Sunday, November 17, 2019

PKR, DAP & Amanah need to change their strategy

Harapan got trounced in Tanjung Piai. This was a strong rebuke by the rakyat who wanted to send Harapan a clear message to get its act together and to start fulfilling its promises. It's also, as Syed Husin Ali articulated, a referendum on Dr M's leadership.

It's always hard to figure out what's going on in Dr M's mind. He likes to keep people guessing on what's he got in mind when he does things like meeting up with opposition lawmakers to discuss things that are not ultimately revealed. Or when he sends out signals that he favours Azmin over Anwar. Or when he supports the inclusion of khat in the BM syllabus etc, etc, etc. Why he does such things, nobody knows

But there are a few things we do know about Dr M, because he is remarkably transparent about them:
a) He doesn't believe the old system, for which he was a principal architect, was flawed. He believes that Najib corrupted the system, which is why all the bad things happened. To Dr M, it wasn't the system that was at fault. It was Najib. What Dr M doesn't realize (or more like, refuses to accept) is that Najib was able to do what he did precisely because the system set up by Dr was remarkably susceptible to manipulation. Because he doesn't recognize and accept this fact, he doesn't really want to fix it. And that's why reforms are so slow in coming.

b) He thinks that UMNO hegemony was the right formula for governing this country. He doesn't like UMNO now because it had supported Najib. But he liked how UMNO was the BIG brother in BN and how the other component parties basically kowtowed to it. He laments the fact that his current party Bersatu is not in that position within Harapan. It's not as big as PKR. Heck, it's not even as big as DAP (and that's with defections from UMNO). That's why he called or Malay opposition lawmakers to all defect to his party. If the majority of them had actually done that, Bersatu would then indeed become the new UMNO within Harapan.

The slow pace of reforms and the old "ketuanan Melayu" approach to politics has turned off many moderate and progressive Malaysians. However, as long as Dr M is in power, this situation will not change because he doesn't want it to change.

There is no guarantee that Anwar would be a successful leader but at least we know he would do more to hasten reforms than Dr M. Would Anwar do enough to satisfy civil society and those who voted for change via Harapan? Maybe, maybe not. But we can be sure he would do more (or at least try to do more) than Dr M in that regard.

We also know that Anwar does not believe that the "ketuanan Melayu" concept is the right approach going forward. His party, unlike Bersatu, is a multi-racial party. He has also on more than one occasion called for the introduction of needs-based affirmative action policies.

Most people would agree that upon Harapan's surprise victory in GE14, Dr M was the right person to lead the country. He was the steady hand needed to steer the country after the shock results of the election. Many people also believed he would make sure that the perpetrators of the 1MDB scandal would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Those two reasons alone led many people to support the idea of Dr M leading the country again. But they wanted it for only two years. Dr M's acolytes like to assert that the actual date of the transition was never made explicitly clear prior to the election. While that may be the case, it also cannot be denied that the notion of "two years" was widely agreed upon and this was clear to everyone who voted for Harapan. So it's highly disingenuous for Dr M's supporters to suggest that there is no agreed time-frame for Dr M to step down.

Any goodwill that Dr M earned for helping to oust Najib has been all spent by now and Dr M should not overstay his welcome. He was promised two years and he agreed to two year, so he should stick to two years. He should make the specific date of the handover public.

That would go a long way towards mitigating public disappointment with Harapan and give its supporters renewed hope. Otherwise, people will expect more of the same. And the folks at Tanjung Piai made clear that more of the same is not what they want. 

Yet, nobody among the Harapan leadership is nudging him towards setting a firm date for the handover because they are afraid of upsetting him. The Harapan component party leaders' strategy is pretty straightforward and simple: Don't piss off Dr M.

They believe that if they do not rock the boat and let him have his way for two years, he will honor his pledge and let Anwar take over. Of course they know he might not stick to his promise but they are more willing to take that chance than to risk upsetting him.

Why? Because Dr M is unpredictable. Who knows what he might do if he is upset (like perhaps break up Harapan?). The mere potential of that has paralyzed the rest of Harapan with fear.

So, everybody walks on eggshells. And what has that achieved so far?
a) Unfulfilled promises
b) A whole bunch of own goals 
c) Component parties that look timid
d) No clear timeline for the transition

In short, the "Don't piss off Dr M" approach has been a disastrous strategy. The folks at PKR, DAP and Amanah have got to start insisting on policies and measures that are more in line with what Harapan stood for before the election. Otherwise things are just going to get from bad to worse for Harapan.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The choice is now very clear

It's been a pretty bad year for Pakatan Harapan. Unfulfilled promises and lots of internecine bickering has resulted in many people losing hope in PH. Some have even begun speculating whether BN can make a comeback.

I've always believed this was impossible, not because PH is so good but because BN is that bad. You may be frustrated and disappointed with PH for a variety of justifiable reasons but can you bring yourself to actually vote for BN? The answer for most people is no.

Because of that reason alone, BN has little to negligible chance of making a comeback. But this week, BN really sealed its fate and doomed itself to oblivion for a few generations to come because of its pact with PAS.

That pact now has a total of 58 seats in Parliament of which 1 is from MCA and 1 from MIC. To call this a predominantly Malay coalition would be the understatement of the year. For all intents and purposes, this is an All-Malay coalition.

Now the choice is clear for the electorate: Multiracial coalition vs All-Malay coalition. Which one do you want to run the country?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Is Dr M right?

Dr M seems intent on uniting Malays under one political party -- Bersatu -- to the extent that he invited members of PAS and UMNO to join his party.

Why is he doing this? The simplistic explanation is that he wants to replicate UMNO within PH, with Bersatu being the new UMNO. He wants Bersatu to play the big brother role.

That certainly could be a reason but there could be another (arguably more critical) explanation for his fixation with building up mega-Malay party.

Perhaps Dr M is convinced that PH cannot win future elections unless it adopts the BN formula of a dominant Malay party in charge of the coalition.

Could he be right? If he is, that means the rest of PH must be wrong because the other component parties are emphasizing a multi-racial approach.

The reason Dr M gave for making Bersatu a Malay-only party was that this was necessary to make Malays feel comfortable with voting for PH in GE14.

There is probably some truth in that but how much? What percentage of the Malay electorate actually cared whether there was a Malay-only party in PH?

The other parties in PH believe the way forward is to adopt a multi-racial approach. That is one of the reasons Anwar has been calling for a needs-based approach to affirmative action rather than the race-based one preferred by Dr M.

When Dr M was in BN, his approach to combating PAS was to out-Islam PAS. This was why he declared Malaysia an Islamic state. Dr M seems to be going back to the same playbook and trying to out-Islam PAS and out-Malay UMNO.

This would explain his bizarre support for Zakir Naik to remain in Malaysia and his approval for the education ministry to introduce khat as part of the BM syllabus.

Both these issues are incredibly divisive but he was willing to put the country through that because he thinks this will win Bersatu (and by extension, PH) Malay support.

Dr M is a master politician. That can't be denied. But even experts make mistakes and Dr M is wrong if he thinks becoming more like BN is the way to win future elections.

People who voted for PH in GE14 did so because they were sick of BN. The last thing these folks want is for BN to be replaced with another BN-like entity.

"BN minus 1MBD" is not what people are clamoring for. What people want is a PH with the courage of its convictions. They want to see a change in the way things are done. They want reforms.

It's unrealistic to expect Dr M to embrace this new approach favored by the other PH parties. As such, the only way PH can fully go on full reform mode is for Dr M to eventually retire and be replaced by Anwar.

There's no guarantee that Anwar will be able to deliver on all the promises PH had given prior to GE14. Certain things that require a lot of money to fulfill (e.g. no more highway tolls) may simply be unachievable. But there are many promises that can be fulfilled that don't require huge funds or a 2/3rds majority in parliament. All it takes is political will.

Expecting Dr M to become a committed reformist may be too much to ask of him but it is not too much to expect him to pass the baton to Anwar after two years in power. In fact, it's something that should be demanded because that is what the electorate voted for.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

There are many things to be frustrated about with Pakatan Harapan -- not because it's as bad as BN, because it clearly isn't -- but because so much more was expected of it.

For some people, it's bread and butter issues. Prices of goods haven't really dropped, tolls still exist, etc. But for many it's far beyond that.

There doesn't seem to be any urgency in looking into judicial misconduct or the Teoh Beng Hock, Altantunya and Pastor Koh cases.

Repressive laws are still on the books. People are still getting charged with sedition and other laws for "crimes" such as writing something insulting on social media.

Then, you've got these own goals like the khat issue and the Zakir Naik issue. No doubt the introduction of khat was originally a BN idea and it was also BN that gave Naik PR status. But why continue with BN policies?

There's also Lynas and the third National Car. The list goes on.

The core reason why many of these BN-like things are happening is that Dr M is in charge and he doesn't really want to change all that many things. You won't find any interviews he's done where he admitted there was something wrong or rotten about the old system. He blamed it on Najib.

No doubt Najib had made full use of the system to turn Malaysia into a kleptocracy but he was able to do so precisely because of the flaws in the old system. That is why it is so crucial that reforms are done, so that something like this can never happen again. But such reforms won't happen under Dr M.

I think most people would agree that Dr M was a suitable steady hand that the nation needed when there was a change in government after GE14. We were in uncharted territory. A change in government had never happened before in Malaysia's history. Having someone as experienced as Dr M, who ran the country for more than two decades, was very reassuring.

It started off well, with many of his previously fiercest opponents-turned-allies declaring that Dr M had changed, that he believed in consensus building, etc. But little more than a year after taking office, it's very obvious that Dr M is going back to his old ways.

Is there any doubt that if it were entirely up to PKR, DAP and Amanah, that many of those BN-like policies described above would not have happened? These things are happening because the leaders of the other component parties have all decided to not rock the boat, lest Dr M gets really upset and decides to renege on his promise to hand over the reigns of the country to Anwar.

Rather than take that risk, they have decided to play it conservatively and defer to Dr M. This might prove to be the right strategy. Or it might not. With Dr M, it's hard to tell. He hasn't, for example, committed to any specific deadline for handing over the keys of the country to Anwar. And this has fueled speculation that something is up.

Given that the other component parties in PH have decided to adopt the appeasement strategy, the natural question to ask is have they got a Plan B, in case Dr M does not proceed with what has been agreed. What if two years have gone by and there's still no sign of Dr M preparing to leave. Do they then just bear with it for yet another year, since Dr M has said he might stay as long as three years?

And if they do that, do they then insist on a deadline for Year 3 or will they allow him to continue to keep the handover date vague? What if the end of the third year is approaching and there are still no signs of a handover, do they have Plan C?

It's easy to be an armchair quarterback and say the other PH parties should crack down on Dr M now and insist that he does things this way or that way. They've obviously weighed the pros and cons of appeasement and have decided that that was the best way to go. Keep Dr M happy and hope that he will keep to his promise. In the end, Dr M might just do that and their strategy will prove to be right.

With PH parties, the old maxim: "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst" is something they should heed.

Well, they clearly are hoping for the best but are they prepared for the worst? It would only be prudent if they already had Plan B in place (what happens if he doesn't hand over power after two years?) and even Plan C in place (what happens if the end of year three is approaching and still no indication of him stepping down?). To not have Plans B and C in place would be really unwise and even a dereliction of duty.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Questions about the Lynas decision

The outcome was not surprising. Indications were already there that the Cabinet would allow Lynas to continue operations.

According to Mkini, at least 13 ministers had in 2012 signed a pledge to scrap Lynas. Yet, Syed Saddiq claims the decision to allow Lynas to continue operations was a collective Cabinet decision.

Just to be clear that what he means by "collective Cabinet decision" was that all agreed to it, he said: "This is the cabinet's decision, how can the cabinet decision come out with people (who) don't agree?"

So, if what Syed Saddiq says is true, the 13 ministers have a lot of answering to do. Why did they change their minds?

Did they agree grudgingly because Dr M wanted it? Was it a case where some ministers actually objected but were outvoted and then agreed to go with the majority? If so, who among the 13 actually raised objections? Or were they all readily agreeable?

Once can't help but speculate, had Anwar been the PM instead, what would the stance of the 13 be? Would they have still voted for allowing Lynas to continue operations or would they have voted for it to shut it down instead?

Such imponderables!