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Pakatan's Saturday: Slim on Content

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PR-KE3At the end of the day, Pakatan Rakyat still couldn't produce a manifesto.

Just refried slogans and calls for reforms that are already 75 percent done.

Those who hoped for Pakatan Rakyat to finally produce a substantive vision of how it would run the Government -- by issuing a manifesto, by naming a Shadow Cabinet, something beyond random announcements of piecemeal policy in sound bites and attacks on Barisan Nasional -- had to be disappointed by the outcome of the 2012 Pakatan national convention held on Saturday.

There was no new social or economic policy of note, nor a vision of how Malaysia would become a fully developed nation.

Much has been made of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's acquittal and the allegedly galvanising effect it has had on the Opposition, but the last few days have been marked by whispers that his trial has slowed Pakatan's work toward unity, with the promise of "previews" of the manifesto.

Where is clarity on hudud? Where is the Shadow Cabinet? Where is a substantive and across-the-board manifesto that is well thought out?

It is hard to describe this as anything other than PR for PR, desperate image management. Since December -- when Anwar was still on trial, and his verdict expected in early January -- Pakatan has been promising a manifesto, one that was "'simple, concise' and 'refined' to specific key points which best explain what the federal opposition has to offer to voters in the next general election." There were promises that the convention would not be about personality, but principle; not about personnel, but policy.

A casual observer would think the convention an anti-Barisan Nasional ceramah with something about Felda thrown in. A devoted follower of politics would believe it an anti-Barisan Nasional ceramah with something about Felda thrown in, and something about petrol subsidies to boot. There was also talk of rice and other subsidies, which seems a bit jarring as Pakatan's talking point of the month is the unsustainability of continuing subsidies, and some talk of the Buku Jingga deal, though that was sporadic and not the focal point of the convention.

Also missing from the convention was a Shadow Cabinet, something Pakatan hinted last month would be coming out of the convention. The mark of a competent Opposition in the Commonwealth is a shadow cabinet, as the manner by which the Opposition displays its unity and tells the voters who will create which policies under a new Government.

Instead of any of that, political observers of every stripe were treated to a convention that opened with accusations of corruption by Barisan, accused Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak of preparing to overthrow the constitution should the Government be defeated at the polls, and closed with Anwar's now-traditional harangue about toppling the Government and seizing power.

This is still Pakatan Rakyat of old, unable to agree on anything other than where to stand in group photos, unable to provide a coherent policy preview to the Rakyat, unable even to telegraph how power will be allocated if it wins the upcoming general elections.

In fact, any reasonable observer will be forced to recall Anwar's famous promise of a change in Government come September 16, 2008, a promise made after months of hard work with the wind at the Opposition's back. Here, too, the Opposition, allegedly rejuvenated in the wake of Anwar's acquittal, with over three years to plan and form a coherent coalition policy, can only make vague promises about subsidies and announce, of course, opposition to a Government policy -- taking Felda public.

Pakatan being Pakatan, and its most fervent adherents still gripped with messianic fervour, the inevitable message will play out in Opposition media over the next week: Pakatan is newly unified, prepared to move forward, ready and about to take Putrajaya, and its manifesto will be coming out shortly.

And so with an election that will be about issues and policy, Pakatan cannot even identify all of the issues, let alone the policy.

Perhaps Pakatan is still stuck in an unprepared opposition stance in which three disparate and conflicting parties are held together by the glue of an Anwar trial or the politics of hate against the Government. The unified PR policy platforms are thin, and not always well reasoned.

The manifesto will almost certainly come. So will the shadow cabinet, we hope.

But could Pakatan really govern, is it competent enough and clearly united enough to come up with innovative policies that are also pragmatic? The slim content on offer Saturday was not encouraging.

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