Pakatan Harapan govt pulls back from the brink


  • Analysis
  • Friday, 16 Aug 2019

IT has been a roller coaster week in politics and, for a while, it looked like the Pakatan Harapan government was on the edge of a cliff.

But cooler heads, as well as vested interest, prevailed, and the coalition has pulled back from the brink.

The top guns of PKR, Bersatu, DAP and Amanah – Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Lim Guan Eng and Mohamad Sabu dashed out a brief but important statement calling for unity and understanding.

The subtext to the joint statement is that the four leaders are on the same page in wanting to sort out the string of hot issues and that they are determined to save the coalition from crumbling.

However, the Prime Minister and chairman of the coalition was not a signatory to the statement, and those around Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad read it as a subtle nudge for the elder man not to raise the political temperature any further.

All those hot potato issues – Jawi, Zakir Naik and Lynas – had whipped up a near-perfect storm that almost blew the roof off the Pakatan household.

The most alarming thing was the racial tone that permeated debate on these subjects.

It is no exaggeration to say that these issues heightened racial tensions and contributed to the plunging stock market.

Nevertheless, the Pakatan house is still standing, and divorce in certainly not on the cards. Power is a deliciously seductive thing and people who have tasted it do not walk away from it that easily.

But there are cracks on the wall, and it is unclear whether the occupants are still sharing the same bed and dreaming the same New Malaysia dream.

Quite unfortunately for DAP, every one of these issues hit the party more directly than the other partners.

This was because the party had been the fiercest and loudest in championing the closure of Lynas, the expulsion of the ultra-Islamist preacher and, of course, in defending Chinese education.

DAP was pushed to a very tight corner especially over the jawi issue that saw the Chinese education body Dong Zong and DAP on opposite sides of the fence for the first time in history.

The government has made two key compromises on the issue – the first was to make Jawi a non-compulsory subject in Chinese schools and the second, a decision made at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, gave Parent-Teacher Associations a say on the matter.

It was a victory of sorts for DAP, which had pushed hard for it but, going by the chatter on social media, it was simply not enough for the Chinese.

They feel let down, even betrayed, by the party to whom they had given 95% of their support in the general election.

The top leaders of DAP, including Lim Kit Siang, have had to endure criticism and insults from their Chinese base in a way they had never experienced before.

Earlier this week, Lim and Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching met with Chinese community leaders in Melaka to explain the jawi issue.

At the end of the meeting, the Chinese leaders issued a statement saying they could not accept the policy.

The party has gone from hero to zero in the eyes of their Chinese base, which does not seem to understand that coalition politics is about give-and-take.

But Jeff Ooi, a former DAP parliamentarian and now a popular Chinese newspaper columnist, pointed out that the goodwill Dr Mahathir had among the Chinese has “also plunged”.

“There is a strong sense of betrayal after they helped put him back in Putrajaya, ” said Ooi.

The Prime Minister’s “racist” label on Dong Zong did not help matters.

He has never liked the ultra Chinese group even during his first round as Prime Minister and was visibly angry during the press conference where he flayed Dong Zong.

The sight of a grim-faced Transport Minister Anthony Loke holding the microphone for Dr Mahathir as he gave it to Dong Zong was a classic metaphor of what DAP is going through – the party has to dance to Dr Mahathir’s tune even though they do not like the tune.

Dr Mahathir, said Ooi, hates being arm-twisted and he feels his authority is being challenged.

The Malay base, one the other hand, loves what he is doing. This is the Dr Mahathir that they used to admire, who dares to take on one of the most powerful Chinese pressure groups in the country.

But the pressure is building for Dr Mahathir.

The calls for him to step aside has become bolder, louder and from within the coalition.

They include two MPs from PKR and DAP as well as a leading figure in the Otai Reformasi group.

Meanwhile, people have started spreading rumours about his health even though he looks fitter now than a year ago.

The noise will grow as the two-year deadline approaches although insiders say the Anwar group is willing to enable Dr Mahathir to continue till after the Apec summit in November 2020.

But the man to watch is Anwar. Every move he makes will be scrutinised and analysed in the coming months.

In the meantime, the ruling coalition is bracing itself for the big storm, namely the outcome of the inquiry into the death of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim.

Joceline Tan was an associate editor of The Star and continues to contribute political analyses. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Star.


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