Failure Has a Name in Kedah

Failure Has a Name in Kedah

Pakatan Rakyat’s signal achievement in GE12 was not denying Barisan Nasional the customary two-thirds majority, nor driving Tun Abdullah Badawi into retirement. It was capturing fully five state governments, providing somewhat gainful employment to a host of frustrated Opposition politicians and BN malcontents, and launching the careers of many more.

It takes a rare man to preside over the destruction of that achievement. That man is Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak.

The University of Kent and Al-Azhar graduate has squandered PAS’s great achievement of 2008 in his personnel choices, governance, and relations with the national party.

Azizan has managed to alienate huge swathes of the party machinery in Kedah, poison his relationship with his successor and his exco, and allowed Mat Sabu to either undermine him or ineptly protect him.

It did not need to be this way.

In the aftermath of GE12, the Pakatan government that took over in Kedah was caught up in the same exuberant rhetoric that characterised most of Pakatan’s fervour at the chance to take the reins — the same fervour, perhaps, that motivated Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s famous September 16, 2008 promise. You remember that one?

Yet as with that famous failed promise, the promise of Kedah’s new government was not designed to last. Success may have a thousand fathers, but this failure has at least a few. While much of the analysis has centred on Datuk Phahrolrazi Zawawi and Mat Sabu, Azizan’s failure to understand the internal struggles shaping up in PAS and his own state government cannot be discounted.

In fairness, it is not altogether clear that even PAS understands those internal struggles. Is this a battle between the so-called Erdogan faction and the old guard, independent of Anwar? Is it between the ulama and non-ulama? Between the welfare state faction (assuming such a thing even exists) and the hudud law faction?

Azizan’s central failure is to be caught in a party in chaos, a chaos from which he cannot escape and in which he cannot manoeuvre. Whether this is a function of being yet another septuagenarian PAS leader or simply being outmanoeuvred is an open question.

Its resolution, however, is vital to forecasting PAS’s and Pakatan’s chances in GE13. If the chaos in Kedah’s state government is the result of a peculiar mix of infighting and a lack of national control, then PAS merely faces the same enormous set of hurdles it always did in GE13.

If, on the other hand, the Kedah catastrophe is not merely a function of Azizan’s apparent lack of control, but rather symptomatic of larger problems, then Pakatan is in worse shape than most observers thought.

Phahrolrazi has made Azizan’s removal his central goal and has done little to hide that fact. PAS at the national level therefore had two choices: break the internal rebellion or break Azizan. Either would have openly revealed to the rakyat PAS’ direction, and shown strength of leadership in the face of internal bickering — the sort of strength that has thus far eluded DAP in its internal battles, and PAS in its.

It appears, depending on the report, to have instead chosen precisely the opposite path: either to allow (or encourage) the internal feud to simmer, setting two state factions against each other, dragging the other Pakatan components into the fray; or to try — and fail — to break the rebellion. PAS is either weak at the national level, or cannot be honest with the rakyat and its own voters about its future.

Neither of these is an optimal outcome for PAS. Were Azizan even as strong a leader as Tan Sri Abdul Ibrahim, he would be able to either ignore the national party’s incompetence (or backstabbing) or quell it altogether. Instead, he faces the threat of being the face of a broken PAS — an ulim unable to lead, embattled by his own party, who watches as the party crumbles around him. The true face of failure.

Azizan may also be the face of PAS’s near-term future. We must all wait and see.