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Pro-Pakatan talk shop that spent the night bashing the Government

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Given the cast onstage at a political forum in Petaling Jaya, no one would have been surprised if it had turned into a pro-Pakatan talk shop that spent the night bashing the Government.

In attendance was avowed fan of Anwar Ibrahim and high-profile academic Bridget Welsh, who has written pro-Anwar pieces for The Wall Street Journal, The Australian and Britain’s Guardian newspaper. She was joined by lawyer Andrew Khoo, who has worked as a consultant to PKR’s Selangor State Government. They were joined by former chairman of the Industrial Court Lim Heng Seng.

In other words, a panel known for its pro-Pakatan stance.

The event theme of “New Political Activism and Realignment: Implications for Malaysia’s GE13” should have been the cue for the panel to bash BN and it got off to a predictable start with Welsh calling Umno its “own worst enemy”.

But then, surprisingly, and in turn, the panel members not only began raising doubts about Pakatan’s fitness to govern but they even began praising the achievements of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his credentials as a reformer.

Singapore-based Welsh said Najib “deserves credit” for the way be has pursued a reform agenda in the face of “resistance to reforms” within Umno.

Given her track-record as one of Umno’s most strident critics this is lavish praise indeed. It also acknowledges Najib’s determination to push through reforms irrespective of the risks he runs in alienating the Old Guard of his own party.

On this point Welsh is totally correct. There remains resistance to change in Umno, and Najib is brave to have staked his reputation on confronting it.

Then it was Khoo’s turn and he didn’t pass up the opportunity. He challenged Pakatan Rakyat’s fitness to govern and expressed disappointment at its inability to form shadow Cabinet. This, he said, “restricts their credibility.”

“Although they have a common policy in Buku Jingga,” Khoo added. “The inability or reluctance of PR to form a shadow Cabinet has meant they are unable to articulate what their policy is going to be.”

In other words the Buku Jingga is no substitute for a proper set of policies which can then be explained to the rakyat by the would-be ministers responsible for those portfolios. This works only if Anwar tells us who those ministers are, what they will do in their first term and how the fledgling Government will pay for it all.

In case Khoo hadn’t damned Pakatan enough already he continued, saying: “I have my concerns. To me, the great tragedy of Malaysia would be if PR won and then failed as a Government.”

Welsh refused to answer a direct question about whether she though Pakatan Rakyat was fit to govern, saying she prefers to remain neutral.

All this was an amazing turn of events considering both Welsh and Khoo are supposed friends of Pakatan. It must leave the Opposition coalition recalling the old adage that if you have friends like these you don’t need enemies.

That left just the industrial lawyer Lim Heng Seng. Surely he could muster some effusive support for the notion of Prime Minister Anwar and his coalition Government?

“I don’t think we should be overly anxious that Pakatan will not be able to rule,” was the best he could manage. That’s what’s called damning with faint praise.

The remarkable thing about this event isn’t that this panel has turned against the Opposition coalition but more importantly, with the phony war coming to an end, they are being forced to make harsh judgements about who is capable of forming a strong and effective Government. They weren’t addressing the easy questions of whether Pakatan would make a refreshing change, but far tougher issues about but about fitness and readiness to Govern.

That’s what happens when we get closer to the election. The criteria on which our politicians are assessed gets tougher and in this latest assessment a respected panel that could be seen as being pro-Pakatan has found Anwar’s team wanting.

This will hurt Anwar who has worked so hard to get onside academics and international thought leaders. One- by-one they are seeing Pakatan Rakyat for what it is – a dysfunctional coalition that is in no state to govern the nation. The Choice