From villain to ‘King Zahid’

A WEEK is a long time in politics and this could be the longest week ever as Malaysians wait to know who will be the next prime minister.

It is also a terribly confusing time with conflicting news reports about who has the magic number of 112 MPs as well as unverified claims that Pakatan Harapan leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had been appointed the 10th prime minister.

Finally, Anwar himself cleared the air outside the Palace gates, quipping that the post was still “vacant”.

Anwar, looking every inch the prime minister he is aspiring to be, was upbeat and it is quite evident that Pakatan, as the biggest coalition with 81 seats, has been given first option to try to form a government.

It is not an easy task and Malaysians will be on the edge of their seats for a few more days.

The irony of ironies is that Barisan Nasional, the biggest loser, has become the kingmaker that both Anwar and Muhyiddin are desperately wooing.

Barisan, with 30 MPs, was deeply divided. Some wanted Pakatan, some preferred Perikatan Nasional and some wanted to accept the opposition role.

The Barisan supreme council, which met yesterday, decided that whatever happens, the coalition will move as one.

Barisan deputy chairman Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan’s stand is that the coalition is ready to be a responsible opposition.

“Let Pakatan and Perikatan proceed to form the government since they won the most votes. We are prepared to be the opposition and to check-and-balance the new government,” said the Rembau MP.

He said his coalition respects the democratic process and the fact that voters had chosen Pakatan and Perikatan.

The election results showed that voters did not want Umno in the government. They had given Pakatan 81 seats and Perikatan 73 seats.

Moreover, the Umno base had imploded in anger over their president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s earlier push to go with Pakatan.

The Umno base dislikes DAP and has been long weary of Anwar.

“We lost half our votes to PAS because we could not defend Zahid. We will lose the remaining half if we work with Pakatan and we will be swallowed if we join Perikatan,” said an Umno politician from Kelantan.

The advantage of going with Pakatan is that there would be no overlapping interests in terms of the support base.

On the other hand, being part of Perikatan has been compared with selling “goreng pisang” or fried bananas to the same Malay kampung, that is, fighting over the Malay market share.

The long and short of it is that voters, including the Malays, rejected Umno and it would be shameful to sneak back into government by the backdoor.

The fierce horse-trading has been a rude awakening for many Malaysians.

The party that Pakatan and Perikatan had condemned throughout the campaign was being courted as though it is a beautiful virgin bride.

Umno was painted as racist and corrupt beyond repair and Ahmad Zahid was vilified as a bandit, thief and kleptocrat.

Yet, both Anwar and Muhyiddin were going all out to get Umno onboard.

“It is unbelievable how principles have been compromised to gain power. At least with Mahathir in 2018, they laid the cards on the table for voters to choose.

“But this time, they said no ‘kluster mahkamah’, they campaigned against corruption. We voted for one thing, but they were going to give us something else,” said Dr Thor Teong Ghee, the CEO of a charity healthcare centre in Penang.

Ahmad Zahid has been caricatured as “King Zahid” and wearing a crown, with leaders of the two coalitions on their knees, begging for his support.

It must be said that although Muhyiddin reached out to Umno, he drew the line on working with Ahmad Zahid.

In Perak, Umno and DAP supporters are still reeling with shock over the new Umno-Pakatan state government. The two parties were going at each other tooth and nail, but are now cuddling in bed.

“Are we supposed to forget what they said during the campaign? Whatever principles left in politics has been thrown out of the window,” said political commentator Dr Azmi Omar.

Just days ago, the Umno campaign had slammed DAP as racist and anti-Malay.

Perak DAP chief Nga Kor Ming, on his part, had jokingly told a ceramah: “Buy one, free one. Vote for Barisan, get Zahid for free.”

Now that the joke has become reality, Pakatan supporters are scrambling to do damage control and justify the U-turn.

“Democracy has a way of humbling those who talk big. Some say it is hypocritical but what we are seeing now is realpolitik,” said senior fellow at ISIS, Eddin Khoo.

Even PKR superstar and Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli was not spared.

He had declared that he would be the first to speak out if Anwar tried to work with Ahmad Zahid. A photograph of him shaking hands with Ahmad Zahid at the Pakatan-Barisan meeting yesterday drew a flood of comments.

Putrajaya is a glittering dream and politicians will do anything to achieve the dream.

But the onus is not on the loser to help form the government. Barisan was rejected by voters, it belongs on the opposition bench.

The onus is on the big winners to work together and sort out the mess.

The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.

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