IN Malaysian politics now, common wisdom seems to suggest that no established coalition, including Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN), will, on its own, garner enough seats in the next election to rule.
Arising from this “wisdom”, whether it is correct or not, there is a scramble from ambitious people to form alliances of sorts, to ensure they have a chance at some sort of representation, be it by becoming a minority prime minister to a major lynchpin à la Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad or by dominating youth support.
So, that is what the axis between former Umno veteran Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal and the young, ambitious Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman of Muda currently revolves around – it is about a mutually beneficial alliance to strengthen each other’s positions, not about idealism, but about furthering their own interests.
It encourages people like Shafie, who wants to become prime minister in a hurry, and it encourages young people like Syed Saddiq – in a hurry to rise, but too young to rise too fast. One follows the Dr Mahathir model of wanting to become prime minister with a small number of seats via political posturing, while the other wants to become a force to be reckoned with by pandering to the youth.
Recently, both Shafie and Syed Saddiq, in addition to pushing the alliance between them, have been talking about moving away from race-based parties to multiracial parties. Why? Because it suits their current narratives and political ambitions.
Multiracial parties are already there – and they are to be found within the PH coalition, with the main component PKR, a Malay-dominant multiracial party with a good mix of non-Malay MPs. PKR’s roots go back to the reformasi movement of 1998 – when Syed Saddiq was five, some 23 years ago.
The second most dominant party within PH is multiracial but Chinese-dominant, DAP, and is even older. Having been formed in 1965, it is 51 years old. I last counted seven Indian MPs from DAP and there are Malay ones, too. It is a bit late in the day for Shafie and Syed Saddiq to be talking about multiracial parties.
Their history shows that both of them have not been multiracially inclined, being part of racially exclusive parties. Take Shafie – he comes from Sabah where acceptance, no, celebration of different races and religions is legendary.
But he was part of that racial party called Umno, which has had a toxic and negative impact on Sabah politics. It was only when he was unceremoniously booted out of Umno that he realised the value of multiracialism.
Syed Saddiq entered politics by riding the coat-tails of one of Malaysia’s most racist politicians, Dr Mahathir, by joining Bersatu – its full name, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia – which, in itself is racial in nature, and membership is expressly limited to Malays, like Umno, raising anew the spectre of racialism even after 61 years of independence in 2018.
Dr Mahathir not only gave Syed Saddiq a seat to contest but made him youth and sports minister in the cabinet after PH won, upsetting PKR, many of whose leaders deserved that seat more than him by the sheer weight of experience compared with Syed Saddiq.
When Dr Mahathir was ousted from Bersatu and formed Pejuang, Syed Saddiq followed suit. When it was clear that Dr Mahathir’s fortunes had irrevocably waned, he left to form Muda, a party for the young. Apparently, he also, somewhat ominously, received Dr Mahathir’s blessings for the move and is still in touch with the Langkawi MP.
But it was not clear why he could not have formed a youth division within Pejuang, for instance, as he did in Bersatu. Do we really need a separate party for youth? What about the old then, women perhaps, disabled etc, and, yes, races, too? That would be going back to square one.
The answer is that Syed Saddiq spotted a chance to get into a separate market, which was, at the same time, quite large and would give him an opportunity to get some clout if some larger coalition was silly enough to give his young, unregistered party some 10 or 20 seats to contest.
Under current circumstances that could mean power or not between battling coalitions – and with party-hopping still a legal game, there is much to negotiate in terms of representation, power and, yes, money.
Talking about corruption and governance – neither Shafie nor Syed Saddiq has been vocal about these beyond saying that the emergency might lead to another 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
Their own personal records have not been great – Shafie had a case of RM1.5 billion against him dropped in August 2018 after he joined the PH Plus arrangement.
In Syed Saddiq’s case, he reported to police that RM250,000 was stolen from his safe in March last year, raising puzzling questions as to why so much money was kept in his house. He said that it belonged to his parents.
It looks like Shafie and Syed Saddiq’s newfound penchant for multiracialism is opportunistic rather than a quick reversal in previous ideologies. If they are so interested in multiracial parties and one that is dominated by Malays, PKR is the obvious choice and has a 23-year record. And the PH coalition has a religious, non-racial party to boot, too – Amanah.
For Shafie and Warisan, PH needs to set the ground rules – the coalition will work with Warisan in Sabah, but not if Shafie spreads his wings to the peninsula. And there is no argument about the prime minister – the PH presidential council has decided on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim if it wins. No more minority prime minister.
If Syed Saddiq likes youth and multiracialism, let him join PH and go up the ranks – no deals.
Otherwise, let his Muda contest, but not as part of PH, but on its own if he manages to get Muda registered or as independents. Talk to him if he gets a significant number of seats or not at all.
PH is unlikely to make the same mistake it made with Dr Mahathir, letting his minority party and him become kingmaker. Dr Mahathir spoiled the opportunity that PH had for reform.
Now, it is time to go at it alone. Do not risk taking in traitors. Stick to old friends.
Oh, and do not do deals with Umno – it is a racist party past its time, and most of its MPs are tainted with 1MDB money anyway. Go head-to-head against Umno and BN. After all, it is clear that Umno wants to contest on its own with its partners, MCA and MIC.
Fight the good fight, win or lose. – The Vibes, April 22, 2021
P. Gunasegaram says sticking to your ideals and principles is good because it also wins – do not let anyone tell you otherwise. He is executive director of Sekhar Institute and editorial consultant at The Vibes