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!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

How PH can stabilize

When Pakatan Harapan won GE14, here was the breakdown of seats won:

PKR: 47
DAP: 42
Bersatu: 13
Amanah: 11
Warisan: 8

Since then, there have been some defections from the other side and now the composition is:

PKR: 50
DAP: 42
Bersatu: 26
Amanah: 11
Warisan: 9

As you can see, Bersatu has grown the most, doubling its seats to 26. Even so, that's still very few compared to PKR and DAP, who collectively have 92 MPs. Yet, it is Dr M of Bersatu who is in the driver's seat.

This was all part of the agreement that the various component parties made prior to GE14. So when PH unexpectedly won in GE14, Dr M became the PM despite his party having very few MPs. A deal is a deal, so they stuck with it.

What was also decided was that Dr M would only be an interim PM and that Anwar would take over after about two years. Dr M has said he would keep his promise but his actions so far have only served to create doubts and uncertainty about his willingness to hand over power to Anwar. He seems to favor Anwar's once trusty lieutenant, Azmin Ali.

There is now some doubts about whether Dr M will actually relinquish power when the time comes. Or will he find some excuse to either stay on or pass the baton to Azmin instead? This kind of uncertainty is not good for the country and does not bode well for PH if it carries on for much longer.

Stability could come in two forms. One is that Dr M actually keeps his promise and steps down in a year or so, after which he would truly retire from politics. Without him at the helm, Bersatu will no longer be the unstable element that is rocking PH. Nobody in Bersatu is as cunning as Dr M is and frankly, Bersatu's influence will become more in line with the number of MPs it actually has (which is not many).

The other possibility, if either Dr M stays the full term or someone else of his choosing takes over, is for the other PH component parties to win enough seats in GE15 to form the government without Bersatu's MPs.

That doesn't mean PH doesn't welcome Bersatu in the coalition anymore. It just doesn't need Bersatu to form the government. In such a situation, Bersatu would no longer be in any position to muscle its way around. And PH would be more stable.

Let's face it, the other component parties' alliance with Bersatu was a marriage of convenience, nothing else. That is why the marriage is so rocky. When the other component parties don't need Bersatu anymore, that's when the PH coalition can finally have some semblance of steadiness.