The March 27 meeting proposed by Zaid could spell the start of something new, provided everyone agrees on one agenda.
Much has been made of former law minister Zaid Ibrahim’s call for Malaysians opposed to Prime Minister Najib Razak to have a meeting of the minds. He has since clarified that he was not calling for a public demonstration, but for leaders to come together in a meeting to discuss a common course of action and perhaps present a united front against the current administration.
In Zaid’s own words, the March 27 meeting “will be a peaceful gathering of citizens who want those who abuse the law to be punished and who want those who harbour these criminals to be made accountable and responsible.” It is under these terms that parties will be welcomed to the table, and Zaid would do well to keep that as the only agenda of his movement, given the uneasy feeling some Malaysians have over his inclination to promote former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad as leader of the movement.
Mahathir is viewed with much derision and rancour by some civil society leaders and, certainly, some pockets of opposition supporters. Mahathir is, after all, the grand old man of Umno politics.
However, Zaid assures us that Mahathir’s only agenda is Najib’s removal and the return of righteous rule to Malaysia. This agenda dovetails neatly with the goals of the opposition and civil society movements like Bersih. It is the common agenda that unites all parties fed up with the rule of the current regime.
A similar initiative has been promoted by Lim Kit Siang, but it has failed to gain traction on the ground. This could be because Kit Siang is seen as representing DAP, which unfortunately is still considered a largely Chinese party. Zaid, however, is a kind of free agent who is seen as representing the silent and largely moderate majority. His initiative may have a better chance than Kit Siang’s.
This brings us back to issue of discomfort over Mahathir’s involvement in Zaid’s movement. Bersih spokesperson Maria Chin Abdullah, in expressing her reservations, named Mahathir’s agenda as the main problem. But in truth, all parties opposed to the Najib administration, including Bersih, have their own agendas and goals. Each has its own vision of what Malaysia should be.
But all that should be beside the point for now. They can fight for their agendas and goals at the polls. Right now, what is important for Najib’s critics is to unite under a banner. Let’s face it – Najib has proven to be a formidable opponent and a resilient one, and at the rate the opposition parties are squabbling among themselves, voters will be forced to make a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea or just not vote because there is no one worth voting for. In that case, BN wins.
The reality is that all other agendas cannot be advanced without first agreeing on one agenda, one goal and one mission. And Bersih, Zaid, Mahathir, and the opposition do share a common agenda, and that is the removal of the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and the Inspector-General of the Police.
Like it or not, Bersih and the movements under its banner need Zaid and Mahathir as much as the latter need the former, as the turnout for Bersih 4.0 demonstrated to devastating effect. And it is well to remember that Mahathir and his cohorts do not have the pull among progressives necessary to gain widespread support, given the former PM’s authoritarian record.
No one wins if all we do is squabble and ignore our common ground. The key to cooperation between all parties involved lies in adhering to a principle taught to journalists on Day One: Keep it simple, stupid. If everyone sticks to one simple agenda, March 27 could spell the start of something new in our political sphere.