Getting a car unstuck from the mud can be a devilishly tricky task. You have to remember that your first impulse – slam the accelerator – is almost invariably disastrous. Instead, you have to give the car an exit route and means – wood planks, sand, grit – and only then resume the controls. Even then, if you do not line up everything just so, you’ll be no farther along than when you started.
The Democratic Action Party is in that mud pit.
The only component party in Pakatan Rakyat that almost reaches the level of competent, DAP is now an intellectual ghetto filled with echoes of could-bes and should-have-beens and wannabes, a shiny car forever stuck in a mud pit with the drivers taking turns gunning the engine.
And that leads us to Karpal Singh.
Save for not being Chinese, Karpal is DAP written small: In many ways a brilliant, voluble man, he has built his legal and political careers on an iron will, enormous reserves of talent, and a quick, penetrating wit. His distinguished legal and political careers are themselves testaments to these things, and in many ways, he has all the marks of a man of destiny. Unfortunately, none of those ways have anything to do with guiding DAP or its lesser parties in Pakatan to success.
Karpal is in fact the very worst sort of leader DAP could have right now: A talented, bluntly-spoken showman when DAP needs a ruthless backstage operator, Karpal’s numerous talents are completely ill-suited to helping DAP become anything more than a source of guilty pleasure to Opposition voters. Thus, unable to pacify behind the scenes PAS and its constant demands for hudud and Islamification of the country, Karpal is left to wage war on his coalition-mates in the popular press. Prone to outlandish outbursts of his own, Karpal can only watch as his fellow warlords in DAP make ironic remarks about democracy in Myanmar and engage in racism as spectator sport. Karpal is the perfect man for Pakatan’s current electoral strategy — to yell and posture for the cameras at all costs — when success will depend on providing the Rakyat with substantive policy.
It is no wonder that DAP is now again in its usual state of public in-fighting; behaviour flows from the top, and Karpal’s combative nature assures that his party will follow suit.
Karpal’s job of getting DAP out of the mud is compounded by the facts that PAS is busy reliving the glories of the Umayyads and PKR’s cult of personality is bound up in the dynamic and yet occasionally blundering Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. This means that DAP must be Pakatan to the voters, and that means Karpal must get the Pakatan car out of the mud. Add to this that Karpal has added to his list of hopeless (or high-profile) causes the defence of Anwar in his sodomy trial and in his image with the Rakyat, a Herculean task if ever there was one, and one can only pity Karpal as he tries to dislodge three cars at once.
In a well-ordered world, DAP would harness Karpal’s talents as its fiery, inspirational mouthpiece, and have a lower-key operator whip the party into shape for GE13. Of course, in a well-ordered world, DAP would be the leader of an Opposition committed to responsible governance and determined to abandon its history of Chinese chauvinism and vague disrespect for our country’s institutions. In this world, Karpal’s long and distinguished career, and numerous talents (despite the occasional flare-ups that have syncopated his career), are wasted on incidental wars and pointless conflicts as the greater conflict of the era descends upon it.
Poor Karpal. If you see him by the side of the road, offer him good cheer. He needs it.