The 14th General Election should’ve been a ridiculously easy win for Pakatan. Powered by unfiltered social media, anti-government populism is surging globally, making long-ruling establishment parties like Umno especially vulnerable. While now on the road to recovery, the ringgit has slipped from its previous heights – the direct result of plunging oil prices, though many blame the government. So, why does it feel like Barisan will retain Putrajaya anyway?
University of Tasmania professor James Chin argues that, despite the 1MDB controversy and the Mahathir factor, “Najib could not be politically safer. With a general election due early next year, he is in a solid position to be re-elected.” Chin attributes this largely to Najib’s political acumen – eg. playing nice with PAS, handing out BR1M money, cutting taxes. But what he glosses over is how much Pakatan has actually done to put Najib in such a commanding position.
The fact is, through a series of comical missteps and misadventures, Pakatan officials boosted Najib’s chances at the polls. Like the US Republican party which nominated an accused pedophile for the recently concluded Senate race in Alabama, they squandered a perfectly winnable election in an absurdly favorable environment. And lest you believe otherwise, this was never inevitable – the clowns brought this on themselves.
Chin is right to point out that three-corner fights between BN, PAS, and Pakatan will give BN the distinct advantage. But whose fault is that? It was DAP who unilaterally cut ties with PAS president Hadi Awang, setting in motion the events that led to Pakatan Rakyat’s demise. And the claim that DAP did that out of principled opposition to PAS’ advocacy of hudud holds little water.
In 2013, no less than DAP’s national organising secretary Anthony Loke said, “If you don’t rob or steal, there is no need to be afraid of hudud.” In the same year, Lim Guan Eng himself clarified a DAP-PAS joint statement by saying, “PAS has the democratic right, on its own, to champion Islam and the concept of an Islamic state.” So, why was there ever a need to throw a fit over PAS doing exactly that?
Worse, with PAS out of the picture, what did Pakatan officials do to shore up their support among Malay voters? They quickly brought Mahathir and his Pribumi party into the fold. Hence, in one stroke, the strategic geniuses took ownership of all the scandals and controversies associated with Mahathir’s dictatorial rule, handing a treasure trove of political ammunition to BN. There’s good reason why, earlier this year, I wrote an article titled “Why Najib’s greatest asset is Mahathir himself“.
These days, Mahathir and Pakatan often find themselves on the defensive, having to answer uncomfortable questions on everything from the BNM forex scandal to Ops Lalang. This dynamic was perfectly illustrated at a recent town hall session, where Mahathir faced palpable resistance from some of the youthful questioners.
In typical adolescent fashion, Mahathir later went to his blog to sulk, writing that the attendees “asked very intelligent questions but were a little disappointing because they were mainly about past alleged misdeeds of the BN Governments. There was hardly any reference to the present and the future. The main focus was on Ops Lalang.”
Padan muka. What did he expect? Many Malaysians don’t want to entrust the present or future to someone with Mahathir’s past. Chin recognizes this in his analysis: “There is a sense among urban voters that Mahathir cannot be trusted and is only using the opposition to capture power. Some fear that once in power, he will revert back to his authoritarian ways.” In their clumsy play for Malay votes, Pakatan leaders have only succeeded at alienating a large portion of their core supporters.
Moreover, far from triggering a Malay tsunami, all Pribumi has delivered so far is a tsunami of resignations – that is, from within the party itself. Here’s one example. And another. And another. Just Google “Pribumi resignation” – you’ll see what I mean. Despite Mahathir’s reputation (undeserved, in my opinion) for running a tight ship, Malaysia’s infamous iron man is unable to keep his own party from falling apart at the seams. Combined with petty squabbles in PKR and DAP, this is hardly a vote of confidence in a future Pakatan government.
So, I was more than mildly amused when Amanah president Mohamad Sabu recently wrote that, “Each Malaysian opposition front is new, but the struggle is not.” What exactly is “new” about their coalition? An aging, former dictator with serious political baggage? The endless infighting and bumbling chaos? The shameless lack of principals and policy proposals? Credit where credit is due: In their apparent bid to keep Najib in power, Pakatan leaders have clearly gone the extra mile. Or a hundred, give or take.
Now, all that begs the question: Why are they doing it? Why are they so determined to sabotage themselves? My best guess is they’re terrified of winning – because that means they’d actually have to, you know, govern. What a nightmare. Sorting out their differences is way too hard. Presenting a positive agenda is even harder. They’d much rather wave placards and hold press conferences on the sidelines – that’s more their thing. But all we ask is for some honesty from them: When they say #IniKaliLah, don’t they really mean #KekalNajib?