A political realignment in the offing?


  • Making Progress
  • Thursday, 06 Feb 2020

THE last couple of weeks have seen the Malaysian political grapevine working overtime.

The issue of succession has cast a pall over the entire political system. Everyone wants to know if the Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will make way for PKR’s Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

There has been much speculation, and despite attempts by Anwar to silence the calls from his loyalists for Dr Mahathir to way make sooner rather than later, it's clear that all is not well in Pakatan Harapan.

In Malaysia, the power of the Prime Minister is nothing short of phenomenal. The key plank of Dr Mahathir's campaign to oust Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was that the latter has become too powerful.

As ironic as that may sound to some, Dr Mahathir’s pledge to decentralise power from the office of the PM indeed won him much support. However, fast forward some 20 months after the last general election, the appetite for reform has been supplanted by political parlour games.

Besides prosecuting senior members of the previous regime, coupled with an uncanny obsession with the 1MDB scandal, there has not been much reform.

The usual excuses of a lack of supermajority in Parliament or manufactured opposition from self-serving interest groups have given the government the political cover needed to justify its lethargic reform drive.

Dr Mahathir’s subtle and unseen control of economic power via the government’s overt control of business entities and the failure of the Ministries of Finance and Economic Affairs respectively to engender a cohesive and durable economic plan for Malaysia has left the task of taking important decisions on the economic and corporate policy and reform to the PM.

Also, as Dr Mahathir returns to his old foreign policy themes, he has managed to offend India, the largest buyer of Malaysian palm oil. Despite the best efforts of Teresa Kok, the Minister of Primary Industries, the Malaysian government has been unable to soothe their Indian counterparts, and of course, the minister in charge and the party she represents is on the receiving end of public displeasure.

So, with the concentration of economic and political power, pundits now say, Dr Mahathir wants to make his move to re-align the political landscape in Malaysia.

To digress a little, in 2016, I posited that Pakatan Harapan would have very little in common after deposing Najib because their entire political programme was built on (1) defeating Barisan Nasional and (2) fanciful promises that will be almost impossible to implement.

As much as I hate to say I told you so, my hypothesis seems to be proven correct. Dr Mahathir's antagonism for DAP is no secret, but I believe he put it aside in the interest of winning the last general election.

DAP has now found itself in power after gutsily fighting for close to five decades. It would now like to do things its way. However, in coalition politics, that is almost impossible.

As a matter of fact, DAP has paid a heavy price for being in government. Its hopes of enlarging its political base have fallen flat because the Malay-Muslim community view the party with suspicion and trepidation.

At the same time, its traditional urban/non-Malay feel let down because it is seen as being subservient to its smaller friend, Bersatu.

So, as the government takes many decisions especially on education to the chagrin of DAP’s solid non-Malay/urban base, the party has to stand up or else it will become the jester that it once accused MCA of being.

In standing up for its supporters, this newfound enthusiasm has likely put it on a collision course with Dr Mahathir.

The split in PKR has also provided Dr Mahathir with the opportunity he needs to solidify political power.

The words of Hans F. Sennholz comes to mind; "Political power intoxicates the best hearts. No man is wise enough, nor good enough, to be trusted with much political power."

Anwar’s deputy, Datuk Seri Azmin Ali was the man to watch in the aftermath of Pakatan wins in May 2018.

As the Menteri Besar of Selangor, Azmin decimated his opposition and he was in pole position for a critical role in the new Pakatan administration.

After much drama, he left his post as Menteri Besar of Selangor and assumed a cabinet position. He was put in charge of Economic Affairs, and with it, the control of government- linked companies, sovereign funds and other largesse.

However, political power intoxicates even "the best of hearts".

And all of this happened when Anwar was still finding his bearings after being pardoned by the former King.

Suddenly, Malaysia indefatigable political rumour mill started working overtime and pundits propounded that Azmin, and not Anwar, will be Mahathir’s successor.

Later, PKR underwent a messy party election, and the once inseparable "dynamic duo" of PKR saw their relationship fraying to the point that Azmin walked out of his party conference last year.

At the same time, my party, Gerakan, was thrown into this fetid political mess as many speculated that Azmin and some of his colleagues from PKR would abandon their party and join Gerakan.

After the last party election, I decided to take a step back from active party politics and am no longer part of the party high command, so naturally, I do not know what is taking place at the higher echelons of the party.

Many asked me then, and many are asking me now after Azmin attended Gerakan’s Chinese New Year Open House with Dr Mahathir on the first day of Chinese New Year 2020: Is Azmin joining Gerakan?

Quite frankly, I don't know, and neither is there a consensus on this amongst the party grassroots because they are two schools of thoughts on this. The first posits that this is a way of getting back into power hence regaining relevance; the second says that this will be against the party's pronounced position after leaving Barisan Nasional – that Gerakan shall be equidistant from both Barisan and Pakatan.

I'm sure Gerakan’s president knows best.

Now, there is talk of a completely new alignment.

Umno is said to be meeting over the weekend to decide if they will join forces with PAS, Bersatu, GPS, Warisan and Gerakan (assuming Azmin and Co cross over) to support Dr Mahathir as PM minus PKR (Anwar’s faction) and DAP.

I know for a fact that there is no consensus even in Umno. Still, many Umno MPs are finding it hard to keep up with the rigueur of Malaysian politics and its entrenched clientelism, as such many want to be part of the governing equation.

I, for one, would see this a betrayal of the mandate by given by Malaysians to Pakatan. For better or worse, they voted for Pakatan Harapan. Accordingly, changing horses midstream is a horrible idea and especially when it's at the expense of your partners in victory.

Malaysians will lose hope in the political process, and the will, integrity and sanctity of our political system will be subjected to unnecessary peril.

The winners govern, and the losers oppose the winners – that is the rule of the Westminster system of democracy.

And parties that partake in such a naked usurpation of power will pay a heavy price in the next election, for lest we forget the words of Wael Ghonim, “The power of the people is much stronger than the people in power.”

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Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal is an Advocate & Solicitor. He was formerly Political Secretary to the Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities.

   

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