If Pakatan Harapan truly believes in progressive politics it should work towards creating a political system that respects diverse thoughts in the choice of leaders and coalition partners, says Ronald Benjamin.
The selection of Anwar Ibrahim as a prime ministerial candidate by Pakatan Harapan, which consists of PKR, DAP and Amanah, is a clear example of opposition leaders falling into convergent thinking instead of the divergent thinking needed to create a viable coalition that would be a credible alternative to the Barisan Nasional.
Convergent thinking is centred on a single solution whereas divergent thinking has various solutions to an issue. The elite-driven selection system that leaves the choice of prime minister in the hands of few elites is a clear indication that Pakatan Harapan is not really harapan baru.
Pakatan Harapan has not explained how the Jailed Leader would automatically become prime minister if the coalition wins the next general election. What if, due to judicial and legal constraints. the selection of Anwar becomes impossible – who would be prime minister then?
The exclusion of PSM, which has the pulse of the struggle of the poor and the marginalised, is also an example of the disease of elitism in Pakatan Harapan. Even in plutocratic societies such as the United States where the political scenario is dominated by Republicans and Democrats, political parties usually have a pool of candidates for their members to choose from during the primaries.
It is not a mistake to prefer Anwar Ibrahim, who is the icon of the opposition struggle. But it should be done with the consent of the grassroots. Space should be given for the emergence of leaders who are able to come up with concrete ideas, grounded in reality. These emerging leaders should be given a chance to provide better alternatives.
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One of the reasons Malaysia is going through a middle-income trap is that our political system is stuck in the way leaders are chosen to lead the government. For example, the Umno president automatically (by tradition) becomes the prime minister. The MCA and the MIC presidents are guaranteed ministerial positions just because they are leaders of their respective parties, rather than due to their capabilities.
For the country to move up the value chain, not only should leaders have political acumen, proven professionalism, and managerial competence, but also they should not be easily vulnerable to controversies and accusations.
A proven track record in industry, social entrepreneurship and the ability to relate to the historical foundations of the nation are vital alternative criteria that should be considered.
Leaders should be capable of building a team that is able of analyse various solutions to a problem, opting for the best one that would serve the common good. They should not stick to the archaic method of just having the elites making key decisions in a world dominated by powerful political and business interests.
Pakatan Harapan should start thinking innovatively. It should come up with an innovative process of choosing leaders for future government positions that would reflect grassroots sentiments and the will of Malaysians. The common of good of the nation should take precedence. The process should not be dictated by the sentiments of the few whose time has past.
If Pakatan Harapan truly believes in progressive politics, it should work towards creating a political system that respects diverse thoughts.
For a start, there should be Pakatan Harapan conferences nationwide to give an opportunity to the grassroots of the respective political parties to choose national leaders who have divergent ideas. They should also be involved in decisions on who to accept as new new coalition members.
This would create divergent thinking and provide a viable and credible alternative to the Barisan Nasional process of choosing leaders.