Perak is now administered by political gambits and ‘law of the jungle’

The New Straits Times | March 5, 2009

IN THE SERIOUS business of politically administering the hapless state of Perak, the “law of the jungle” seems to be the best recourse or a desperate precedent - if you can’t hold it at its august home due to some technical/political/security glitch, hold it under a tree in a nearby car park. The State Assembly Speaker is the Speaker no matter the location as long as he decrees it as a proper assembly, makeshift and improvised as it is. Serious business aside, there is something either charmingly comedic about today’s tree gathering episode or it was a demonstrative power of Speaker power symbolism.

Of course, the “law of the jungle” here is not meant to disrespect the Speaker’s position or his competency to operate in a democratic environment. As far as legitimacy calls, V. Sivakumar appears to hang on to his authority as steadfastly as he dispenses his orders, even if it meant calling for a Privileges Committee meeting and deeming Menteri Besar Dr Zambry Kadir and his State Exco members’ very existence as a contempt to the assembly on top of the “illegitimate” cost of maintaining their posts.

Students and observers of the art of political science can admire and even appreciate the plausible gambits that Sivakumar has been advised to execute in frustrating the new BN Perak Government, not for the distress it cause, but for the counter manoeuvres it had opened up.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War may have been a possible guiding book in deploying this regulated strategy but sceptics may define it as a ruse. Perhaps. In any case, anyone in Sivakumar’s embattled position, or that of the Pakatan Rakyat, seeing how their power was unceremoniously snatched in brilliant manoeuvres marshalled by the BN chieftains, would have just as easily lobbed the various spanners in the works just to ensure Pakatan’s grievances are plaintively trumpeted.

For now, at least in Perak, gambits of various manifestations - constitutional fortitude, political chicanery, road blocks of legal caveats…call it whatever you want - are as good as it can get because there is no precedent that instructs that you can’t. That’s the political weapon Pakatan Rakyat wields now in this administrative mess. Unless a court convening this week orders the alliance otherwise. Even the role of court is under scrutiny, whether the judge has the power to rule over a different division of power.

As much as Sultan Azlan Shah had correctly exercised his discretionary powers in ordering Nizar Jamaluddin to vacate his Menteri Besar’s post after a three-assemblymen defection from the Pakatan ranks triggered the collapse of the PR State Government, and then appointed Zambry as the new Menteri Besar, no one could have anticipated Pakatan Rakyat’s recalcitrance in proceeding with a defiantly stubborn exit strategy.

Having stated Sivakumar’s right to exercise his options to hang on to the Speakership with whatever constitutional, legal and political means necessary, and thus the Pakatan’s raison d’être in Perak, it’s just about right to question his judgment to move the location of the alternative assembly to…a car park under a tree!

Pakatan Rakyat defacto leader Anwar Ibrahim defended Sivakumar’s taste of the venue: “What else do you do? Knowing that there will be a sitting, you bar the place, forcing them to have it under a tree or a car park. He (Sivakumar) does not have a choice. He had given a notice, there was an agenda but they barred him from entering his office,” he ranted at a media conference at the Parliament lobby after the “assembly” adjourned. That’s a tad too thin, as far as Anwar’s reasoning goes. “We held the sitting under a tree based on the doctrine of necessity…” was Nizar’s pompous but arguable characterisation of the improvised assembly.

Of course Sivakumar would have better options than to hold the “assembly” under a tree, a raintree, according to Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timor). There’s always the comfortable air-conditioned hall in a nearby hotel. What about the halls of the PR parties’ respective state headquarters? Worse comes to worse, your friendly neighbourhood hall would have been a respectable venue. That aside and under the balmy, unforgiving weather, the 28 PR assemblymen huddled in a circle, their motions and debates deliberated in all grave earnestness while they allow themselves to be overheard or eavesdropped by a big crowd enjoying the oddity of the moment.

But Sivakumar just had to choose a rain tree. Then another explanation beckon, a symbolic one that Sivakumar may be trying to extract in squeezing every mileage out of this ridiculous impasse. Buddha attained nirvana under a bodhi tree; some people see succour and strength from a rain tree, the comfort of its shade and the life it gives to animals or beasts depending on its heat-protecting generosity. It’s been harboured by others that trees in virtually all rain forests invoke symbols of mystery and power, and for the spiritualists, the trees are the intimately sacred link between humans and nature.

If Sivakumar had petitioned these concepts as the cause for his “raintree democracy”, then he is surely getting ahead of himself. First, he didn’t win consent from the Sultan and second, the High Court later granted an order prohibiting him from convening further raintree assemblies. Whatever will his next gambit be?

But as far as street-wise symbolism goes, Sivakumar, and to a certain extent, Pakatan Rakyat’s Anwar Ibrahim, have scored some points today in their incessant endeavour to force a solution to their liking - a dissolution of the state assembly to allow fresh state elections or the second option to force a motion of no-confidence against Zambry and thus, snap elections.

When the Barisan Nasional made the play for the Perak Government, perhaps they underestimated the tenacious, pitbull-like characteristic of Pakatan Rakyat to respond to that stiff hook on the chin with a wrestler’s clumsy hammerlock. This political wrestling match has dragged on for several rounds with no respite and no winners. Like the farce in a wrestling match, the altercation now waits for one side to pin down the other and force a mandatory three-count call.

And like the farcical but professional wrestling matches over WWF, it’s easy enough to make the call but annoyingly tedious to reach three. For the time being, it is anybody’s wrestling match.

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