FROM hero to zero – all this in a little more than a year after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad led Pakatan Harapan to a momentous victory in the 2018 general election.
Without him as the glue that held the coalition together, it would have been impossible to end the six-decade reign of the Barisan Nasional government.
He was heralded for crushing Barisan, in what has been immortalised as the people’s movement, to begin the era of a New Malaysia.
Countless books and at least two movies have been made praising the return of Dr Mahathir as Prime Minister.
Those accused of looting the people’s coffers were quickly arrested and hauled to the courts to face double-digit charges of corruption.
But Dr Mahathir must have been aware of the pent-up anger, even disdain in some cases, against his Pakatan government in the last few months – unless his ministers and officials have not been telling him the truth on the ground.
The expression of unhappiness and dissatisfaction cut across the races and Malaysians, like the rest of the world, are spewing their most honest comments via social media.
The inadequacies, insensitivities and even arrogance – in one or two cases, of his Cabinet members – certainly didn’t help.
While it was easy to blame the past government for not fulfilling their promises stated in their manifesto – including, of course, the purported lack of funds – there were many low hanging fruits that could have been taken advantage of but were ignored.
Perhaps they believed that the next general election is still three years away and the resolute support for Pakatan will always be there.
Well, they are taking the rakyat for granted and the results of the Tanjung Piai by-election is a sound reflection of the voters’ feelings.
To put it bluntly, they want to teach Pakatan a lesson.
Some Malaysians have gone further, as one video clip which went viral seems to be suggesting – this is like a tight slap to wake up or knock off Pakatan and it is necessary to sound this out to the government.
A year ago, Dr Mahathir was singing eloquently of a new Malaysian era but just a few months ago, he asked why he was questioned for attending a Malay dignity congress.
He didn’t seem to get it. The problem with this congress was that it lacked substance, there was no real concrete plan on how to boost the community forward with a structured agenda, as expected from the universities that organised it.
Instead, it was a gathering to merely let off racist steam and taking away from other Malaysians. How is this conducive?
And many Malaysians are wondering why he had to bend over backwards to defend controversial Indian preacher Dr Zakir Naik when other more powerful and bigger Islamic nations, including Saudi Arabia, do not even want to touch him with a 10-foot pole.
And out of nowhere, we had to grapple with the khat calligraphy issue, which was never discussed beforehand, and suddenly, there was a danger that it could become a communal issue.
This resulted in many believing that it was an engineered issue to show that Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) had the gumption to stand up for the Malays.
But it also looked like a perfect plan to distract issues, although several DAP leaders were quick to please Bersatu and sent out Hari Raya greetings in Jawi.
The only snag was that none of the top Bersatu politicians, including the PM, did the same. Theirs were all in Bahasa Malaysia.
Perhaps, Dr Mahathir was concerned with the drop in support from the crucial Malay majority, which reportedly made up only 35% of the electorate who voted for Pakatan in the GE, and thus, had to be seen as the Malay protector.
But there were other unfulfilled issues as well, and these were non-religious and non-racial in nature.
Local government elections remain elusive and the various posts went to Pakatan appointees, which is no different from the previous Barisan government.
State governments appointed party operatives to state government-linked agencies as part of the gravy train.
As one writer wrote – where are all the brave voices now as they become muted and enjoyed the perks and privileges of walking along the corridors of power.
More than a few inches have been added to the waistline and they no longer wish to speak up for fear of losing it all.
In August, Dr Mahathir reaffirmed the commitment of the Pakatan government to ensure good governance and free Malaysia of corruption, reflected in the realisation of 21 of the 60 promises in its election manifesto.
But the biggest contributing factor to the Great Unhappiness is the inability of the government to mitigate the rising cost of living. The Barisan – then branded as Barang Naik – was defeated by the Pakatan but Pakatan hasn’t done any better.
The Pakatan government removed the hated Goods and Services Tax (GST) and restored the previous Sales and Service Tax, but the substitution of these consumption taxes has not improved the lives of Malaysians.
It has been hard for Malaysians as they have found it tough to balance their household budget as the value of the ringgit continues to be weak.
In the end, after a year, the Pakatan has failed to please anyone. The Tanjung Piai results showed that Pakatan lost in all areas and all races voted against it.
The personal visit of the PM to the constituency didn’t work and neither did the personal messages make an impact.
According to a news report, Tanjung Piai will go down in the record books as the worst performance for any ruling coalition in a parliamentary by-election.
“Since 1959, a coalition ruling the Federal Government has averaged a 56.25% vote share in 61 by-elections which it participated in.
“In the case of Tanjung Piai, the vote share by Pakatan was way below average at a mere 26.4%.”
The writing is on the wall. It would be premature to write off or dismiss Pakatan as a one-term Federal Government based merely on the victory of Barisan in Tanjung Piai.
But the results also show that even the Chinese did not mind having MCA working with an Umno-PAS electoral pact and all PAS has to do is to tone down its rhetoric.
After all, DAP worked with PAS officially before under Barisan Alternatif.
There are 29 parliamentary constituencies where a combined Umno-PAS pact will see a victory and the victory of Barisan will certainly spur the setting up of a Barisan Muakafat or unity coalition.
If we add the number of seats won by Barisan (79), PAS (18) and
29 which Pakatan would not have won if there had been the Umno-PAS cooperation, Barisan-PAS could
have easily set up government with 126 parliamentary seats in their favour.
If Dr Mahathir was the biggest asset in the 2018 general election, he is now the biggest liability and even as he has said that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will be his successor, many do not believe him, thinking he wants to stay forever.
In simple language, he has a trust issue, even when he has been
consistent in his statements on the succession planning.
Under Pakatan, however, there has been great improvements to governance and strong reforms in the various institutions.
And for sure, better strides to press freedom, which has to be
recognised, as moves are being made to dismantle the laws on the need for printing permits.
If Pakatan does not wake up, TP will turn out to be the Turning Point.