Run-Up to GE14: Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, Parti Amanah Negara strategy director - Pakatan Harapan is just about ready

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on June 19, 2017 - June 25, 2017.
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The Edge: Where does Amanah stand in the new Pakatan Harapan?

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad: The position of Amanah is premised on progressive and inclusive Islam and replaces the position that has been traditionally held by PAS. This is in a way a blessing in disguise because all along there have always been concerns [about an Islamic party like PAS among the non-Muslim voters]. The nascent support base that was emerging as the core support for PAS, in the 2008 and 2013 general elections [notably the Chinese, Indians and urban Malays], would have left them (PAS). They are now our core support. With that, we hope to be a critical player in the new coalition front Pakatan Harapan (PH).

So, how do you see your chances in GE14?

We (PH) have a very good chance of unseating a government that has overstayed. There is a plethora of issues facing the nation — high cost of living, unemployment, inequality in terms of prosperity and a kleptocratic government. People are insecure and the disruption of racial and religious harmony does not help. People are also concerned about what seems to be the beginning of a dysfunctional government. The political chemistry is right and we are headed for a perfect storm that can unseat the incumbent.

If you look at the Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-elections, you didn’t fare too well…

I must say that those [by-elections] were wake-up calls for us. However, the dynamics have changed. [Parti Pribumi] Bersatu [Malaysia] has emerged and it is now almost a year since the last by-election. We have laid down our coalition’s common policy framework and we are working hard to put together our manifesto. I think we are just about ready.

How much of a game changer is Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia?

We have been talking about 1MDB, kleptocracy and abuse of power. When Mahathir, [Tan Sri] Muhyiddin [Yassin] and the rest came on board with us, Bersatu became the circuit breaker. Information that the rakyat used not to believe because we were the opposition has become believable now, with Mahathir and Bersatu in the team. 1MDB, for example, is no longer the message of the opposition; it has become the message of the rakyat. They didn’t really get to understand the message, but coming from someone who has helmed the country for 22 years, the message — including the cost of living and other economic malaise — becomes very powerful, simple and understandable by all.

What are the critical issues you need to address now?

The rakyat are burdened by the high cost of living. They are worried about jobs and the cost of living in relation to their wages and inflationary pressures. The ringgit has dwindled in value, at least 22% in the last two years and even more than that since [Datuk Seri] Najib [Razak] took over in 2009. Many food items, including essential goods, are imported. For industries based on import substitution, they are also affected. Job creation for locals is not easy to overcome but it must be addressed. 

On the issues of race and religion, why has the rift deepened? Why is it aggravated? We must address them upfront and not sweep it under the carpet. It is regrettable that Umno and PAS are using the racial and religious cards.

There are many voters who dare not take the risk with the opposition.

Democracy is about citizenry and about voters making informed decisions. It’s so important and critical that the PH must be able to articulate and advocate its policies loud and clear and, of course, be given the opportunity to do that. We will spell clearly our policies and manifesto and what we will do — even in the first few months — if we capture Putrajaya. 

When people vote for us, they will have a choice. We have clear policies on the economy, healthcare, education, race and religious relations, political reform and upholding the position of critical institutions. We want this election to be a contestation of policies and leadership of competency, capability and accountability. The rakyat have a chance to make an informed decision. If we win and fail, by way of delivery, then they have every right to criticise and vote us out the next time around. That is democracy.

Will the division of seats be a problem?

For the incumbents (DAP and PKR), they will keep the seats they have won. For Amanah and Bersatu, we are looking at seats once held by PAS and Umno and those seats that PKR and DAP fought but never got to win. For Umno strongholds, they are the seats suitable for Bersatu rather than Amanah. Amanah has to depend on mixed seats due to its core strength among middle Malaysians who no longer support PAS. 

I must admit that the seat distribution could very well be the Achilles heel of Pakatan, but at the end of the day, distribution of seats must be aimed at maximising victory. It’s about making sure that whoever is [picked to contest] any seat… [he or she is] winnable, and it must be honestly and collectively decided by all.

Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia is an Umno splinter party that forms part and parcel of everything you are complaining about.

In relation to Mahathir and Muhyiddin, while many may say that they have baggage, at least when it comes to the crunch, they are able to discern between what is very, very wrong and what needs change and replacement. They are able to come on stage and admit they were from the BN and have made errors in the past. We must be mature enough and not be caught in a time warp of animosity.