Malaysia’s biggest betrayal in history. What’s next?

  • All the pieces matter
  • Monday, 24 Feb 2020

DEMOCRACY has been betrayed.

Malaysia has been betrayed.

We – the rakyat – have all been betrayed.

I don’t think I have it in me to really articulate the pain, loss, and betrayal that so many of us are feeling about the possible new backdoor government. I’m sure others will do that better.

I do know however that the other emotions swirling in there is despair – alongside cynicism, defeatism, and anger.

These emotions are perfectly normal, and we need to give them the air and time they need.

Ultimately though, we may need to get to the point where we can say, as my sister often does: don’t get mad, get organised.

In order to face Malaysia’s biggest betrayal, we are going to need Malaysia’s best and brightest working together, not working against each other. And we’re going to need to really understand the new forces and strategies at play here.

The primary motivation of this betrayal is of course the greed and personal ambition of the individuals driving this move.

That said, this doesn’t mean that there is no political calculation and logic behind said move. If we are to face this, we need to understand that logic – especially in the light of possible snap polls.

So basically, the formula is Umno, PAS, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, East Malaysian parties, and other token representative parties versus mainly PKR, DAP, and Parti Amanah Negara.

To some observers, this may seem a little too monoethnic on one side. Is it?

I think this new coalition (let’s call it “Pakatan Nasional” or PN for now) has carefully thought through its electoral viability. So, what is their plan?

In recent decades, Barisan Nasional was extremely monoethnic. It remained strong in all the rural areas, while the Opposition reigned supreme in all the urban areas.

Due to gerrymandering, malapportionment, and delineation, this formula actually kept Barisan firmly in power. They had long ago lost their two-thirds majority, but still had a comfortable overall majority in Parliament – even with sacrificing almost every urban, non-Malay majority seat.

I think this is exactly the strategy that PN is looking to replicate.

This would make sense, because the only time Barisan failed to win using this formula was in the 14th General Election (GE14) in May, 2-18, when PAS split the Malay vote.

I’ve actually run the calculation before, and if you use the (admittedly overly) simplistic model of combining Barisan and PAS’ votes from GE14, that coalition would have easily beaten Pakatan Harapan, by winning 129 of the 222 seats in Parliament, and controlling eight states.

The PN campaign (in rural areas especially) will run on the very simple ideology of Malay unity. This will be especially effective after two years of what has been perceived as severe Malay disunity and the fragmentation of Malay political power.

Most importantly, this campaign will drive one of the biggest racial wedges we have ever seen in the fabric of Malaysian society. PN will make this almost entirely about a Malay versus non-Malay struggle, and tensions will be about as high as we have ever seen.

The main vulnerability of PN will be the balance of power between Umno, PAS, and Bersatu. Where once Umno decided everything, now we will see if this trio can survive beyond grabbing power.

The Opposition as is will have no trouble winning in most urban seats, if it is one-to-one fights. But the end result will likely be no better than the results in GE12 (2008) or GE13 (2013), and the old formulas will not do much to provide an alternative to the racial wedge.

The current PKR-led political coalition cannot replicate the results of GE14 quite simply because PAS is no longer there to split the rural vote, and there is no earthshattering new factor or issue that they can campaign on (in this atmosphere, many in those seats will not care about “backdoor government”). These factors are decisive.

If we want a different result from GE12 and GE13, there needs to be a huge change – something really different.

Politically, the answer is not likely to be an urban-based, English-speaking third force. Such a movement will have no influence or appeal in any seat that PKR/ DAP/ Amanah would already win on their own.

The new element required needs to have mass appeal. If it only appeals to certain segments, failure will be inevitable. This likely means that it needs a strong Malay, Muslim element.

While PN will likely campaign on an “us versus them” platform, the alternative needs to embrace an inclusive, unifying platform.

Where PN will campaign using toxic divisiveness and political mudslinging, the alternative needs to be a rejection of politicking, and a focus on a wholesome, solid vision for a healthier democracy.

Our only hope is to change the paradigm completely – to carry a message of hope, inclusivity, and genuine democratic empowerment.

Most importantly, there needs to be a strong and clear ideology, based on actual values of integrity, justice, transparency, and compassion.

There has to be a genuine commitment to a predetermined vision, not some fake manifesto that no one believed in; and there needs to be a complete rethink of what democracy really means, if we don’t want to continue being stuck in a vicious cycle of politicking.

Without these crucial elements, any coalition will be as paper thin and directionless as Pakatan Harapan has been these last two years.

The old ways simply don’t work, just as the old formulas simply don’t work.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is a pretty decent man, but if he leads the same type of political coalition as he did in GE12 and GE13, the results will be the same. Indeed, with PAS now replaced with a “PAS Lite” that has no real grassroots support, the results will likely be even worse.

PKR, DAP, and Amanah will not stand any chance if they choose to believe that the old ways are good enough today, or that they already have everything they need to succeed.

It doesn’t make sense to arrogantly try to counsel against arrogance. No one person or group has all the answers, least of all me.

But I think it’s safe to say that what we need moving forward is a grand coalition – one that represents not only people we like or are comfortable with, but one that truly and proportionality reflects the full spectrum of Malaysian society.

That is the only way we can save Malaysia’s democracy from the jaws of certain death it now faces.

NATHANIEL TAN is a strategic communications consultant, ready to serve Malaysia. He can be reached at The views here are the writer’s own.

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 18
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3

Did you find this article insightful?


78% readers found this article insightful

Across the site