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We must move on from the Mahathir era

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It is time to ditch Mahathir and uphold the Reformasi agenda into the next general election. What we need our parties with principles, YT Chia writes.

After the fall of the Pakatan Harapan government, the post of prime minister passed from Dr Mahathir Mohamad to Muhyiddin Yassin, who has formed a new coalition, Perikatan Nasional, comprising Umno and Pas, a majority of Bersatu MPs and some estranged PKR MPs. (The latter two groups were from PH but broke away in betrayal of the people’s mandate.)

PH leaders claimed PN had no majority and wished to table a motion of non-confidence in Parliament in the hope of regaining power. Parliament is now convened from 13 July for 23 days. Can PH succeed in overthrowing Muhyiddin and forming a new government? [PH failed to block the removal of the Speaker by the slimmest of majorities (109-111), but there is still the motion of no-confidence to come, if it sees the light of day.]

On the surface, it appears to be a question of numbers. But it is actually a question of who the next PM should be, Mahathir or Anwar Ibrahim. If PH cannot resolve this tussle, how can it obtain the number of MPs it requires? The reality is, without Anwar and PKR’s support, Mahathir cannot form the government; and without the support of Mahathir-Warisan-Gabungan Parti Sarawak, Anwar cannot form the government. One will have to give in to the other – or the plan will flop.

Certain leaders from PH, particularly the DAP and Amanah, courted Mahathir, and the formula favoured was to let Mahathir be the PM for six months, after which Anwar would take over. But Anwar and PKR rejected it. That is why we have people criticising Anwar for not being willing to “sacrifice” to let Mahathir have a go.

What is the sacrifice for?

Well, why don’t they ask Mahathir to “sacrifice” and let Anwar have a go? Because ultimately this boils down to the question: what’s the sacrifice for?

  1. Is it so that Mahathir can fulfil his personal ambition?
  2. Is it for stopping the return of Najib Razak and the rise of Muafakat Nasional?
  3. Is it for PH-plus to return to power?
  4. Is it for the Reformasi agenda to build a multi-ethnic new Malaysia?

Only the fourth objective, the Reformasi agenda, would justify Anwar’s “sacrifice”. Wasn’t that Anwar’s position when he explained why he didn’t accept the PH-plus proposal?

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Anwar is right. Had he taken up the offer, it would have reinforced the accusation that he is PM-crazy. If Mahathir ditched him after six months, Anwar would look like a fool: he would lose his credibility and his support, momentum and, most important of all, the moral authority to lead the Reformasi movement.

The only ‘plus’ PH-plus would ‘have got is a sense of déjà vu – the prolongation of the agony and uncertainty of PH in a government under Mahathir.

How the situation has changed

First, there are fundamental differences between working with Mahathir before the 2018 general election and working with him now, especially with the benefit of hindsight.

We all know the political circumstances of that election that led PH to work with Mahathir to overthrow Najib and Umno. Mahathir was our hero, and there was no regret working with him.

But now, the situation has changed. PH has lost power and has been very much weakened as a coalition: PKR is split; uncertainty looms over the DAP and Amanah. PH supporters are disappointed with their leaders, disillusioned with their performance, and despair over the country’s politics and its future. People are weary of what they perceive as the politics of self-interests (expediency).

PH supporters, especially the Chinese in DAP are totally dejected with Mahathir. It is amazing how the DAP could justify supporting Mahathir. Are the DAP’s political goals so narrow, so short term? The manoeuvres to oust Muhyiddin will end up in a snap election that PH is not prepared for, even mentally. It is a politically expedient move that will backfire.

The protagonist of this plan is Mahathir, whose reputation or standing among ALL Malaysians has dropped to rock bottom! He has betrayed PH by not respecting the pact about Anwar taking over. His obsession with undermining Anwar led to him fumbling in his strategy (with his resignation), thus destroying the PH government.

He even dared to think he could set up a “unity government” under his dictatorship (either with the support of Anwar and company or, more likely, without Anwar).

How politically naive could he get? Yet he is not repentant and continues to blame others.

Mahathir’s agenda

Mahathir has shown to every Malaysian that he was more concerned with his own agenda rather than wanting to “save Malaysia”.

It is very clear what Mahathir’s agenda is.

  • Mahathir wants to perpetuate the Malay Agenda, read “ketuanan Melayu” (Malay supremacy) – Mahathir doesn’t believe in the multi-ethnicity of Malaysia. That is one of the reasons Mahathir will never accept Anwar. For Mahathir, it is an ideological commitment – he has to protect the interests of his own clique. So we cannot rule out the possibility that after becoming PM, he will manoeuvre once again to work with certain elements in Umno and install Hishammuddin Hussein, his favourite, as the next PM. This is part of the Malay Agenda of this group of Malay elites.
  • Mahathir doesn’t believe in the PH reforms – This is another reason Anwar, who appears committed to reforms, will be stopped by Mahathir. It is now clear to many that, as the PH Prime Minister, Mahathir stalled almost all the important reforms promised in the manifesto. He would never allow the ‘New Malaysia’ narrative to take root.
  • Mahathir has his personal and family agenda to protect – He dreads to see the day when Najib and company return to power. Najib has already reopened their old feud by elaborating on Mahathir’s sons’ business interests. Mahathir doesn’t feel safe with Anwar either. That is why Mahathir is bent on regaining power by all means.
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So, Mahathir’s betrayal is not only personal (against Anwar) but also an ideological one, ie to advance the Malay agenda at the expense of reforms that would benefit all Malaysians.

Putting the Mahathir era behind us

Malaysians have to be vigilant. We can’t give Mahathir the benefit of the doubt anymore. Our counter-actions must be ideological too, to protect the people’s interests.

The time has come for us to put the Mahathir era behind us because he has consistently betrayed the people’s trust. He has lost power that he fought so hard for and won at such an advanced age, only to give it away due to his own delusion of not letting Anwar take over as promised. Sadly, he has to pay for it. Ancient wisdom says that Heaven has its own way of settling matters.

To date, Mahathir has lost much of his political base. Surprisingly, only PH leaders are entertaining him. This is because some of them remain obsessed with regaining power with the inclusion of Mahathir, even though the people have already discarded him. PH has suffered enough under Mahathir; enough is enough!

Moreover, the chances of regaining power in the short-term are slim. DAP and Amanah leaders should not indulge further in this game, which is not feasible for the simple reason that PH-plus would not be given the chance to form the government by Muhyiddin, especially if PKR disagrees. Further indulgence will be suicidal. PH will break up beyond recognition.

The plan to make Shafie Apdal the PM with Anwar and Mahathir’s son Mukhriz as deputies came as a shock. That Amanah president Mohamad Sabu and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng would even consider this as an option was hard to fathom. It would have triggered a further split among the three component parties and would have been an open provocation to PKR. Why such an obsession? What was the intention of the person who proposed this? PH leaders appeared to be getting insensitive to the feelings of many.

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After the collapse of the PH government, people were downhearted, but when Mohamad Sabu told them that PH was willing to fight as an opposition, a role the coalition parties were used to, the people’s spirits were lifted anew. The people are not afraid; all they need are brave leaders to show the way.

It is better to accept the reality of Muhyiddin being in power and work from there to face the coming general election than to engage in a futile and divisive exercise. PH leaders must choose their friends correctly. They must learn from their mistakes, get rid of the delusion of quickly regaining power, especially with Mahathir as the PM, and face reality squarely.

It is immaterial who will become the prime minister. Win the election first. Anwar has made the decision to fight on; the other PH leaders must back him. Maybe the chance will come. It might be easier to break Muhyiddin than to break Najib – this time without Mahathir. 

And PH must have faith in the people who prefer parties with principles that will look after their interests. If the coalition is unsuccessful this time, younger leaders will make it the next time. That is why it is important to scout for new leaders now and keep the Reformasi agenda intact.

YT Chia is a member of Monsoons Malaysia, a civil society group concerned about political issues

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