Sunday, June 16, 2013

Is Pakatan Rakyat Losing Control?

In the midst of their protests, internal disputes over the governance of their remaining states, and arguments about boycotting Parliament, we are seeing proof that the rakyat was wise to deny Pakatan Rakyat Putrajaya. It is now apparent that the Opposition pact has managed to lose control over its own movement.

The signs have been there since just after the elections, though they have accelerated of late. Perhaps the most glaring indication that things had gone amiss was when various Pakatan-aligned NGOs began calling on the Opposition to boycott Parliament. This demand was perfectly reasonable if you believed Pakatan's ridiculous notion that the election was stolen – if the elections were stolen, Parliament is illegitimate, and it is morally and legally wrong to pretend otherwise.

It is of course madness of its own sort. The DAP and PAS have long experience in managing the expectations of their aligned elements in civil society, but Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, whose only real influence comes from street protest, fumbled and briefly seemed to endorse the idea.

This led to Pakatan Rakyat being – once again – split on an important issue and – once again – in need of a stage-managed climb-down. Poor Tian Chua, Anwar's latest decoy, went to the rakyat to explain that Anwar had only been considering the idea. Pakatan staged a boycott of a more or less meaningless introductory event, and then PKR held an emergency meeting to avoid boycotting the swearing-in.

Just as it seemed all of this had finally come under control (with the Bersih 2.0 movement and others grumbling because it seemed as if the Opposition was trying to have matters both ways), another crack in the dam appeared. After a month in which Anwar held illegal rallies but carefully avoided illegal street protests – a fine line on which his newest protégé, Rafizi Ramli, has been dancing of late – Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan is now calling for street protests.

Ambiga has been fairly obviously in Pakatan's corner since at least the Opposition pact's convention over a year ago, when she was a prized speaker who lent her credibility to the affair. The wake of Bersih 3.0, which saw a peaceful protest transform into an attack on the police, further dinged her credibility.

Yet although not the force she once was, she still commands a great deal of attention and influence, and she is now deviating from the official line. Worse, she is so clearly associated with Pakatan Rakyat that it will be very hard to say that she is not acting on their authority.

Pakatan's game of court challenges and carefully managed protests relied on complete control of the process. If they should lose control completely, they will lose any chance they may have of appearing to be a responsible political movement.

This is the danger of crying fraud and cheating over every electoral loss. It will be interesting to watch the Opposition trying to manage it.

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