Thursday, February 16, 2012

The man behind PKR


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Let us continue the story regarding Datuk John Soh Chee Wen.

After the euphoria of the March 2008 general election, which for the first time since May 1969 saw the opposition make impressive inroads into creating a two-party system in Malaysia, there was a need to get down to the business of governing.

As what John Soh tried to emphasis and to make the opposition understand: winning the election is not the hard part. That is only the beginning of your problems, not the end of it. Your problems really start after you win the election because running a government is more difficult than winning it.

John Soh realised that the first thing to do was to get proper premises for PKR plus furnish and equip it so that it can function as a proper nerve centre, not only for PKR but for the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, as well. More importantly, there was a need to establish a strategic plan on how to govern effectively with the objective of winning the next general election expected in 2012-2013.

That only gave them four or five years, which is not really that much time to do everything that needed to be done to become a credible and viable federal government.

What was unknown to many, except to those within Anwar Ibrahim’s inner circle, John Soh was not just PKR’s financier. He was the master strategist who focused on how to win the federal government in the next general election. However, to be able to do that, you must first demonstrate that you know how to govern. Only this will give you the federal government.

There are no short cuts. It was going to be a long and winding road over the next four or five years. And that journey starts today. But it was not going to be just a long and winding road. It was going to be a rocky road as well. And almost from the word ‘go’, John Soh and Anwar could not see eye-to-eye on many issues.

John Soh kept reminding Anwar that his sentiments and emotions must not get in the way of the agenda, which was to form the next federal government. But that warning did not go down well with Anwar. Anwar felt that John Soh was trying to ‘control’ him just because PKR depended on his financial support to realise its aspiration.

Very early in the day, John Soh argued that there was a need to groom a new generation of leaders, given the lack of quality among the present crop that were voted in on March 2008. Even Anwar admitted openly that many who had won the 2008 election were not expected to have won and that it was a mistake to field these people as candidates.

Nevertheless, Anwar would not act on this matter -- even when the Elizabeth Wong fiasco exploded and John Son insisted that something be done about it. John Soh told Anwar that the Elizabeth Wong matter was more serious than many people know and it may be better to nip the whole issue in the bud before it comes back later to haunt the party.

That did not go down well with Anwar who felt that John Soh was overreacting and that they can always cross the bridge when they come to it and embark on damage control later only when the need arises. John Soh told Anwar that pre-emption is always better than damage control but he could not get Anwar to make the move.

Another focus of John Soh was the Malay heartland. John Soh stressed that it would be impossible to win the election unless one had the support of the Malay Diaspora. It was very crucial, therefore, that Anwar focused on the Malay heartland. This too was not done because Anwar preferred to concentrate on his overseas audience rather that waste time in the villages.

It was already apparent even at that very early stage that John Soh and Anwar had conflicting ways in handling matters and different priorities. John Soh chose the ‘strike first’ route while Anwar preferred the ‘wait until it happens and then cover our arses’ route.

Actually, the falling out between John Soh and Anwar started earlier than that, although it did not peak until much later. The first signs of ‘incompatibility’ revealed itself when Anwar announced his 16th of September plan.

September the 16th of 2008 was supposed to be the day that Pakatan Rakyat takes over the federal government. But to do that Anwar has to first persuade at least 30 Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament to cross over.

Getting 30 Barisan National Members of Parliament to cross over was not that much of a problem. All it needs is money, RM300 million to be exact -- to pay each Member of Parliament RM10 million as an ‘inducement’ to cross over. The problem would be: after paying them the RM300 million, which would have to be in advance, of course, how can they be assured that Umno would not up the figure by RM15 million and buy them back?

The bottom line would be: Pakatan Rakyat pays them RM10 million each and Umno also pays them RM15 million. They would receive in total RM25 million each and remain in Barisan Nasional. If they can be bought, then others can also buy them for a higher price. And they will take the higher price without returning the RM10 million you gave them.

John Soh’s bone of contention was that he would be the one who has to pay the RM300 million. If it works, well and fine. But what if it fails, as it did in Perak, and Umno counter-offers these 30 Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament a higher figure? The RM300 million would be money down the drain.

John Soh did not agree to fund the RM300 million take-over-exercise unless Anwar could ensure success. But how could Anwar guarantee success? These were 30 ‘for sale’ Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament they were talking about. If they can sell themselves to one side then they can sell themselves to the other side as well.

John Soh refused to fork out the RM300 million and that ended the September 16th dream to march into Putrajaya. And that also meant Anwar would have to face trial for Sodomy 2. The only way to escape Sodomy 2 would be for Anwar to become the Prime Minister, which was not going to happen now.

For weeks Anwar refused to talk to John Soh. He put the failure of September the 16th squarely on John Soh’s shoulders. When they finally met, Anwar and John Soh had a heated exchange of words. When Anwar said that John Soh was to be blamed for the September 16th failure, John Soh retorted, “If you are so confident it was going to work then why not fund it yourself? Bring back some of the billions you have stashed overseas and pay the RM300 million from your own pocket!”

That was more or less the beginning of the end of their relationship. With that one retort, John Soh destroyed any possibility of a compatible ‘marriage’. From then on it was downhill all the way and they disagreed on almost every issue thereafter. Anwar never forgave John Soh for the 16th September failure.

One issue after another cropped up that widened the gap even further. John Soh was propagating reforms but all his plans to push for reforms were always met with resistance. Only then did John Soh realise the influence Azmin Ali had over Anwar. If John Soh wanted Anwar to agree to anything, he must first get Azmin Ali to agree to it. Only then would he be able to get Anwar to go along with the proposal.

The PKR supreme council was a lame duck council because Anwar was constantly referring to his old Umno mafia on how to run the party. What upset John Soh the most was the party-within-a-party structure where within the official party circle was another unofficial all-Malay circle comprising of ex-Umno cronies. In fact, this second inner circle would hold its own separate meetings further to the main meetings.

When Zaid Ibrahim joined the party, John Soh immediately sensed an opportunity to push through the much-needed reforms with Zaid leading the charge. John Soh saw the opportunity offer itself during the Jeffrey Kitingan crisis and he asked Zaid to help calm the situation. John then engineered Zaid’s meteoric rise in Sabah and Sarawak.

John Soh hit the roof when Anwar did a U-turn and rejected the Sabah Peace Plan after having agreeing to it earlier. John Soh had worked hard on this peace plan so he was furious when he found out that the person who had torpedoed the whole thing was Azmin Ali.

In another incident, John Soh supported Zaid’s bid for the Deputy Presidency and was disgusted at the level of cheating that took place. In his own words he said, “I did not think Anwar and Azmin would sink to such low levels.” That was yet another blow and only made things worse.

When things came to a head and it became impossible for any reconciliation, John Soh and Anwar parted company. The final straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, was the Sarawak State Election disaster almost a year ago.

The PKR headquarters building actually belongs to John Soh and PKR has been squatting there all this while free of charge. Before that, since early 1999, PKR was squatting in Datuk Ravi’s building in Phileo Damansara, also free of charge. (Incidentally, Datuk Ravi is a Samy Vellu nominee).

PKR, of course, denies this. Saifuddin Nasution, PKR’s Secretary General, told the press that PKR is paying rent. But Saifuddin said he is not clear who the owner of the building is and how much rent the party is paying.

PKR’s Treasurer, William Leong, on the other hand, has refused to comment about whom PKR is renting the building from. William Leong added that PKR was renting the premises at RM20,000 a month and that rental was paid promptly. However, reports have emerged claiming that PKR had not paid any rental since November 2008, bringing the arrears to RM600,000. (The Star, 10 June 2010).

If this were true, then the accumulated unpaid rental since the beginning would come to about RM1 million or so.

It is being speculated that John Soh may be claiming back that unpaid rental of RM1 million. He has already spent RM20-RM30 million to fund Anwar, and then PKR, since 1998. If he had gone along with Anwar’s 16th September plan then it would be RM330 million rather than RM30 million. Whether that would mean Pakatan Rakyat would now be the federal government and Anwar Malaysia’s new Prime Minister, or whether it would just mean money down the drain, is, of course, not something we can determine.

Anwar needs to raise at least RM600 million (versus Barisan Nasional’s RM1.5 billion) for the coming general election if we really want to see a change of federal government. If not, then we may see Barisan Nasional still in power for a long time to come. And that money was supposed to have come from John Soh. But Anwar has already burned his bridges with John Soh. Will Anwar kiss and make up or will the divorce be absolute and final?

PAS and DAP have no problems. They can scrape through with a shoestring budget. In fact, they always have, for half a century. But PKR cannot. It needs money to move its machinery and to get its people to work (basically, Umno culture). Without RM600 million, PKR is dead in the water and DAP or PAS is going to emerge the taiko in the next election with the most number of seats. PKR will then be relegated to the younger brother in Pakatan Rakyat with hardly enough seats to claim the post of Opposition Leader, let alone Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Yes, at the end of the day, Malays ‘play politics’ but would be nowhere without money, mainly Chinese money. As I said: look for the Chinese behind the Malay politician, on both sides of the political divide. That is the story of the lives of Umno, Semangat 46 and now PKR. Luckily PAS has people committed to Islam who are prepared to do God’s work free of charge. With Allah as their calling card they do not need money. In fact, their supporters give the party money instead, something PKR wishes it could see as well.

The 100-million-dollar question now is: have PKR’s legs been cut off from under it? The answer to that question would reveal itself around dinnertime on Polling Day of the 13th General Election. Meanwhile, don’t hold your breath. You might turn blue, the colour of Barisan Nasional.

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