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Brave New World

Wednesday, 14 March 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

Independence has its challenges

ACTIVIST Maria Chin Abdullah (pic) has said that she wishes to stand in the upcoming general election. The odd thing about her candidacy is that she intends to stand as an independent aligned with Pakatan Harapan.

Civil society players joining politics is not an odd thing. Elizabeth Wong and Sivarasa Rasiah are now probably better known as politicians than as civil society folk although many moons ago, they were famous for their NGO work.

And currently we see Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who was chief executive officer of think tank Ideas (Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs) until Feb 28, also joining the fray.

The difference is that these three individuals actually joined a political party. Maria chose not to, which I think can be problematic.

This is because she does not want to cause a multi-cornered fight, in which case she will need a political party to pull aside one of its candidates in order for her to take that person’s place.

This is not a simple thing, as those who are in politics see a seat in the legislature as one of their main goals. It will be politically difficult to get anyone to willingly step aside.

Even if one were to join a political party, especially one that has been around for some time, being a newbie and wanting a chance to compete would put the noses of some of the players, who have been around and worked for the party for a long time, out of joint. So, imagine if that sacrifice is to be made for an independent.

I read that Maria has said that if an agreement can’t be reached, she will not compete. So, it remains to be seen whether this will really happen and whether we will have Maria Chin as an MP in the next few months.

Be that as it may, I for one am glad that Maria wants to stand. We moan and groan about so-called “professional politicians”, implying that it is good to have someone fresh come into the picture.

Maria would be competing on an agenda of reform and being free from party politics, she would not be bound by any larger party concerns.

The fact that she has aligned herself with the Opposition has caused some smug individuals to point out that this proves that she, and by extension Bersih 2.0, the election reform organisation she used to head, are in fact partisan and in cahoots with the Opposition.

This is a disingenuous argument for several reasons.

Firstly, Maria is not Bersih and Bersih is not Maria. Furthermore, she has resigned from her position in order to compete. The fact that she wishes to stand as an independent candidate is also indicative that her agenda is still primarily that of reform.

An independent who stands alone does not have much chance in our political climate, so Maria has aligned herself with Pakatan. This is logical because who else can she align herself with? Reform is clearly part of the Pakatan manifesto.

  • Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.