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COMMENT | I just do not get it.
There seem to be two narratives when it comes to this idea of a unity
government. The first is about how Pakatan Harapan de facto
leader Anwar Ibrahim and his coterie are working in a sub rosa fashion
with Umno to form a unity government, while the second is about how Umno
is going, hat in hand, to Malay power structures in Harapan to cease
being a “government in waiting.”
Both narratives are false because the reality is that a unity
government is already forming. What I don’t understand is why people
really think that the big bad wolf is still Umno, as if it will be the
catalyst that would down the Harapan regime. The existential threat to
Harapan is not Umno, but an ideology that paralyses any progressive
destiny of Malaysia.
Umno does not have to form a unity government with Harapan before the
next election – because by the next election, there will be no Umno. When the old maverick and now Harapan grand poohbah Dr Mahathir Mohamad claims that Umno is finished, it is not because the people voted Umno out. The party still has support of the majority of the Malay community.
War of attrition
What is going on now is a war of attrition within Malay power
structures, which means that Umno rats are abandoning ship and heading
to other ‘Malay’ lifeboats. Malay power structures in PKR and Bersatu have openly said they would
accept Umno into the fold.
While they make weak qualifications of
membership, the reality is that Harapan needs a strong Malay mandate if
they are to throw their weight around in a multiracial, multi-religious
coalition, which they have never been comfortable with. The old maverick
knows this, and so do the political operatives – Malay and non-Malay –
PKR lawmaker Wong Chen (photo), in dismissing the idea of a unity government, rightly pointed out that - “That question is best addressed to Bersatu because Umno members are leaving to join Bersatu.” People pay attention to the powerbrokers of Umno jumping ship, but
the reality is that Umno has been haemorrhaging grassroots members to
Bersatu, and to a lesser extent, PKR.
While PAS may have picked up some support because of the new
anti-Mahathir feeling of some Umno members, the biggest draw by far has
been Bersatu, which is seen as the new face of Malay politics.
Bersatu they stand
While some folks have no problem demonising Anwar for his apparent
racial and religious politics, the fact is that Bersatu as the so-called
champion of Malay rights and Islamic superiority is the main draw for
people who want to abandon Umno. My reading of why Anwar is blathering on about race and religion is
that because he understands that the Malay vote base is more comfortable
with a race-based party like Bersatu, and not a nominally multiracial
outfit like PKR.
Indeed, Bersatu benefits from Anwar’s and Deputy Prime Minister Dr
Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s rather silly pronouncements, because eyes are
diverted away from Bersatu and the old maverick’s shenanigans when it
comes to policy decisions, the Harapan manifesto, and the ambivalence
towards the rising tide of Islamic provocations in this country.
Not to mention, the old guard of Umno who really did not like former
president Najib Abdul Razak is working the levers ensuring that Bersatu
is the main beneficiary of those exiting the former ruling party. While Anwar may say that he has no fear of Mahathir and his personal
relationship is good, his actions and those of his supporters betray the
deep anxiety they have of the way the political terrain is shaping in
this post-Umno reality.
So the old maverick does the needful and reiterates his pledge that Anwar would be the next prime minister. But you have to wonder if Mahathir is saying this amid talks of a
unity government, doesn’t it just further the narrative that Anwar is
impatient, which inflames the Harapan (non-Malay) base against his
former protégé, because the majority of the Malay base is already
People who think that the destruction of Umno is some sort of closure
to the racial and religious politics in this country are fooling
themselves. Beyond the urban centres where Bersatu and PAS are
eventually going to have their showdown, the politics of race and
religion will be the battleground. This will seep into the urban
enclaves. It always does. Back in the day, the current prime minister had no problem with the
help of his non Malay counterparts launching offensives against PAS, but
at the same time, working the Islamic angle to his advantage.
Many Umno supporters who are thinking of jumping ship tell me that
what they see forming is a return to the old days, when the Chinese and
Malays were “working together” under the great Mahathir. They see this
as a return to the glory days. This is swell for them, but it was then
that the roots of destruction of this country were planted. Rational Malaysians should not buy into this propaganda of a unity
government pushed by the political elites. The narratives that Harapan
rejects any form of unity government, or that some in Harapan are
working towards this aim, should be rejected.
Remember, the ‘ketuanan’ system that many in Umno find appealing has
been replaced with the slowly forming pillars of BN Redux - “don’t spook the Malays” and “coming as close as we can to get the government to say those laws are wrong.”
The first is the foundation of the ‘ketuanan’ system, which is what
Umno political operatives - and really, every mainstream Malay political
operative - need to sustain political power, because they do not want
to discover new ways.
The second is the compromise with non-Malay power structures, which
is the easy power-sharing formula that worked so well at the height of
Mahathir’s reign. In the current climate, there will be more big-name casualties when
it comes to the malfeasance of the Najib regime, and there will
definitely be more defections – after a suitable period of contriteness
of course – of Umno members to Bersatu and PKR. Anwar’s Port Dickson gambit will determine if he remains a player when it comes to this high-stakes Malay political game.
But make no mistake, the unity government is already forming, and
while the body of Umno will be destroyed, its soul will find a new