When political idealism meets reality

  • Why You Like That Wan
  • Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018

There’s a reason why the character Captain America is so wildly popular among the masses. It’s not just because of Chris Evan’s sculpted body, but rather what the character represents.

Steve Rogers symbolises the human ideal. The greater fool. The Boy Scout. The person who will fight for what is right until the very end.

This archetype resonates with people because, like a weight goal, beach wedding or the SPM results of the kid your mom keeps comparing you to, it gives people an ideal to aim for.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Captain America movie series this week, funnily enough, as a way to try and make sense of what is happening in Malaysian politics.

Like Mr Rogers’ movies, the lead-up to the election that installed our current government, played out with the same kind of ethos one would see in a comic-book movie. Good vs Evil. The audacity of hope against the never-ending darkness.

And the cathartic victory, once our champion emerges victorious.

Pakatan Harapan, or at least its original founding members PKR, DAP and Amanah, built their foundation on this type of nobility. Stop corruption. Fight injustice. Free the people. Save Malaysia.

But unlike Mr Rogers, who had his bulging biceps and smouldering smile to bolster his image, I distinctively remember a time in 2015 when Pakatan - with the exit of Malay-juggernaut PAS and with no clear, charismatic leader to boost its credentials - was staring at certain defeat in the upcoming GE14.

It was only until this political drama’s deus ex machina, in the form of old enemy Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed and former Umno rivals who splintered into Bersatu, that Pakatan stood a real chance of seizing Putrajaya.

The story of Pakatan’s success has as many twists and turns and satisfying pay-offs as a superhero blockbuster.

But here’s the difference between movies and politics - movies have the luxury of an ending.

Right now, Pakatan is in the Captain America sequel. More specifically, it’s at the scene where Capt realises that his enemy HYDRA has not only survived the first movie - it has infiltrated his allies.

The Star’s front page yesterday tells you everything you need to know about the state of our protagonist.

It has devolved in some areas that do not resemble the coalition voters agreed to support. Leaders from the party Pakatan painted as corrupt and irredeemable are being welcomed into their fold, while protest from other members fall on deaf ears.

And it also sees the resignation of one of its most idealistic stalwarts, Nurul Izzah Anwar - who in many regards, had come to symbolise the young, hot-headed idealism of the New Malaysia citizen.

And her exit from party politics come at a time of much unrest in the PKR house.

Despite their smiles to the camera, media reports quoting insiders paint a picture of rifting factions within the coalition’s largest MP bank, over ultimate control of the central leadership. This in turn has been touted as a proxy war for a larger one between Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim.

And this is further compounded by the fact that the coalition is facing a credibility crisis, as its ally and face, Mahathir and Bersatu, continue to hold friendly talks with Umno leaders - supposedly their sworn enemy, and allowing some of them to into the party.

While before, PKR, DAP and Amanah have been able to control Bersatu’s influence due to the fact that the Malay-centric party had a significantly smaller number of MP’s than the three of them combined, recent talks with Umno defectors and news that 38 Umno MP’s would sign a statutory declaration in support of Tun M, has put the ability of Pakatan’s original three to veto their way out, in question.

Interestingly, Pakatan has been in this position before. And triumphed over it. Back when they were still Pakatan Rakyat with PAS, their clash of ideologies over hudud presented the same political and moral challenge that the current Pakatan faced now.

Their solution? To not compromise their beliefs and punch their way out, like Captain America.

That lent to the incorruptible image the then opposition party had, and sent a strong message to its supporters that it was willing to trade a fighting chance at GE14 in service of their values.

It’s as Captain America of an arc as it comes. Idealism won over.

But now the original three is facing a new challenge altogether - and one I don’t think they can Captain America their way out of.

Because where they were able to make big political decisions as the opposition, they are tied down by these facts: 1) They are now the government, and whatever bonds they break has lasting and damaging consequences and 2) They are very well aware that Tun M and Bersatu played a big role in their GE14 win, and warring with them could destroy everything they have built.

But at the same time, if they stand by and do nothing, and allow the face to compromise the overall coalition agreement, they risk losing the Captain America image they built for themselves, which may end up disenfranchising their support base.

They can look to other Barisan National component parties to see how well that strategy worked for them.

I can’t pretend to know what are Nurul Izzah’s true reasons for leaving her party politics, but based on her statement, and in particular - her disappointment of the “derailment of the reformasi spirit” - there is some indication that Pakatan is at the crossroads of political idealism and the constraints of reality.

The Puteri Reformasi’s move to quit, at the height of her political career, to me, represents the idealism of the original coalition hunkering down without compromise, and choosing to believe that - like in the movies, good will triumph over the proverbial evil.

As romantic as that notion sounds, and as much as I hope things work out for the characters in this story - I have to remind myself: This isn’t a a movie. And good guys don’t always win.

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