Malaysian Politics in 2018: Getting the Harapan House in order

January 7, 2018

Malaysian Politics 2018– Getting the Harapan House in order

by Nathaniel Tan

The year 2017 closed out with debates about Pakatan Harapan’s candidate for Prime Minister.

This discussion touches at the very heart of the state of the opposition today, and what its prospects for GE14 are. The question is, of course, not a small one. Over the years, a great deal of power has come to be invested in the office of the Prime Minister. Ironically, a lot of this was achieved during the tenure of Dr Mahathir Mohamed, in the decades that he governed as Prime Minister.

Since as things stand, the Prime Minister has the power to make most of the important decisions in the country – almost all by himself – it seems reasonable to expect a clear answer with regards to who a coalition would like to put forward as Prime Minister, should they win the elections.

In this, we must sadly admit a great advantage lies with BN.From day one, there has been absolutely no doubt whatsoever that BN’s candidate for Prime Minister is the incumbent, Najib Abdul Razak (photo).

Especially since the removal of his former deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, every echelon of the UMNO and BN hierarchy has been of one voice on this matter.

Love him, or hate him, there is no question in anyone’s mind that Najib Razak will become Prime Minister should BN win the elections.

While they got off to a decent enough start, the Perak government was soon wrested in 2009, and the Kajang Move (thanks to Rafizi Ramli) threw the Selangor government into disarray – breaking the back of Pakatan Rakyat, and causing a split whose reverberations continue to be felt today.

Former Menteri Besar of Selangor Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim

These conflicts speak to the very heart of governance and stability. A certain amount of growing pains can be tolerated, but when this degenerates into full-on squabbling over the highest position of power – as evidenced in the Selangor crisis – then any illusion of stability is shattered.

In politics, there aren’t many opportunities to create a first impression. Had the Selangor crisis been about clear-cut corruption, or some other type of scandal backed up by irrefutable evidence, the story could have been different.

As it is, bad excuses were made to cover up what one couldn’t help but assume was a simple power grab and a mud-fight over resources. Extrapolating from this to federal power can conjure up scary images of chaos and destructive instability.

Where UMNO -BN is strong

Even as we seek to topple UMNO and BN, it would be foolhardy not to acknowledge their strengths. Failure to do so will condemn any attempt to defeat them.

It must be noted that while not every UMNO Deputy President has become president – a fact Muhyiddin, Anwar Ibrahim and others are all too familiar with – there has not been a single individual who has become UMNO President, and thus Prime Minister, without being the Party Deputy president first.

UMNO, for all its racism, bigotry, and corruption, can point to this as a history of relative stability – not forgetting, of course, the many deputies that didn’t make it, and the harm created when they rebelled.

The opposition should perhaps look to establish a similar history of internal stability, instead of grasping clumsily at every general election.

The best front the opposition was able to put up was probably in 2013, when the opposition had what seemed to be a viable coalition representing a wide and representative cross-section of Malaysian society, with a clear and (publicly) undisputed candidate for PM.

We didn’t win, but we did do better than ever before. Instead of staying the course though, short-sightedness brought everything crashing down prematurely.

Falling between chairs

As a result, Harapan finds itself in quite an awkward position, falling perhaps, between multiple chairs. They do not have a clear, obvious choice for candidate for PM. If they did, we wouldn’t be having the controversy we have now.

Going into GE14, they’ll have to make the best of what they have, and the Mahathir-Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail combination is as good as any I suppose (although it is unclear why they would thereafter want to move Wan Azizah out of Permatang Pauh).

Observers have been right to point out that an “interim PM” arrangement is both far from ideal and fraught with potential risk. That said, the best Harapan can do, all things considered, is simply to decide on a plan, and stick to it.

In this case and at this stage, better an early commitment to an imperfect plan, than ongoing waffling over trying to find a perfect plan – one which, if not obvious by now, likely doesn’t exist. Said waffling is itself probably doing more damage to Harapan’s prospects than anything BN can do at this point.

Getting fit for future

At the end of the day, and at the beginning of a new year, we find ourselves with the cards we’ve been dealt, and we’ll have to play them the best we can for GE14, regardless.

As we look beyond the next election though, and onwards to the next generation – as aspiring statespersons should – we should perhaps be more conscious of whether we are putting the cart before the horse.

My uncles used to say that you don’t play squash to get fit, you get fit to play squash.

Perhaps the key to defeating BN some day is not to keep flinging things randomly until we find something that sticks, but to establish an alternative institution on strong principles, and to focus on strengthening that institution and its principles before obsessing about winning elections.

NATHANIEL TAN would like to wish everybody love, positivity, courage, and all the very best for 2018.

8 thoughts on “Malaysian Politics in 2018: Getting the Harapan House in order

  1. I wish Nat Tan were still part of Keadilan. I wish Brave New World would be the Prime Minister and Nat Tan as the Deputy. But, those things won’t happen. After Tun Perak, there is no other Bendahara that could be placed in our sejarah textbook. Perhaps, it is the same today for Tun Mahathir. There is none so after. There is no need for another. The nation dies. There is no reason for the existence of Malaysia. Welcome to the end of a dream call Malaysia. We do layu.

  2. Decision has been made. Time for all anti-BN people to place the nation first, close ranks and fight the battles and the GE14 war ahead.

  3. One, PKR, (Azmin notwithstanding), doesn’t want to be seen to endorse a former archenemy, Mahathir, all too easily; and Azmin & Co. is exploiting this baggage. Hadi and Najib are of course cheering him on.

    Two, Mahathir, (the old fox that he was and always will be), has to play the shy bride so as not to be seen as power-crazy.

    So it’s this push-pull, pull-push Sandiwara that’s delaying an outright endorsement of Mahathir whom in the heart-of-hearts of all in Harapan know is the one and only one to be able to mount a credible challenge against BN / Najib.

    As outsiders it is easy for us to say, drop the baggage, drop the pretense and just name the oldman as PM designate. The oldman won’t be around for another 22 years, (two years is already a struggle), and if those now in Harapan, (other than BERSATU), are actually afraid of Mukhriz easily succeeding his father, then they are more useless than we thought.

    In any case by then, (assuming Mahathir does become PM), Anwar would be out, and, even without a royal pardon, would change all the fundamental dynamics of Harapan.

    Also with UMNO and PAS (even without Najib and Hadi), in the Opposition, life would not be easy for a Harapan government.

    And what if we have a hung Parliament, a perfect excuse for rule by Emergency Council which has only one winner.

  4. Opppssss….I’ve just read that Mahathir is the PM candidate.

    At all levels, this is a historic, some may say tragic, moment in Malaysian politics. I never would have believed I’ll see this in my lifetime.

    Now we have a GE contest between an Irresistible Force against an Immovable Object.

    Malaysians, brace yourselves. You have finally a final say in who we want in government, whichever way it goes.

    I know for sure that at least two persons in the country will not sleep easy tonight and the nights to come.

    The words of “I dreamed a dream” comes to mind:-

    “But the tigers come at night
    With their voices soft as thunder
    As they tear your hope apart
    As they turn your dream to shame”

  5. Politicians make strange bedfellows especially in Malaysia. The embrace of Mahathir by the Opposition is a classic example. Most of the Opposition members have at one time or another been detained or jailed by Mahathir during his 22 years rule. All kinds of name and curses have been thrown at Mahathir. Yet the Opposition leaders have come together to not only accept Mahathir but also made him PM in waiting. Strange but true.

    Lets hope that Pakatan Harapan and all its component parties will come together as a unified voice not only to defeat BN but also to form the next government and will rule just and fair, do away with all the chronic corruption and archaic laws. Lets also hope that Pakatan Harapan will not go the way of Kajang Move in removing a sitting MB or CM which triggered the wrath of the State Ruler.

    Last but not least all Pakatan Harapan member parties and leaders should not practice the frog jump but remain true to their party. Otherwise it will be like Perak.

  6. Why is what is happening in Iran not discussed more heavily in Malaysia? Fact of the matter is the original sin and this is with PH is they avoid the biggest issue particularly on religion. Mahathir is now the forefront of confronting Hadi’s PAS not Amanah who broke with PAS because of the fundamental issue of religion in this country,

  7. The toxic political environment and corrupt political culture will eventually destroy the country….with the decent hardworking ordinary the ultimate victims.

    There is no real leader for a long time. The country is run solely by career and self serving politicians and their political parties and powerful vested interest groups.

    If you want real change, the majority of entitled , insecure, dependent and ignorant Malay/Muslim would want to know ‘ what’s in it for them ‘.

    Real change could only come if these people are confronted with a HUGE economy crisis and unemployment which the government could not absorb and the private sector unable to create real jobs and decent income…… that time it is already too late to turn the country’s economy around.

  8. Strange bedfellows they maybe, but what’s utmost now is ridding the country of a kleptomaniac who thinks he’s God-sent to lord over us. That should be the rallying cry. It’s time to set aside differences for a common goal – the ouster of Al Jubor and his cohorts. Haven’t we had enough of these thieving crooks? Do you want them to be around for another five years? I have enough of them.
    The challenge, Tok Cik, is how to dislodge this kleptocratic regime from power. Can we rely on the man who created it in the first place? In my view, GE14 will see UMNO-BN re-elected,albeit with a substantially reduced majority. The Merdeka Centre poll is accurate on this. Let us not get too excited just Mahathir is leading the political opposition.–Din Merican

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