IT was a whirlwind weekend for the Mahathir government and everyone could sense just how thrilled the first-time ministers were to be up on stage for the Merdeka Day parade.
The first time is the sweetest and many of them were spotted taking selfies to record the moment.
Pakatan Harapan is still basking in the glow of victory and the “B” rating for their first 100 days in power.
The tables are turned and a cheeky meme that went around on National Day said it all – two photos, one showing Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad waving at the passing parade in Putrajaya and another photo showing Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak at home watching the parade on TV.
The new administration has struggled to fulfil its 100-day promises but, overall, it has taken several important steps to strengthen democracy in the country.
They know it will not be a bed of roses in the days ahead because, as the saying goes, you campaign in poetry and govern in prose.
But Pakatan’s advantage is that Umno is still in a state of confusion.
“Being the opposition is not in our DNA but we have to change that,” said Umno’s Kok Lanas assemblyman Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad.
Umno was at such a loss after May 9 that Alwi’s friends asked whether the party had fallen into a coma.
And who can blame them? All those sensational police raids of millions of ringgit and expensive items from property associated with their former president left them dumbstruck and in the lurch.
“No more coma. For a while, we were knocked out but our eyes are open again,” said Alwi.
The road ahead for Umno will be like climbing Mount Everest.
Najib is still dominating the news for the right and wrong reasons. He takes to Twitter almost daily to rebut the government and defend himself.
But where is the new Umno president?
Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has been almost invisible since winning the top post. He seems even more under siege than Najib who is facing court charges.
Najib has also been to Parliament more often than his successor.
Umno circles have been whispering about secret meetings between their president and Tun Daim Zainuddin.
Dr Ahmad Zahid is also known to have met up with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim – prior to the latter’s recent surgery and again after the surgery.
He has held those meetings away from the public eye after the way his earlier meeting with Dr Mahathir became political fodder.
There are all kinds of speculation about the nature of the meetings but Dr Ahmad Zahid has denied to close associates that the meetings are about Umno hooking up with Dr Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
Dr Ahmad Zahid’s immediate priority is to ensure Umno is not deregistered.
He has adopted a non-confrontational style and he thinks that he can steer Umno to calmer waters without resorting to accusations and quarrels.
Barisan Nasional had done all sorts of things via the Registrar of Societies and the Umno president is aware that Dr Mahathir can play the same game and use his power to destroy Umno.
He does not want to anger Dr Mahathir. He can see the way the Prime Minister handled the Sultan of Johor and superpower China.
It explains why he has not attacked Dr Mahathir.
Dr Ahmad Zahid also seems to be playing “good cop” while delegating the “bad cop” role to his secretary-general Tan Sri Annuar Musa, an orator with a razor tongue.
“Anyway, why should Zahid get entangled in the 1MDB issue? It’s Najib’s fault, it’s his baby, he has to take responsibility for it,” said Alwi.
Umno may be the favourite whipping post for Pakatan leaders.
But it has something which Dr Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi desperately needs – a huge rural Malay base, more than 50 MPs and even more state assemblymen.
It is also no secret that Pribumi’s door is open to Umno crossovers.
Pakatan has poached a number Umno assemblymen to shore up its fragile hold on power in Perak, Kedah and Sabah.
Dr Mahathir’s hand will be stronger if his party has more numbers in the ruling coalition.
He is presiding over a New Malaysia where Malay support is split three ways among Pakatan, Umno and PAS.
He cannot ignore the Malay undercurrents and Saturday’s Bumiputera Economic Congress seemed to be aimed at addressing Malay concerns about their future.
The message coming from the congress was meant to reassure the Malays and encourage them towards a more competitive future but it does not seem to have resonated among some of the leading Malay stakeholders.
It did not help that on the same day, Umno warlord Datuk Tajuddin Rahman convened a fierce Malay gathering in his Pasir Salak constituency.
It was a reminder that ultra-Malay sentiments cannot disappear overnight and New Malaysia needs new ways to engage such sentiments.
“It is not easy for a grassroots party like Umno to disappear. We are trying to be a good opposition,” said Alwi.
Alwi, who is the Kelantan opposition leader, is more attuned to being in the opposition after 28 years of PAS rule in the state.
He gave such a galvanising talk on how to be an effective opposition during an Umno retreat in Janda Baik last month that his party has made him the “headmaster” of the soon-to-be-formed Umno school of politics.
On a lighter note, he said that being the opposition is not as hard as it looks.
“Those in power now know what I am talking about. You just need to attack, oppose and make a lot of noise,” he said.
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