in an interview, because politicians count votes in each syllable uttered. On what gives and what takes away.

Instead, ineptness was on display. She did not grow into being a politician through the two decades, and no point assuming she will now.  

9.            No vote magnet

How does an undecided leader draw in others who are undecided?

The answer is, major fail.

Aides play up her credentials. But being a woman does not get the woman vote, unless female issues are championed. Being a doctor does not get the healthcare vote, unless health policies are promoted. Being a protective mother, does not get the anti-crime vote, unless fighting crime is advocated.

Votes are not the function of similarities.

There was no pivoting to campaign issues in the interview, because she is disinclined to campaigning and the party/coalition is always tuning the message.

So what now, brown cow?

10.          A free Anwar over an electoral win

If asked which she would choose, getting Anwar free or having an electoral victory under Mahathir where the old man turns around and says Anwar must serve his term, Wan Azizah wouldn’t blink.

Freeing Anwar is non-negotiable. Malaysia having a new government is a good add-on, a very good add-on for Wan Azizah.

That is not grit for the people of Malaysia. It’s relentless love for her own family.

‘Tepuk dada, tanya selera’

Few are natural at being a wife, mother and grandmother as much as Wan Azizah. Her entry into politics was forced by unimaginable events. She never asked for it, never got used to it and almost certainly never developed an appetite for it.

Her interview was screaming for attention from those who are running the show — not Al-Jazeera but the political strategists in and around PKR.

How to ask the Malaysian people to be honest about themselves and their political reality, while those asking remain completely indifferent about the dishonesty they practise in choosing their own leadership?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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