By BARADAN KUPPUSAMY
Academics and other opinion makers said to be close to Pakatan Rakyat praise the Prime Minister's reformist credentials while questioning Pakatan's readiness to rule the country.
A public forum at St Paul's Church in Petaling Jaya that was organised by Kairos, a church based think tank, is making some waves because some of the forum speakers who are said to be close to Pakatan Rakyat had acknowledged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's reformist credentials while at the same time casting doubts on Pakatan's readiness to rule the country.
Its proceedings were reported in the Malaysian Insider and other news websites and going by their reports the forum speakers, which included Singapore-based American academic Dr Bridget Welsh, were willing to give credit to Najib for reforms, including to get Umno to accept change.
They also faulted Pakatan with speakers noting its failure to form and announce a shadow Cabinet, whether the civil service would respond to it and its failure to resolve issues like hudud laws as shortcomings that impact on its readiness to rule.
Their leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has all but given up on his dreams of Putrajaya and is now focused on retaining Selangor.
The forum held under the general title New Political Activism and Realignment: Implications for Malaysia's GE13 had as its speakers, (besides Dr Welsh) lawyer Andrew Khoo and Industrial Court chairman Lim Heng Seng with Dr Ng Kam Weng giving an introduction on Christian political concerns.
Dr Welsh said Najib "deserves credit" for the way he has pursued a reform agenda in the face of resistance to reforms from within Umno.
Everyone knows that Umno, founded in 1946 to defend Malays rights, is settled on its old ways but even such an established organisation is changing due to Najib pushing for reforms.
Najib should be credited for reforms although he runs great risk of alienating the Old Guard in the party and their resistance to reforms, said Dr Welsh who writes for Malaysiakini and is known for her anti-Barisan Nasional views.
Dr Welsh also said Umno's resistance to reforms had contributed to its losses in the 2008 general election, and the next polls will be a test of its readiness to accept reforms.
Besides losing two-thirds majority in parliament, Barisan also lost Selangor, Penang and Kedah to the Pakatan coalition.
It also lost Perak but retook it a year later when three Pakatan assemblymen defected.
The losses were the most serious in over 50 years of uninterrupted rule by the coalition and its predecessor, the Alliance.
Najib has been touring the nation since rallying the people for the big election battle ahead that he has described as a do-or-die for the coalition.
Equally committed is the Pakatan coalition with Anwar saying repeatedly that he is throwing everything into the battle and will retire to academia if he fails to wrest Putrajaya.
Expanding on Najib's reforms and Umno's role in it, Dr Welsh also said that the party, which turns 66 this year, is its own worst enemy.
"Divisions within Umno itself are its own worst enemy when it comes to elections. Their fate is determined by their behaviour and decisions," the Malaysian Insider quoted her as saying.
The issue of corruption, which was "endemic" within the ruling party, has given Pakatan both a "common platform" to work together and an edge over BN.
"This is what is so challenging for Najib. He is caught in a vicious cycle."
Khoo questioned Pakatan's readiness to rule when they have not even announced a proper shadow Cabinet.
"Although they have a common policy in Buku Jingga," Khoo said, "their inability or reluctance to form a shadow Cabinet has meant they are unable to articulate what their policy is going to be," website thechoice.my quoted him.
The Buku Jingga is no substitute for a proper set of policies which can then be explained to the rakyat by its shadow ministers responsible for those portfolios.
They announced three "shadow ministers" for each portfolio in 2009 and after that the matter was dropped.
No mention is made of any shadow Cabinet precisely because Anwar is reluctant to be overshadowed by his "ministers".
"I have my concerns. To me, the great tragedy of Malaysia would be if Pakatan won and then failed as a Government," Khoo said.
On the question whether Pakatan was fit to govern in the event they captured Putrajaya, the speakers, reportedly, had varying opinions.
While Dr Welsh preferred to remain neutral, Khoo said he had his doubts over the coalition's failure to announce a shadow Cabinet which "restricts their credibility" and the third speaker Lim said the voters should not be unduly concerned over the issue.
While the panellists criticised the slow pace of reforms, and the uncertain nature and direction, and the different support rate by political parties, they also gave due credit to Najib for being bold to carry out the reforms.
This is a change.
It shows that Najib has arrived after a long haul that started in 2009 and academics and other opinion makers are beginning to take his actions seriously and give him due credit.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device via Vodafone-Celcom Mobile.