Malaysiakini : “The second effort was spreading the word among the people,
first, in a bid to raise their morale, and second to instil in them a
sense of animosity towards the enemy, coupled with a spirit of
resistance... this required us to use the language of indoctrination
rather than realpolitik. People then were not in need of political
analysis, they were in need of being incited and goaded.” - Hassan Nasrallah, Lebanon's Hezbollah chief
COMMENT | With the above quote in mind, thank you academic Manjit Bhatia for your timely piece, ‘‘Malaysia’ dreams the impossible dream’. Writing about former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad at this time is problematic to say the least. A couple of years before Mahathir joined the opposition, he was
mocked and vilified by the very people who now claim that he is needed
to save Malaysia. Most people view the current Pakatan Harapan prime
minister-in-waiting through ahistorical lenses, or are
crypto-Mahathiristas as articulated by former parliamentarian Kua Kia
Soong, or fascists who would silence any dissent on this issue.
Manjit’s bone of contention – and rightly so – is that Mahathir is
the captain of the Harapan coalition. This, of course, is an important
point. Not for Harapan supporters who wish by any means necessary to
oust the current Umno grand poobah but for opposition supporters who
would “undi rosak” or just sit out of this election.
Confronting this issue is needed, especially if the Harapan political
operatives I have spoken to are confident of winning this election
despite the electoral malfeasance and the full power of the Umno state
against them. People need to vote, but more importantly, people need to
be convinced that Harapan will not slip back into the Mahathir era that
he (Mahathir) finds difficult to reconcile with. I think a point everyone misses when they talk about Mahathir is that
the vast majority of the voting public for decades voted for him and
his gaggle of cronies. This means for all his faults – well documented
by Manjit – people were choosing him over the opposition. So it is not
really a choice between Najib and Mahathir on any ideological level but
rather a single issue (for the opposition) election.
Would an apology from Mahathir help? No doubt, it would be good
optics but here’s the thing though. The opposition which now includes
the former prime minister also include people who genuinely revere him
as some sort of messiah. So not only is the opposition coalesced around a former Umno
strongman, it includes in their voter base people who actually believe
that the Mahathir era was some sort of halcyon period, where everything
was as it should be when it comes to the "social contract" that passes
as “muhibbah”. The more he talks or defends his record or makes
noises of half-hearted contrition, the more it reminds people of an era
where the opposition stood for principles instead of the strategic
choices it is making now.
As Haris Ibrahim in his open letter
to Dr M said, maybe he should just zip it. What disturbs me, is not the
sight of the old maverick revising history, but rather the sycophantic
approval of supporters who justify his revisions. Supporting the
opposition does not mean publicly fellating them. The real issue is not if the old maverick has changed or is sincere
in his efforts to reform Malaysia but rather that the opposition has
changed. They have assumed control of strategic states, made hard
choices to compromise but also pissed away many opportunities. They may
not be fighting fit but they are a clear and present danger to the Umno
hegemon even if they do not have the support of the majority of the
Malay community and would be so without the support of Mahathir. This is
certainly not the kind of opposition that Mahathir faced in his prime.
Taking control of Putrajaya is a very specific goal. Of course, the
opposition claims that this election is the one that will forever change
the destiny of this country, and in many ways it is. This election will
determine if Umno survives without challenge for the next couple of
decades before the Islamic deep state assumes control. This makes the
entire playing field different from when Mahathir was the undisputed
ruler of all he surveyed.
I know many opposition supporters who say screw that, I am not voting
for Mahathir but am voting opposition as if they are voting in a
vacuum. I also know of people who are going to abstain from voting
because of Mahathir, and are willing to accept the consequences of their
actions because they have lived through a kleptocratic regime when
Najib was plying his trade in other ministries. Honestly, there is nothing Mahathir could say - an apology, an excuse
or anything - that would change the fact that people had voted for him
and his cronies, and while you may point to the biased system, there is
enough evidence that a majority of Malaysians turned their back on the
I cannot show Manjit the “all Malaysian” because the Thayaparan
corpus has been a rejection of this idea that there is a “Malaysian”
identity or that being Malaysian means sublimating cultural and
historical legacies. In other words, a rejection of the Bangsa Malaysia
and 1Malaysia kool-aid. And frankly there is no need for a “one Malaysian” identity to
replace Umno. Umno and the opposition can win this election by appealing
to various racial and religious voting blocks. There is no need for the
opposition to rely on a unified Malaysian identity to win. In fact,
people have often told me that my forays into politically-incorrect
racial and religious issues is a detriment to Harapan. What does this
demonstrate? That the opposition understands and now plays the Umno
racial game better because they have Bersatu.
There will always be “competition between race, religion and
ideology”. Could this change? I have spent many articles contemplating
this very question but nobody seems interested in asking the opposition
this because (1) the opposition is always under attack, and (2) the
opposition has no idea or uninterested bringing about radical change.
However, I would rather have this competition in a two-party system then
have it in a system where Umno always reigns supreme.
That is the dream. The first dream. The dream which Umno fears. While
it may very well turn out that Mahathir is reshaping Umno from the
outside but the greater lesson for Malaysians, however they
self-identify, is that they can change the government. While I get
permutations of the same formula is ultimately self-defeating, there is
very little room to manoeuvre in the democratic space provided by the
state, which is a creation of the former prime minister.
Manjit acknowledges that it would be wonderful if Harapan manages to
dislodge Umno from power but worries – again rightly so – that Umno has
momentum and the apparatus of the state that Harapan lacks. I do think
however if Harapan manages to persuade large diverse voting blocks to
vote, they can overcome the momentum and the chicanery of the Umno
state. Mahathir may not be the answer but the real question is does he have utilitarian value for the opposition?
Do I think that Harapan deserves a shot at the brass ring? No. But I
do think that Malaysians need to once and for all have a two-party
system however flawed it is, and however problematic the opposition is.
Like I said, there are no victims only volunteers
in the “ketuanan Melayu” game. If the opposition wants to change the
game, I am all for that, too. I am acutely aware that this dream could
turn into a walking nightmare where the only people cognisant of it are
those with an iota of self-awareness.
If I am wrong, and the opposition just becomes the next BN and
opposition supporters become the new establishment enablers, people like
Hafidz Baharom, Maryam Lee, Kua Kia Soong and the host other outliers
can tell me they told me so.
That is cold comfort, right there.
One last thing. Am I strident in my views that the opposition needs to dethrone Najib? Compared to the other Malaysiakini columnists and online cheerleaders, my detractors have labelled me a fifth columnist.