By M Santhananaban
When Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was appointed to head the nation’s first ever “unity government” last November, the surprise was that two of his predecessors decided provocatively to stay out, rebel against it and oppose it.
One of them wanted the post for himself despite his poor record of handling a medical emergency, while the other was smarting sorely from losing his electoral deposit in his home ground in Langkawi.
Another aspirant for prime ministership, Hadi Awang, the leader of the extremist Pas, could not cobble together a sufficient number of MPs to make a credible run for that powerful prime minister’s post.
The bond that these three failed aspirants for prime ministership forged that day has strengthened in the past eight months. It has grown more infectious, irritating and important.
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The trio regard Anwar as unsuitable, unqualified and incapable of running a government.
Solid governance record
Yet the unity government has brought together the most eclectic, experienced and impressive talent of some relatively young and well-equipped MPs and, admittedly one tainted but seasoned major-league MP.
That government has administered the country peacefully, has enhanced political stability, produced a pragmatic budget and firmly placed the country on a path of due diligence and recovery. It is the best government in decades.
However, it has been beset from the beginning by an unsustainable public sector wage and pension bill, humongous debt and an inherited culture of elite corruption.
It also has to contend with a disastrous development dichotomy between the peninsula and the Borneo region, as well as pockets of extreme poverty.
Not only that, it has to deal with the constant stoking of suspicions and distrust between Malay-Muslims in the peninsula and the rest of the population. That stoking was done by Anwar’s political opposition.
Anwar’s government was to discover, as time went on, that there were many ‘black holes’ to navigate. It could not do so without highlighting the abuse and corruption involving his predecessors, who had not been targeted, charged or tried much earlier.
Anwar’s constant reference to corruption has clearly infuriated his predecessors and their allies and cronies. That has created a new, formidable and fractious flank of vicious opposition to him.
The government has had to contend continually with a vociferous and vicious blend of blatant disrespect, uncouth attacks and unbridled ugliness.
The stock political capital of these opposition leaders – Mahiaddin Yasin, Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Hadi Awang – has been to sinisterly claim that the Malay-Muslims in the peninsula are in danger of losing their land, their country and whatever political legitimacy they have.
It is a patently false alarm intended to create mischief by raising inter-ethnic tensions.
The 12 August state elections in six states in the peninsula are being turned into a charade of a do-or-die battleground pitting the Malay-Muslims in the peninsula on one side and the ethnic minorities on the other.
Fortunately for Anwar, many well-educated and enlightened ethnic Malays in the peninsula don’t buy this discordant and divisive discourse. It is these moderate, enlightened and educated Malays who can help Anwar’s cause.
The problem is that within this group of well-educated Malays, Anwar does not have a comfortable following because of some legacy issues and his abiding association and loyalty to his halcyon Abim affiliations.
Political stability paramount
Voters in these six states have a duty to come together to strengthen political stability and the country’s prospects for achieving greater national unity, harmony and growth.
Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan promises those positive prospects and thrust.
His opposition, however, has made it clear it wants to upset the tenuous political equilibrium and prioritise the establishment of an even more mono-ethnic government dominated by the Malays in the peninsula.
The stakes are extremely high and cannot be spelt out more starkly.
M Santhananaban is a former ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience