No doubt that Rafizi Ramli has made a dramatic return to politics after a two-year hiatus by winning the post of PKR deputy president against party stalwart Saifuddin Nasution in the recently-concluded party elections. His win has excited many in the hope that young blood and a strong leader would auger well for PKR specifically and politics in general.
While the rise of younger politicians is to be encouraged and commended the facts may not present as rosy a picture as idealists may want to believe. The fact is that the voter turnout in the PKR election was only 13.5% as stated by PKR strategic communications director Fahmi Fadzil.
Apparently, Rafizi’s supporters gave him the edge over Saifuddin but the fact is that the support both leaders received was less than 13.5% of the total party membership. According to Fahmi, the reasons given for the poor turnout were logistics and technical aspects like internet reach and the fact that 65 of the 222 divisions were won uncontested.
Whatever the reasons given, the reality is that 86.5% of PKR members were not sufficiently motivated to participate in party elections and a strong personality such as Rafizi was not an adequate draw to pull in more voters. It would be a disastrous outing for PKR to enter any election and expect to win handsomely, with the actual support of only 13.5% of party members. Elections now will not have the “wow” factor of GE14 and voters want honest-to-goodness reasons they can relate to to give their votes.
This should be the primary task of PKR’s new crop of leaders: to engage their members and rally them to vote. The leaders may need to change their tactics to get their members to become active participants in the electoral processes.
As deputy president, Rafizi will now be watched as to the extent he will play the role of team player. He is not yet president, so he will have to defer to the president, Anwar Ibrahim, and consider the input of the top echelon of leaders, especially with regard to the big tent strategy to unite opposition parties in order to defeat the Barisan Nasional (BN).
Each party has its own agenda, but in the current political context, opposition parties need to decide which takes precedence — party agenda or the urgent need to save the country from the court-cluster-led Umno/BN. It shouldn’t be a difficult choice as it is obvious the latter takes precedence.
Towards that objective, opposition parties should start reaching out to each other to form a viably strong coalition as a solid alternative to the BN, which means they should stop bickering with each other and laying conditions before serious negotiations even start.
It is imperative that opposition parties begin to negotiate because the general elections (GE) can be called at any time after July 31, the date given in the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the government and the opposition Pakatan Harapan until which the government can not call for a GE.
Right now, in the face of inflation, shortages, unemployment and limited investments caused by the pandemic-induced lockdown and now the Ukraine-Russia war, the question isn’t when is a good time to hold a GE but whether the incumbent government is able to navigate the trying times ahead in the best way possible with minimum damage to the country.
It is the opposition that will have to monitor the government’s performance in making it easier for the people. If the government fails, the opposition must act decisively to call for general elections before the country slides into an anarchic clamour for basic needs.
If the opposition doesn’t rally under the big tent strategy, the country may be heading to a regretful future that would take a great deal of effort and a long time to recover from.