Manjit Bhatia writes on why the Sarawak poll results mean the death of Malaysia’s opposition coalition.
It’s simultaneously sad and ironical to read the outpouring of reasons by Malaysia’s loose opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan, for why it was pummeled by the ruling Barisan Nasional in the May 7th Saturday’s Sarawak state elections.
Those reasons, however, are mere excuses. Pitiful ones.
Lim Kit Siang, the veteran leader of the Democratic Action Party, along with his son, Lim Guan Eng, chief minister of the state of Penang, and Tony Pua, the DAP’s finance and economics spokesperson and prominent critics of the bankrupt and corrupt 1MDB, were quick to point to the Adenan Satem X-factor for the DAP’s right-royal thrashing.
Adenan is Sarawak chief minister, having replaced in 2014 the corrupt despot Taib Mahmud, who, quite conveniently, was made governor of Sarawak. In spite of the scandal-ridden prime minister Najib Razak’s week-long stay in Sarawak to campaign for BN, it was, if one were to ask Messrs. Lim & Lim and Pua, Satem who stole Najib’s thunder.
Which, of itself, raises interesting theses about Najib, going forward. That’s another story. Significantly, though, the DAP was the only party in the Pakatan Harapan that managed to win seats in Sarawak – ten, to be sure, after contesting in 31. It had won 12 of the 15 it contested in the 2011 poll.
That’s still a decent number for the DAP, considering the massive gerrymandering, the typhoon of money-politics, and the usual wild and wooly promises that Najib unleashed on Sarawakians, with which Satem went along. Naturally.
But the jailed Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) fantastically bombed. So did the Parti Amanah Negara (National Trust Party), which has promised lots and delivered zilch, bar the standard white noise.
In the elections’ immediate aftermath, Najib was quick off the mark to proclaim that Sarawak’s Chinese voters were firmly back in BN’s arms. And Lim Senior, meanwhile, was just as fast to (a) avoid blaming anybody but (b) wished the sixteen orang asli (natives) constituencies had thrown their weight behind the DAP.
Still, he’s hopeful this will happen in 2021, led by a Dayak blowback against BN.
Five years constitute an eternity in Malaysia’s dirty politics of corruption and the effortless swirls of lies and deception that customarily attend them. Even the Malaysian Elections Commission didn’t blink, not once, knowing full-well the constancy and extent of its hand in the entire gerrymandering caper.
In the post-mortem to come, if it hasn’t already begun in the DAP, PKR and Amanah — individually — it’ll be interesting to see how far Messrs. Lim & Lim and Pua, Amanah and PKR will go to admit to their own culpability in the assortment of idiocies in their own ‘game of thrones’.
Because, London to a brick, these have come home to roost. They’ve ruined the final remnants of Pakatan Harapan’s electoral chances in the future.
Only PKR’s Azmin Ali, one-time Anwar Ibrahim protégé, and chief minister of Selangor state, has alluded to, but not frankly admitted, that the political contortions — not distortions, for a change — within Pakatan Harapan all this time were regretful.
Fair enough. But how regretful?
It’s long been clear, from the time of Pakatan Rakyat, that the infighting between Partai Islam Se-Malaysia (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, PAS) and the DAP boiled over into such bad blood that it had left Anwar Ibrahim completely at a loss.
For the first time in Malaysia’s post-Asian Crisis history, when the Mahathir-ousted ex-protégé Anwar was seen as the inspiration against Mahathirism and state dirigisme, as well as being the lightning rod for galvanizing a realistic opposition against the dominant and feudalist UMNO and its groveling BN component parties, Anwar looked hopelessly bamboozled.
He became unstuck, at a loss for words, wholly incapable of putting Humpty Dumpty together again. He would have tried but he would have known, too, that the coalition was as good as dead, if not kaput for good. The source of the demise isn’t recent but at least eights years of cancerous debility.
But in recent years it wasn’t so much that the PKR became the proverbial meat in the sandwich in the internecine warfare between PAS and the DAP. The fact is that PKR, being a near-wholly Malay party that appeals more to Malay hearts and minds in conglomeration (or competition) with PAS, dithered.
That wavering, indecisiveness, was more the result of the other skirmish that was taking place within PKR, behind the scenes, between Anwar Ibrahim’s wife, Wan Azizah, who held (and still does — just) PKR’s presidency in proxy for her husband, and Azmin Ali.
Azmin had — still does — ambitions of taking over the beleaguered PKR following the ex-Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim ignominy, not just for him but for PKR especially, and Pakatan Rakyat. There was the other grand malarkey in the form of the Kajang Move, which quickly became a standing joke among cynics of exactly what harm Pakatan would not bring unto itself.
This is the central problem with the opposition: the continuation of one fiasco after another, and of equally wild and wooly promises, much like UMNO-BN’s, and the glaring absence of any kind of alternative, calculated policies, nationally and for Sarawakians.
All the troubles were inherited from 2008 when Anwar promised the inevitable “transfer of power” from the ruling UMNO-BN to the opposition coalition. It would come courtesy of the much-flagged defection of some 30 members of parliament from the ruling regime.
Now there’s a galleria of other conundrums, big ones, that have seeped into the core of Pakatan Harapan. Luckily it has not developed a soul or the situation would be far worse.
Nonetheless, the damning fractious nature of the opposition coalition, minus PAS, is one thing the DAP, PKR and Amanah will have to pressingly resolve if it’s not going hand a walkover to Umno-BN in the 2018 federal elections.
On current evidence, this seems more a probability. The opposition coalition’s disastrous humiliation in Sarawak on the weekend assures of this happening. Proof will be in the pudding of potential by-elections before 2018.
Like it or lump it, Pakatan Harapan has just died an ugly death. The Sarawak poll result was the final nail in its coffin – self-inflicted, as usual.
Manjit Bhatia is research director of AsiaRisk, an economic and political risk analysis consultancy. He specialises in international economics and politics, with a focus on Asia.