Sunday, 19 February 2017

Crucial time for Opposition

No clear sky: Dr Mahathir, seen here in Kedah, is driving the narrative in Pakatan Harapan but his public pronouncements have not gone down well with PAS leaders like Mohd Amar (right).

No clear sky: Dr Mahathir, seen here in Kedah, is driving the narrative in Pakatan Harapan but his public pronouncements have not gone down well with PAS leaders like Mohd Amar (right).

It is a mad, mad rush to hammer out an agreement among the Opposition parties so that they do not end up fighting each other in the general election.

KELANTAN Deputy Mentri Besar Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah is puzzled that people actually think he is the type to drive a Porsche.

A picture of a sleek, silver Porsche Panamera parked outside a rather ordinary looking house has been making the rounds on the Internet alleging that the luxe vehicle belongs to him.

Mohd Amar, who is also PAS vice-president, said the Porsche is not his, nor does it belong to anyone in his family. Many people came to his house when his son got married recently but he does not recall seeing a Porsche.

In fact, the house in the picture is not even Mohd Amar’s house. That is the Internet for you, where anything is possible.

The Porsche story originated from none other than Datuk Husam Musa, the Salor assemblyman who left PAS for Amanah last year.

The enemies of PAS have latched on to the Sarawak Report claim that PAS had accepted RM90mil in funds from Umno. PAS leaders were outraged and have accused the Sarawak Report of spreading fake news.

A top PAS official said the party has difficulties even to pay the salaries of staff at its headquarters, and it has initiated legal proceedings against the British woman who runs Sarawak Report.

The irony is that Husam has also been a victim of slander, accused of being in cahoots with timber tycoons when he was a leading figure in the Kelantan government.

Such bullets in the Opposition used to be reserved for Barisan Nasional but they have now been turned into internal fire.

Ivanpal: The other side will know what it’s like to take orders from Mahathir.
Ivanpal: The other side will know what it’s like to take orders from Mahathir.

The rivalry between Amanah and PAS is still very raw and bitter and that is why Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s efforts to get them together have failed so far.

PAS leaders are quite irritated at the way Dr Mahathir has been making public statements to pressure them into reaching an agreement of cooperation with his party.

“He is no longer in power but he talks like he is still the Prime Minister. Even when he was the PM, we never followed what he said, why should we follow now?” said Mohd Amar.

He said an agreement with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia will happen sooner if Mahathir restrains himself.

“He should sit at the back of the car, his driving licence has expired. Let Muhyiddin (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin) and the younger leaders drive the car,” he added.

But the reality is that Dr Mahathir has slowly but surely moved into the driver’s seat of Pakatan Harapan.

Nobody in Pakatan Harapan wants to say it out loud but Dr Mahathir has taken command of the Opposition agenda.

“Actually Mahathir has done them a favour, he is providing some sense of leadership and strategy, he knows how to push the agenda,” said political commentator Eddin Khoo.

He is playing the role that opposition leader Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail ought to be playing. In short, he has become the de facto Opposition leader.

And he is relishing the new political prominence. His personality and charisma eclipses those around him, including his party president Muhyiddin while his son Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir looks like a boy scout next to him.

He has what Khoo calls a “subliminal sense of authority”. He knows when to attack and he knows how to play the victim, like when the Sultan of Johor punched holes in his Chinese invasion of Johor story.

But all that does not necessarily mean that he is good for the Opposition.

He brings with him 22 years of experience and achievements as well as a whole load of baggage. He is old politics, and he has obliterated whatever hope of the new politics that the Opposition coalition had sparked off.

He is still a big brand name, albeit old and problematic.

Khoo: Opposition is not convincing as a government-in-waiting.
Khoo: Opposition is not convincing as a government-in-waiting.

He has not offered his audience a picture of what the alternative future will be like apart from the fact that he does not want Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in the picture.

Even the average person can see that he is obsessed with toppling Najib and everything else is secondary.

“Dr Mahathir is a complicated factor. Barisan struggled to shake off his legacy. It was so difficult because we had to show deference and restraint every time the government wanted to change his policies.

“But we can now move out of the shadow of Mahathirism. The other side will know what it’s like now,” said Gerakan politician Ivanpal S. Grewal.

A recent survey by a Selangor government think tank found that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was still the top choice as a national leader among Selangoreans, polling 36% of the votes.

Dr Mahathir and PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang tied at second place with a rating of 19% each.

DAP’s Lim Kit Siang polled 16%, Muhyiddin 9% and Amanah president Mohamad Sabu 8%.

But Dr Mahathir fell way behind Anwar and Hadi among the Malay respondents. That is not good news because his role in Pakatan is to bring in the Malay votes and to help neutralise DAP’s image among Malays. Incidentally, Lim’s rating among Malay respondents was only 1%.

Next month will be one year since Dr Mahathir joined forces with the Opposition to launch the Citizens’ Declaration.

What has happened to all those signatures? Nobody talks about them anymore. In fact, Dr Mahathir has also stopped talking about 1MDB. He probably knows people are also tired of that.

The Opposition’s criticism of China’s investments has also not gone down well with everybody, especially the business community. They can see that a lot of it has to do with opposing for the sake of opposing.

The urban disenchantment about Barisan Nasional is very real. It is hard to find people who have something good to say about Barisan in, for example, Petaling Jaya.

At the same time, it is hard to find people who really believe that Pakatan Harapan will capture Putrajaya in the next general election.

The political fatigue has been there for some time but among the thinking class, there is now also a sense that they have been let down. This cohort of voters had believed that the Opposition front represented change and a different way of doing things.

Putting Dr Mahathir on centrestage is like watching an all too familiar movie.

As one DAP politician pointed out, the former Premier is 91, he is burning the candle at both ends and it is not exactly a long candle. He does not represent the future and the ones articulating the future should be leaders like Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and Khairy Jamaluddin.

Signs of how uninspired the young generation is about the current state of politics lies in the sluggish registration of new voters the last few years.

In 2011 alone, more than one million had registered to vote, many of them determined to change the government. But from 2013 to 2015, only 617,000 signed up.

That is a huge deficit of interest in the coming polls.

There are apparently some four million unregistered voters out there and the impact will be significant because the younger, first-time voters are usually the risk-takers, the more impulsive group.

“Let me put it this way, it means that there will be no new supply of angry folks,” said the above DAP politician.

Pakatan, said Khoo, started to unravel after the disastrous Kajang Move.

“There is such a level of distrust among the Pakatan parties even after so many years together. I would have liked to see a more cohesive front rather than what it is now – individual parties coming together to form a coalition. They cannot agree on who will be the PM and they do not have a shadow cabinet,” said Khoo.

Anwar, stuck in jail, continues to be Pakatan’s choice solely because they know he is not likely to make it.

It is not a real choice but a convenient one because they will not have to commit to it. Naming someone who is available and ready for the job is tougher because it means making a real commitment.

The logical choice should be Azmin. The Selangor Mentri Besar’s popularity rating has shot up but somehow he has been unable to find acceptance among Pakatan stakeholders.

One of Pakatan’s major mistakes was making Najib their sole target.

The Opposition strategy has been built on having a common enemy rather than building up a narrative that it is a government-in-waiting.“They were only focusing on Najib. They felt they need not do anything else other than attack Najib but they have completely underestimated him,” said Khoo.

The masterstrokes are still coming from Najib.

There is, however, one viable option left for the Opposition front and that is to hammer out an election agreement to ensure a one-to-one contest with Barisan.

For that to happen, PAS needs to come along.

In that sense, even though the Opposition stage has become more glamorous since Dr Mahathir came along, it does not mean much without PAS on it.

PAS leaders like Mohd Amar know that all too well.

Hence, Mohd Amar’s parting shot: “You say you want our friendship, but you reach out with your right hand and box us with your left hand.”

Tags / Keywords: porche politics joceline tan dr mahathir PAS

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