COMMENT Incumbent Azmin Ali’s speech at the official launch of his campaign last week to defend his No. 2 position in PKR’s internal elections laid eloquent claim to the mantle of the party’s inspiration, Anwar Ibrahim.
In its superb overview of the history of the democratic experiment in constitutional governance, Azmin began where such histories ought to – with the Glorious Revolution in England in the 17th century.
A retrospective of the last four centuries of the experiment would support the conclusion that the gains and achievements made by the Glorious Revolution cost little in terms of blood and treasure when compared to the American and French revolutions a century later.
All three revolutions were critical to the evolution of constitutional government but only the Glorious Revolution, in the perspective of last four centuries, stood out as the one to emulate for its relative absence of blood and gore.
The other two – the one, a rebellion against an unrepresentative monarchy, and the other, a revolt against an absolute one – were costly in the blood they spilled.
The ideals that animated the two revolutions, in the one instance, were not extended to an enslaved minority; in the other, was so sweeping in its goals of securing liberty, fraternity and equality that the Jacobin terror that eventuated was said to be a consequence of its utopianism.
The implicit lesson of the latter revolutions was that the more utopian the quest, the bloodier the upshot.
By contrast, the Glorious Revolution, in its implicit recognition of the democratic experiment as the slowest of growths and the rarest of blossoms, advanced the cause of constitutional governance at a pace that took sober note of society’s vast inertia and small margin for change, inhibitions loathed by radicals insistent on change, pronto.
By linking and locating the PKR struggle in Malaysia within the democratic continuum extending from the Glorious Revolution to the movements for independence from colonial powers and the struggle for democratic pluralism in several countries in Asia, Azmin stands the party on the shoulders of its glorious antecedents and its famed movers and shakers, the better for the party to see through the dilemmas and challenges of the moment.
From the Islamic tradition, he borrows slimly but solidly – from the religion’s overriding emphasis on justice. He goes no further than that.
Implicit in the restraint is the recognition that the democratic continuum in which an Azmin-defined PKR locates itself, while being respectful of religion, is averse to the theocratic inclination.
Through his effort of tracery and definition of its philosophic antecedents, Azmin has placed PKR in a strong position to formulate its response to its Pakatan Rakyat partner, PAS, which is planning to move a private member’s Bill for the introduction of hudud in Kelantan when Parliament next sits in June.
PAS’ intended move is the biggest threat yet to the ideological coherence of Pakatan Rakyat in whose Common Policy Framework, no mention is made of hudud.
There’s no point in dissuading PAS from doing what it says it intends to at the next parliamentary sitting. As an Islamic party it has no choice but to commend ‘the path to the headwaters’, which is what syariah means. And which is what Muslims are obliged to support.
If PAS were to query PKR – a largely Muslim though not theocratic party – about its stance, the party can do no better than flaunt Azmin’s speech at the launch, on April 16, of what he called ‘Keadilan Raya’, the slogan that has come to stand for his and his supporters’ definition of the party’s ideological underpinnings.
Having said that, and after noting that Azmin has got PKR’s ideological moorings right – make that substantively and elegantly right – the question arises: Has he the moral mettle to live up to the party’s ideals?
Getting the ideals right is one thing, living up to them is another.
Only the party’s eminence grise Anwar Ibrahim (right) will know for sure because he has known Azmin from the time the latter enlisted in his coterie of aides some three decades back to the present time.
And he’s not telling – he can’t because he has to stay neutral in this contest, ostensibly.
Almost alone among his original coterie of aides, Azmin has stayed loyal to Anwar, a remarkably durable feat of fealty compared to the others whose repudiations of their former mentor describe the range from mild disappointment to outrageous heresy.
How then is a PKR elector to decide in this election?
Likely, he/she will choose on the basis of what he/she knows is true. And that would be the only way to go, given that the topmost leader can offer no explicit guidance.
Call that the PKR dilemma.