As PKR hopes to galvanise support for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at his final sodomy appeal next week, political observers warn that hopes for street demonstrations in the style of the 1988 “reformasi” could be counterproductive.
They cite a changed political landscape, unclear support base following recent discord within Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and the need to move beyond rallying around Anwar as a symbol of injustice.
“It is unrealistic right now. With the image of PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim somewhat scarred following the recent Selangor Menteri Besar crisis, I just don’t see this materialising.
“Furthermore, the political scenario is different from 16 years ago,” said Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs CEO Wan Saiful Wan Jan.
PKR Youth has launched the #RakyatHakimNegara campaign in support of Anwar which will see flash mobs and ceramah being held in front of the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya on October 28 when the Federal Court hearing begins.
Anwar is facing the Federal Court on October 28 and 29 for its decision against the Court of Appeal’s ruling that overturned his sodomy acquittal.
A nationwide “Solidarity with Anwar” roadshow of ceramah in different states will also begin this Tuesday and end with a grand finale at the Kelana Jaya Stadium on October 27.
Wan Saiful said PKR should realise that it was not in as strong a position as before when it received support from many Malaysians and once-political rivals, PAS and DAP.
Anwar’s sacking from government, his beating while in police custody and subsequent sodomy charges in 1998 angered many and saw the birth of PKR, then called KeAdilan.
“At the moment, PKR itself is struggling with support from within the party, its relationship with PAS is also not as good as before,” Wan Saiful said.
Another political analyst, Prof James Chin of Monash University echoed Wan Saiful and said that the idea of “Reformasi” – the battle cry street protestors used as they rallied for Anwar in 1998 – had moved on to a new level.
“Youngsters nowadays no longer talks about ‘reformasi’. The idea has evolved. They are now talking about changing the current system that is riddled with racial and religious bigotry,” Chin told The Malaysian Insider.
PKR election director Datuk Saifudin Nasution Ismail also agreed that the country’s political scene had changed since 1998.
“People went to the streets then because they were curious. Many were stunned (by Anwar’s sudden sacking from office). They demanded to know why,” said Saifuddin, a former Umno member who was one of the main players in the birth of KeAdilan during that period.
Along with greater public awareness about democracy, institutions and electoral rights, people had adapted, Saifuddin said, and more were choosing to oppose the ruling government through such channels.
“Four general elections later, we can see the outcome and people have been consistent in denying Barisan Nasional the two-thirds majority they once enjoyed. People not only protest on the streets, they are showing it via the polls,” he said.
A youth-based NGO, Lensa Anak Muda Malaysia (Lensa) also feels the same way.
Its communication coordinator Syukri Razab said Anwar was still politically relevant but PKR should not use his Federal Court appeal as the sole reason to rally for change.
“The reason has to be more than just about injustice against Anwar. Youths need something more.”
Syukri said PKR should instead settle unresolved issues such as cracks within the PR coalition, before asking people to take to the streets.
The discord shown within PR over the Selangor menteri besar impasse was a major factor in weakening support from youths, Syukri said.
“Go check the social media and read what the youths are saying. PKR should start listening to them. People are tired. The Selangor MB crisis, the squabble between PAS, PKR and DAP, are not helping.”
Syukri said Lensa would remain a non-partisan entity and be critical of both the Barisan Nasional (BN) government and PR.
“The youths are willing to support but it has to be more than just about Anwar. PKR needs to take this seriously before more youths start to return to the BN,” he said.
PKR Youth has said the wing would react with maturity and professionalism if the Federal Court’s verdict went against Anwar.
The opposition leader was sentenced to five years jail when the Court of Appeal on March 7 overturned his sodomy acquittal.
The High Court had, on January 9, 2012, acquitted Anwar of sodomising his former aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan. Anwar had been charged with committing sodomy on Saiful at the Desa Damansara condominium in Bukit Damansara, between 3.10pm and 4.30pm on June 26, 2008.
The three-man Court of Appeal bench allowed Anwar a stay of execution pending his appeal at the Federal Court. He was released on a RM10,000 bail.
The prosecution has also cross-appealed for a heavier sentence. Sodomy carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, effectively ending the 67-year-old’s political career if the apex court upholds his conviction.