Sunday, October 3, 2010

Raja Petra grills Anwar over pace of reforms

LONDON (Malaysian Insider) - Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was forced to state his case for the support of civil society after maverick blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, who is a figurehead for various grassroots movements in Malaysia, challenged Pakatan Rakyat (PR) over their commitment to reform.

In a dialogue with Malaysians here yesterday, Raja Petra (picture, second from left), commonly known as RPK on his controversial Malaysia Today website, threatened to pull out from suppporting PR in the upcoming Galas by-election as PR had failed to deliver on promises agreed before the March 2008 elections.

In that historic elections saw the fledgling opposition pact sweep into power in five states and gain 82 seats in Parliament, denying Barisan Nasional (BN) their customary two-thirds majority in the legislative house.

But Anwar pleaded for understanding as many of the reforms could not be implemented without control of federal government and insisted that civil society should help PR come into power so that these reforms could come to past.

Raja Petra said that “prior to March 2008, we sat down for months and formulated the People’s Declaration which was an improved version of an earlier document, Agenda for Change whose author was Anwar himself when he was in prison,” the blogger who is in self-imposed exile in the UK said, referring to the former deputy prime minister’s time in prison after being sacked and then charged with sodomy and abuse of power.

The maverick blogger described how the declaration, which encompasses a wide range of issues from the economy, education, healthcare and politics, was presented to the three parties that make up PR and other opposition parties and claimed that “it was accepted more or less as an election manifesto. Because of that we went to the ground, we campaigned and criss-crossed Malaysia.”

However, he expressed his unhappiness that PR had yet to deliver on the promises in the manifesto despite being in power in several states for over two-and-a-half years. He cited examples such as the lack of newspapers, especially in Malay, by the state governments controlled by PR as it was necessary to fight the media battle leading up to the next general elections.

He compared the pace of reforms to the UK, where the Liberal Democrats only agreed to a coalition government with the Conservatives after being promised wide-ranging reforms would be implemented within two years.

“We have given PR two-and-a-half years but not a single reform has been implemented. Some can be done immediately, some two years, some 20 years. At least let us see some, then we will be quite happy and we will continue to support PR in every by and general election including Galas,” he said.

He said that PR’s huge gains in the elections was due to the support from civil society who were a genuine “third force” and cited examples such as the Bersih and Hindraf rallies in 2007 which championed free and fair elections and lobbied for Indian rights respectively.

Raja Petra reminded PR that “we the people are the boss” and the coalition needed to thrash out issues with civil society if it wanted to form federal government.

But Anwar responded by stating that PR recognised the clamour for change from the electorate and that “our friends in civil society must continue to work with us as a team. We need civil society as we cannot rely on Umno-controlled media.”

However, the PKR de facto leader insisted that the alliance’s hands were tied as much of the power to implement reform were centralised in the federal government.

Nonetheless, the Permatang Pauh MP listed several changes that have been implemented including the replacement of direct tenders with open tenders, a policy he said, had allowed Kedah to reduce quit rent to an amount totalling RM15 million but maintain revenue as it was getting better prices for timber in the state.

He also cited the Freedom of Information bill that was being enacted in Selangor, although it was still subject to the federal-level Official Secrets Act.

Anwar also added that Selangor was in the process of preparing Selangor Kini, a daily newspaper that had a targetted print run in the hundreds of thousands to be distributed to households in Selangor to combat Umno-controlled media especially among the Malay electorate.

Raja Petra also expressed his frustration at the calibre of candidates that PR had run in the last general election and offered “credible and reliable” candidates to run under PR.

He cited the fact that many PR leaders had to run for Parliament and state assembly seats as well as the fact that several legislators had defected or left PR since March 2008, most notably resulting in the BN take over of Perak in early 2009.


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