Same ol’ song and dance

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14 KUALA LUMPUR- Dewan Rakyat sitting at 1000 (0200 GMT)

OUR people generally have short memories. There was a time when many of us were outraged at elected representatives from any one of DAP, PKR, PAS and PBS for defecting to the Barisan Nasional.

All kinds of nasty names were hurled at them, with insinuations that these unprincipled and dishonourable politicians were paid to be political frogs, all of whom contributed greatly to the collapse of two state governments.

In 1994, the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) – which pulled out from the Barisan in 1990 – won the state elections with a slim majority of 25 seats against Barisan’s 23.

But the fourth-term PBS government lasted only about two weeks before it was ousted following defections of some of its state assemblymen.

Some of these former PBS leaders went on to set up their own political parties, while Joseph Pairin Kitingan had to resign as chief minister on March 17, 1994, before a shocked Malaysian public.

This was unprecedented in Malaysia, and it swung the doors wide open for Umno to set up shop in Sabah, taking with it its race and religious-style politics.

Then, in 2009, when the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) formed the state government, three of its state assemblymen defected to Barisan, causing the PR government to collapse. Naturally, there was plenty of resentment at what was viewed as classic treachery and immorality.

Prior to the defections, PR had 32 representatives while Barisan 27.

The ship-hopping meant that the state then had 28 PR representatives, Barisan likewise, and three independent representatives who pledged confidence with Barisan.

But the movement began with PR because Barisan’s Nasarudin Hashim decided to cross the floor to join PR. Its leaders then jubilantly claimed more Barisan lawmakers would join in an exodus.

Instead, Nasarudin returned to Barisan, accompanied by Deputy Speaker Hee Yit Foong of the DAP, and senior state executive councillors Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi and Osman Jailu of the PKR.

A year later, Malim Nawar assemblyman Keshwinder Singh quit the DAP to become a Barisan-friendly independent assemblyman.

Many political leaders, who are now Pakatan Harapan figureheads, mouthed off angrily then, but now, have seemingly gone mum at the latest round of camp-switching involving Barisan politicians to PH. Just Google if you want a quick history of who these politicians are and what they said then, and importantly, when they were at the receiving end.

That probably explains how although many of us felt cheated and demanded an anti-hopping law be enacted, everything invariably died under a deluge of excuses.

Is it surprising that nothing happened?

Of course not, because politicians have always known that defections make for handy tools.

For them, it’s all about power, and how the end justifies the means, so the people’s mandate counts for little. It could seem a betrayal of our trust, but defections will likely be justified as freedom of association, and something perfectly natural.

In 1978, DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang attempted to move a motion in the Dewan Rakyat to introduce a Private Member’s Bill, the Members of Parliament (Prevention of Defection) Act, which would require an MP to vacate his seat within 30 days and have a by-election upon his resignation or expulsion from the party on whose ticket he was originally elected.

When Lim was queried by readers of a newspaper about the effective measures that could be taken to prevent such opportunistic political betrayal of the people’s confidence, he replied saying the best way was for the enactment of such a law.

Following Datuk Mustapa Mohamed’s defection to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), DAP chairman Tan Kok Wai voiced the party’s discontent, saying it was “unhealthy” for PH component parties, including his own, to accept former Umno MPs.

Tan’s comment came two days after Umno veteran and Jeli MP, Mustapa Mohamed, joined the party.

Now, talk is rife of a massive switch over of Umno MPs and members into Bersatu, with the party’s supreme council member, Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, conceding to a possibility of up to 40 MPs being involved in the mass exodus.

He revealed that the 40 Umno MPs met with Bersatu chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

What happens next could well see PKR and Bersatu competing for the entry of elected representatives to alter the equation in PH.

With Tok Pa now in Bersatu, its numbers have gone up to 13 while PKR has 48, DAP 42, Amanah 11 and Warisan 8. If indeed 40 MPs were to join Bersatu, the total could swell to 53, making it the biggest component party in PH.

And assuming there are disgruntled PKR MPs who leave the party after its internal elections, it could put Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in an uncomfortable position, even if these turncoats don’t join Bersatu and remain independents.

It doesn’t help that the Setiawangsa Bersatu division is rooting for Dr Mahathir to complete his five-year term as Prime Minister, ending next general election. The Setiawangsa division, headed by Dr Mahathir’s political secretary Zahid Md Arip, passed the proposal unanimously last week.

The remarks by Kadir and the motion by Setiawangsa Bersatu have spooked many supporters of Anwar and PKR, and they don’t find this funny at all, especially during the Halloween.

Certainly, supporters of Anwar now expect him to make a similar move to get Umno MPs, or those from Gabungan Bersatu Sabah, to join PKR to “neutralise” Bersatu. The names of several Sabahan MPs have been bandied.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly said he would pass the baton to Anwar, with the latter insisting the PM should be given time and space to govern effectively to steer the country back on track. The PKR leader said this was the reason he refuses to specify a time frame for him to succeed Dr Mahathir as the next prime minister.

“Some people see this transition as fragile, but I don’t. The fragility will come about only if there are major battles waged between me and Mahathir, but I have made it very clear. Number one, he is the Prime Minister, and number two, I refuse to give a time frame,” Anwar said.

It’s obvious Anwar doesn’t want to appear a man in a hurry, while repeating the same assurances. However, without a time frame and being the president of the biggest component party in PH (so far), the partnership in PH will be tested.

No one can deny that the three leaders – Dr Mahathir, Anwar and Lim Kit Siang, and to some extent, Mohamed Sabu, came together with a single aim – to topple Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and the Barisan.

However, none of them had any real love for Dr Mahathir, but they knew he was key to winning the general election.

Let’s not forget that at one point, Dr Mahathir came close to walking out of the electoral pact, and Nurul Izzah Anwar flew to London to convince him to stay on amid tensions over PH’s hierarchy.

Dr Mahathir and Anwar may have their interpretation of succession, but as with all parties, there will always be over-zealous leaders with their self-interests of ensuring their masters remain in power to allow them to continue enjoying the powers and privileges of being in government.

And on the flipside, others can’t wait for their masters to be installed.

The two must now manage the push and pull because once the floodgates open, they won’t be able to stop the one-upmanship for more members, especially elected representatives who could boost their standing.

It’s beside the point whether Dr Mahathir or Anwar genuinely trust each other, the reality is, only either of them can hold the coalition together.

But the new government shouldn’t forget the people who put them there for a New Malaysia.

If PH leaders can’t respect and uphold this democratic right of the people, then what’s the point in holding elections when all we see is more of the Old Politics?

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Opinion , Politics , Wong Chun Wai , On the Beat


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