Saturday, February 08, 2020

Pakatan Nasional, anyone?


So there's a rumor going around about the prospect of a Pakatan Nasional, involving Bersatu, UMNO and PAS. Is there any truth to it? Probably not but for sure all three parties that are supposedly involved love the fact that these rumors exist, and all for the same Machiavellian reason. They like keeping the other parties around them anxious and uncertain.

For sure Dr M loves this. He's been doing for some time now. He loves keeping his Pakatan Harapan allies anxious and uncertain about everything. Is he going to ever let Anwar take over? Who knows. Is he secretly negotiating with PAS? Who knows. How about UMNO? Again, who knows. And what exactly does he talk about when he meets leaders from the opposition? Who knows.

Nobody knows, especially other leaders from Pakatan Harapan component parties, who are fearful of what Dr M might do if he should get upset with them. That's why, as I've said before, everybody's walking on eggshells, ever fearful of what Dr M might unleash in a worst case scenario.

Might he actually break up Pakatan Harapan? If he did that would be a classic case of cutting his nose to spite his face. But Dr M is unpredictable enough that he has his colleagues in Pakatan Harapan fearful that if push comes to shove, he might actually do that.

Nobody else would do that. Guan Eng and Kit Siang would never break up Pakatan Harapan just because they are unhappy about some things. Anwar would never do that. Neither would Mat Sabu. But Dr M... you never know about that wily old man! (At least that's what he wants his colleagues in Pakatan Harapan to think, and so far it's working).

If one looks at it objectively, it's hard to imagine Dr M seriously contemplating an alliance with UMNO and PAS, even though there's nothing he would love more than to Bersatu be the new UMNO -- the dominant Malay party that other component parties have to kowtow to. That's the political model he's known all his life and it's the model he's convinced is the best way to govern Malaysia.

He never believed in the all-component-parties-are-equal ethos of Pakatan Harapan. He just acquiesced to this because he desperately wanted to get rid of Najib. He much prefers the BN model. But Dr M surely must know those days of a super dominant Malay party lording over everyone else are over.

He's no fool. He knows that we live in a different era now and the electorate will never go back to the old BN model.

Before you utter: "But BN has been winning all those by-elections". Yes, it has because by-elections have little to no national consequences and the electorate is sophisticated enough to know that. That is why the voters use by-elections to send a message to the federal government that they are disappointed and fed up with the slow pace of reforms and the non-fulfillment of promises.

Those people who voted for the opposition to send Pakatan Harapan a clear message would not do the same thing if the federal government is in danger of falling back into the hands of BN. No way would they ever vote for BN in such a scenario.

Dr M must know that he would alienated all the people who had supported Pakatan Harapan if his party were to have anything to do with UMNO or PAS. And if you were to add all of the MPs these three parties have, it would still not be enough to form the federal government. Unless his calculations are that enough people from PKR and Amanah who would jump ship and join his party if he were to do something like this.

But even so, it would still be hard for this so-called Pakatan Nasional to get enough seats to control the parliament. Don't forget, if such an opportunistic alliance were to come to pass, there would also be people from all three parties who would leave the party. There are bound to be some people from UMNO and PAS who are opposed to any form of cooperation with Bersatu. There will also be some people from Bersatu who would quit that party rather than join hands with UMNO and PAS.

In other words, I can't imagine a scenario where a Pakatan Nasional alliance could get enough seats to form the federal government. The math just doesn't add up!

So, what is Dr M's ultimate game plan? What does he hope to achieve beyond making everyone anxious and afraid of him? That's a big imponderable. But with each passing day, it's looking more and more like he doesn't want to pass the baton onto Anwar.

He can say a million times that he plans to hand over the PM-ship to Anwar but nobody will believe him unless and until he sets the date -- which so far, he refuses to do.

This is classic Mahathirism. Keep your opponents and allies alike guessing, worried and fearful. We won't see less of this in the coming months. We'll see more of it.


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Pakatan Harapan stuck in a rut -- but still better than BN


That Pakatan Harapan is stuck in a rut is without question. It has been for a long time now and even the defeat in Kimanis will not knock it out of that rut.

That's because nobody in Pakatan wants to rock the boat. So status quo it is. It's been like that for months now. And nothing has changed.

Mahathir continues to be coy about the transition date. We know he wants to stay as PM for at least until the end of this year. He's said he wants to preside over the APEC Summit, which is in November.

How long he will stay after that, nobody knows. He has said he would step down only after the country's problems have been solved. But that can mean anything!

So, we don't know when he will step down. It could be right after the APEC Summit, it might be months after, who knows!

There are members of PKR and DAP who are increasingly uncomfortable with this vague transition situation and want him to literally stick to two years, which means he should step down by May 2020. There is very little indication he is prepared to do that and no indication from the various Pakatan component party leaders that they are prepared to push him out either.

So, he's gonna be here for a while. What does that mean?

For one thing, it means the much-needed reforms that civil society had expected when Pakatan was voted into power will not happen. The Sedition Act is still around. Why? Because Mahathir doesn't want it removed. The same with all the other draconian laws.

As such, many people who voted for Pakatan are sorely disappointed, so much so that some were willing to vote for the Opposition, BN. They did so, not because they think BN is better but because they wanted to send Pakatan a clear message.

Sadly, after five clear messages have been sent, we are still seeing the status quo maintained.

Does that mean Pakatan will be a one-term government? I don't think so. If you happened to have been someone who voted Pakatan in the last election, ask yourself this: In the next general election, will your disappointment with Pakatan lead you to vote for BN instead?

The answer is obvious: Of course not.

The general election is no by-election with minimal consequences. Everybody knows that. When faced with a choice of a Pakatan or Barisan for the federal government, it's clear what right-thinking people would choose despite whatever disappointments they may harbour.

That's the main thing Pakatan has got going for it. Not that it is so good but that BN is sooooo bad that it's not even a viable option to consider, at least not for a general election (by-elections with close to zero political consequences is another thing).

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.