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Now even Mahathir feels betrayed

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There were indeed third options in the past; just that they were masked, writes Mary Chin.

Even Mahathir feels betrayed; who doesn’t?

Aren’t Wan Azizah, Nurul Izzah and Anwar feeling betrayed?

Aren’t Pakatan Harapan representatives feeling betrayed?

Aren’t Pakatan Harapan supporters feeling betrayed?

Aren’t citizens feeling betrayed?

We are in an unusual moment in Malaysian history when many people feel unusually betrayed.

Which is the gravest betrayal of all? The gravest betrayal is how the rakyat was coaxed into “the only way to topple Wan Emdeebee”. That way has now led to an 8% drop in the ringgit, a 21% drop in Kuala Lumpur stock exchange and most painful of all – a fractured nation where the rakyat are turned against one another, scattered and shattered.

What did New Malaysia mean? What about that sparkle of hope from the 2018 general election?

Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) bersatu (unites) the same way the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) unites.

Pakatan Harapan berpakat (forms a pact) the same way Barisan Nasional (BN) berbaris (lines up).

Perikatan Nasional – our new kid on the block – berikat (ties up) the same way Pakatan Harapan berpakat.

There are coalition governments elsewhere too; Malaysia is not alone. Elsewhere, though, tend to form coalitions after a general election to form a government. In Malaysia, parties form coalitions before the election to win votes and then form a government.

The numbers game

What is common among Bersatu, Umno, Pakatan Harapan, Barisan Nasional and Perikatan Nasional is how each is bundled as a strategy to win by numbers. The motivation and the goal are to win, no matter how volatile and transient the alliance can be. These numbers had previously come through electoral ballots but most recently but unprecedentedly, they came through the MP headcounts Mahathir, Anwar and Muhyiddin each reported to the king.

Numbers! Numbers seize our attention the moment they fail to tally, as Mahathir, Anwar and Muhyiddin each claimed to hold a majority. We couldn’t possibly have three majorities within a single parliament. Numbers hadn’t previously fascinated us as much. Our last memory of fascinating numbers were perhaps those of Wan Emdeebee.

Prominent figures and Ubah celebrities are demanding that decision-making be returned to Parliament. They are saying: Parliament, and no one else. Why not? Naturally. The textbooks say so. Isn’t that what democracy is supposed to mean?

I am not trying to suggest one way or the other. I am just presenting a moment of openness, along with some valid factors for consideration, which should not be dismissed. It is all about context and ecosystem, the right moment and the right place versus the worst moment and the worst place.

We are at a time when some MPs keep changing their minds quicker than any news media can track. We see that happening with MPs from the top ranks and MPs whose names we do not recognise. Scattered and scrambled not only between themselves but within themselves, many folk seem to be searching for a reference nowhere to be found. The week-long political crisis leaves folks suspicious of one another, not knowing whom to trust.

Stabilising the nation

The priority now should be how to stabilise the country, not who becomes the prime minister. If there is going to be ongoing political turbulence, whether by appointment or through elections, the selection process can be as good as as flip of the coin.

Who decides? Some say Parliament, not the Palace. That’s one understanding of democracy; not the only one though. Others say the People, not Parliament, so we need snap elections. That’s another understanding of democracy; not the only one, though.

Parliamentary sitting or snap elections, both go rely on votes. Votes rely on rationale and reasoning. Consider what numbers mean if they swing so erratically from one moment to the next. Factor this in when weighing different options towards a solution.

We don’t stick in a thermometer when the temperature fluctuates wildly, knowing that the temperature reading would be meaningless. We stick in the thermometer only after the system has stabilised; only then can we gauge the temperature more meaningfully.

Are we ready for an election? Let’s return to the same set of criteria applicable to any election, whether in the past or in the future. We need to consider not just whether the parties are ready, but whether the people are ready. With the current state of grand confusion, it isn’t a bad idea to not rush into an election.

Our government collapsed overnight. Yes, it was slowly brewing, but the collapse was sudden. The police (rightly) got ready, but nothing happened. Not that anyone hopes for a disturbance. But the non-reaction is a sign that people need time. Elsewhere, there would have been more immediate, palpable reactions.

If it isn’t going to bring us stability and unity, there is no point going to the polls just for the sake of electing politicians in a way that most regard as “going by the book” – or rather, following a limited understanding of democracy.

What does democracy mean?

Now is perhaps an opportune time to rethink: what does democracy mean to each of us? Between a dictator and the people’s choice, we naturally choose the latter. Between a wise leader (appointed rather than elected) and one who wins the numbers amidst confusion and suspicion, I would choose the former.

This leads us to the next question: do we have wise leaders? So many claimed to lead, with that sense of command, superiority and authority, exerting their influence to brainwash others. Knowing or half-knowingly, many who were brainwashed went on to brainwash others over social media – without questioning the sustainability of the campaign. It is that relentless, viral brainwashing that has eventually brought the country to its knees. That brainwashing campaign is sometimes known as “Ubah!”

During this vacuum of genuine leadership, we ask for views from the cream of our society, the bijak pandai, the academia, faith leaders and preachers of various designs. Enough of singing along “Ubah! Bersih! Topple the corrupt! No to dictatorship! No “back-door government”! Return the power to the people!” Who doesn’t know? Do we need any echoing?

So this we ask from the cream of our society, the bijak pandai, the academia, faith leaders and leaders of various capacity: point out what others can’t see, draw parallels and contrasts with lessons learned previously (history) and from other parts of the world. Come up with insights and foresights that are original (not plagiarised); put right that naive understanding of free speech and democracy. And be accountable.

Time for accountability

What does accountability mean? By being accountable, we consider the consequence of our actions, how they affect others.

Who is responsible for the current crisis? Dr Mahathir Mohamad says the crisis started not with his resignation but with Muhyiddin Yassin pulling Bersatu out of Pakatan Harapan.

Whether it was Mahathir or Muhyiddin or God-knows-who, that is that individual’s share of accountability. But that neither excuses each of us from being accountable for the role each of us played whether as MP, voter, campaigner, abstainer or bystander.

What do I mean by accountability? By committing to accountability, I hold myself responsible today for the way I influenced others 20 years ago. I also hold myself responsible 20 years later for what I write in this article published today. I did not join the Ubah squad in the run-up to the 2013 and 2018 general elections. I did not later wash my hands and start pointing fingers at individuals who, I once told others, were saviours and saints. I do not now play victim, crying that I feel betrayed.

There were indeed third options; just that the options were masked in the name of “Ubah is the only way”. There were options to fix Wan Emdeebee without dividing the nation, without that 8% drop in the ringgit and that 21% drop in Kuala Lumpur stock exchange.

We need to work towards the next true tsunami that unites.

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