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Monday, May 12, 2008

The New Paradigm - PAS and DAP as friends?


Perak, with its tin mines and rubber plantations was once the economic engine of Malaysia. Those days have sadly passed, and the Silver State has unfortunately become a minor stop between KL and Penang that is bypassed by commuters anyway.

It cannot be denied that the state is in decline, with it's towns shrinking and ageing as the young people leave for greener pastures. We can joke about our 'Ipoh mari' friends all we like, but their presence in far-off places like the Klang Valley is indicative of the former BN government's failings in Perak. While well-meaning, it's inability to diversify an economy heavily-dependent on natural resources, coupled by it's relatively junior Umno leadership (compared to say, Johor and Pahang) meant that the state missed out the economic growth of the last couple of decades.

Given all these problems, it is perhaps unsurprising that the state didn't fall any earlier to the opposition. Indeed, the state has a proud tradition in this regard, from the charismatic Seenivasagam brothers in the 50s and 60s, to the solid PAS vote-banks in Parit Buntar and DAP enclaves in the Kinta Valley. Indeed, these areas were crucial in the Pakatan Rakyat's victory here, and many have looked to the new alliance to revive Perak's fortunes.

The challenges are formidable though: the Pakatan Rakyat's position is fragile, having a slim two seat majority in the State Assembly not to
mention a vigilant royal household.

"The Pakatan Rakyat's success or failures in Perak will have a direct bearing on the alliance's fortunes as a whole."

All eyes, therefore will be on new PAS Menteri Besar, engineer Nizar Jamaluddin and the two DAP strongmen/lawyers in the Exco, Dato Ngeh Koo Ham (supposedly the 'only Datuk' in the party) and his cousin Nga Kor Ming - also the head of the party's youth wing, the DAPSY.

The three men have wasted no time in shaking up the state's staid civil service and political landscape by issuing permanent land titles to the residents of Perak's New Villages thereby reinforcing the new administration's pro-rakyat focus.

It has not been all smooth sailing, though, as Nizar's summons to the Palace over the treatment of state religious department director Dato' Jamry Sury proves. Despite this, Nizar remains cool yet forceful, steering public discourse away from contentious issues like the role of the monarchy or the 'Islamic State' agenda of his party to more manageable, common ground.

Still Nizar's diplomatic manner belies his delicate political position. With only six state assemblymen (DAP has eighteen) PAS is the smallest party in the ruling coalition. Nizar however, takes pains to affirm the strength and long-term nature of his bonds with his DAP partners, which is something that Ngeh is also keen to stress. As young, successful professionals, they are a different breed from the ulamas and trade union activists that make up their party's old guards, hence ostensibly free of the baggage of past rivalries.

The ability of the two parties to cooperate, in Perak especially, has nationwide implications. The coming together of two very different sets of men, namely two Chinese, DAP lawyers and a UK-educated PAS engineer fluent in several languages, holds out the possibility of a new paradigm in multiracial politics. Men like Nizar, Ngeh and Nga are a 'new wave' of leaders for their party, who might be able to move beyond the tensions that divide PAS and the DAP at the federal level.

The Pakatan Rakyat's success or failures in Perak will have a direct bearing on the alliance's fortunes as a whole. The Barisan Nasional too, or rather Umno, also needs to reinvent their party lines the way their rivals in the State Government are now doing to present them with a creditable opposition. This will not only revive Perak, but also bring the state back to the forefront of Malaysian politics and economics.

( The opinions expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of MySinchew )

MySinchew 2008.05.11


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