Why the hesitancy in giving Maria a prominent seat to contest, when there are 222 to choose from?
This year’s International Women’s Day which was commemorated yesterday could not have been more memorable for Malaysia after its women’s rights activist Maria Chin Abdullah threw down the gauntlet to contest in the impending 14th general election.
Maria helmed electoral reform movement Bersih 2.0 from 2013 until recently when on March 6 she made public her decision to take a leap into politics.
She is willing to step into the world of politics but with a caveat of her own – she has no intention of joining any of the four opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan component parties i.e. PKR, DAP, PPBM and Amanah.
Maria, 62, was placed in solitary confinement for 11 days in 2016 after she was arrested under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act for instigating the public to protest against premier Najib Razak for his alleged involvement in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign fund.
As she moves into the political arena, Maria wants to do so by contesting under the Pakatan banner and with the no-strings attached understanding.
“If I carry a reform agenda I have to be focused and I would like to remain independent, independence isn’t so much about the logo itself but more so keeping to the agendas at hand.
“I must have space to express my own position on controversial issues,” Maria had said.
That is not all. Maria has also declared that she will only contest if offered a parliamentary seat, saying this was necessary for her push to introduce electoral reforms as well as gender and income equality.
“Nothing less than an MP; if you are at a state level, how can you push for reform in the electoral system and how can you push forward agendas?”
Whilst Maria has explained why she wants nothing less than a federal candidacy, her justification has yet to be given due consideration by Pakatan, which is led by former prime minister-turned-opposition poster boy, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
A day after Maria held a press conference to confirm her foray into politics, Mahathir on Wednesday said the Opposition coalition had yet to make a decision on Maria’s candidacy.
So what is holding Pakatan back from throwing its full support behind a renowned activist? Why the hesitancy in giving Maria a prominent seat to contest, when as PKR vice-president Tian Chua pointed out, there are 222 to choose from?
Is Pakatan afraid that Maria could do more harm than good in that she might end up splitting the votes, a move which would only end up enriching its nemesis, Barisan Nasional?
222 federal seats and Pakatan remains indecisive
PKR’s conflicting signals in having Maria contest a parliamentary seat boils down to one pertinent issue – that the activist must become a party member.
PKR vice-president Tian Chua has welcomed Maria’s intention but its PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution said her candidacy would only befit a discussion if she was committed to the party.
Speculation was rife previously that Maria was poised to replace Tian Chua, whose real name is Chua Tian Chang, in the Batu parliamentary constituency or his party colleague Hee Loy Sian in Petaling Jaya Selatan.
Tian Chua in speaking with The Star on Thursday had said the question of a seat status for Maria would have to be “worked out”.
The Batu MP went on to make a startling point, that Pakatan would not have problems in allocating a parliamentary seat for Maria to contest given that there are 222 to choose from.
“Of course, we want more people to join the legislative process to bring about reforms.
“This is something that we have to work out.
“Where to place (Maria Chin) is a technical issue. We welcome her to participate in the elections on behalf of Pakatan Harapan,” Tian Chua was quoted as saying.
Unlike Tian Chua, his fellow comrade Saifuddin is bent on having Maria come on board as a member before her candidacy issue was deemed worthy of discussion.
“At the moment, we have not received any application from Maria to join PKR.
“The question of Maria contesting under a PKR ticket, and whether we field her as candidate, can only be discussed after she is accepted as a member.
“Until then, the issue of Maria being offered a seat by PKR does not arise,” Saifuddin bemoaned to Malaysiakini.
PKR’s paranoia in forcing Maria to commit to it
What was supposed to turn out to a breather for Pakatan with Maria’s interest in politics has become a messy affair and an unwarranted tug-of-war for PKR.
Maria’s refusal to join PKR or any other Pakatan ally as a member should not be used as an excuse to deny her the opportunity to contest in the GE14.
Does PKR’s Saifuddin not realise that by being adamant about compelling Maria to become bias to the party, he is at best displaying his own paranoia and insecurity in facing the coming general election, seen as the most damning of all?
The onus now is on Maria to decide her next move. Is joining PKR as a member an asset or a liability or a no-option act?
While PKR drags its feet in sorting out the conundrum, BN ally Gerakan is busy undermining Maria’s decision to contest, claiming it is a betrayal to supporters of the Bersih 2.0 rallies.
“Members of the public should think twice before supporting their deviated cause or activities in future,” its Youth Legal Bureau chairperson Chai Ko Thing decried in a statement soon after Maria made known her decision to the press.
What is so Machiavellian about electoral reform watchdog Bersih 2.0 that has left Chai squirming in his pants?
What good would it serve an activist to launch herself into a field unbeknownst to her as is the case with Maria who has spent over three decades defending women’s rights?
Chin’s argument that Bersih 2.0 was never impartial as it claimed to be, is flawed.
“Its political bias and inclination towards the Opposition are clearer than ever. It is unfortunate that Bersih 2.0 has deviated from its original struggle for clean and fair elections by venturing into politics,” Chin debated.
Should Chin forget, Bersih 2.0 is not Maria Chin Abdullah and vice-versa. It is not the individual but an activist that creates an impact. So Maria’s move into politics has in no way maligned Bersih’s reputation or credibility.
For the uninitiated like Chai who are going about trumpeting that Bersih 2.0 had been “politically hijacked” by the Opposition, there is still some time left to seek political enlightenment.