Harapan’s enemy within - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Malaysiakini : “Success sometimes may be defined as a disaster put on hold. Qualified. Has to be.”
– Nadine Gordimer, ‘Get a Life’
COMMENT | Opposition political operative Nazri Abdul Aziz’s contention
that he does not foresee Umno coming into power anytime soon but that
an alliance with PKR is possible is an interesting comment for a variety
Nazri the brigand/politician understands the game far better than
most Umno political operatives, and with the party now in a state of
post-traumatic stress, his maverick nature goes unchecked while the rest
of his ilk run around like headless chickens.
Part of it is because Nazri is just at adept as slaying Malay sacred
cows as he is nurturing them. He understands that Umno was merely the
gravy train, and his rhetoric now is that since the train was derailed,
why not just commandeer a new one for the betterment of the mainstream
Malay political class?
Could this be part of the psy-war
that Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin claims are the recent moves by Umno to
form alliances with PKR (among others), the perceived weak link of
It could be, but the reality is that as long as the Malay vote,
unlike the Chinese and Indian votes, is not secured by the Malay power
structures in Harapan, there will always be plays by Umno to destabilise
the coalition, or even better – align with an insecure power structure.
An old friend, who was an early supporter of Dr Mahathir Mohamad
joining the opposition, made it very clear early on that the goal of
removing then-prime minister Najib Abdul Razak was paramount. The old
maverick had intentions of reforming the system, but not Malay politics –
a system which, my friend claimed, was too far down the road to reform.
This friend now acts as consigliereto one of the numerous
powerbrokers attempting to shore up Malay support for the Bersatu base. While I think that the attempts by Umno to destabilise Harapan with
these manoeuvres are worth paying attention to, I also think that what
will ultimately cause more damage to the coalition is the kind of
culture that sustained BN for decades before they were voted out.
Internal schisms Critics of PKR used to say that the party had Umno DNA, so it must be
strange to have Bersatu in the mix now, which its founders claim is a pure uncorrupted version of Umno and its original intent. Or is that original sin?
The influx of new grassroots members from Umno into Bersatu does pose
a problem for the new government. The aforementioned consigliere tells
me that these new members join because they believe that Mahathir and
his men will take care of their interests, and because of the anti-PRC
narratives (which has some blowback on the local Chinese population) and
the peals to race and religion, they truly see Bersatu as the new Umno. “They do not really understand the reform agenda,” my friend says,
because while they believe that Najib was a “thief,” they did not get
that it was the system that needed to be reformed.
This, of course, poses a problem, especially to those Bersatu members
(the intellectual cabals as I call them) who truly desire reform; the
civil servants who do not understand that it is not their job to support
Bersatu, but to serve the people; as well as other Harapan members
involved in their own schisms, and struggling with the new reality of
being the government instead of rabble-rousers, which was in some ways
This does not take into account Umno potentates like Mustapa Mohamed who are told that they have to show some kind of "difference"
if they are to be accepted into the New Malaysia coalition which is
Harapan. All of this is just drama for people who are enjoying all the
schadenfreude they ever wanted from the slow demise of Umno not
realising that sub rosa moves are being carried out to shore up support
for a Malay base. It is one thing to use race and religion when your opposition
partners keep quiet because they do not want to rock the boat on the way
to Putrajaya. It is another game entirely when policy decisions are
based on race and religion, and your partners have to keep silent
because of their bases.
However, this is just one aspect of the problem. The internal schisms
within PKR also contribute to the lack of trust in the Malay community,
because for all intents and purposes, the squabble between the Malay
powerbrokers in PKR is a sign of weakness that they cannot defend what
Malays are told to be scared of losing.
The fact that Bersatu has to cannibalise from Umno is also a sign of
weakness from diehard grassroots Umno supporters, who now view the
current prime minister as some sort of hate figure.
Mix this with the machinations of PAS who – depending on whose rear
ends they are kissing – are resurrecting the ‘Mahafiraun’ narrative for a
new generation, but with unknown variables, because we now have Umno
members who truly see the old maverick as a traitor to race and
As one DAP political operative confided in me, “Only god knows what
the real relationship is between Malay powerbrokers in Harapan is.” She says that some confuse a "unified front” with sycophancy, and
what is troubling is that political operatives are acting the way BN
political operatives did, instead of in accordance to the new paradigm,
as was promised.
Always remember that Mahathir was much beloved before Anwar Ibrahim’s
fall from grace, and that the current prime minister always seems to
grow a personality cult wherever he plants his flag. Some folks actually
forget his long record of political dysfunction, and use his long
“experience” as prime minister as some sort of fig leaf in their
DAP’s Charles Santiago echoed this sentiment when he warned of the
growing “yes men” culture in this new administration. “The cabinet is
largely dependent on Mahathir, and that’s a mistake,” the Klang MP said
in an interview, days after Mahathir’s public admission that he was not happy with the ministers he appointed four months ago. Santiago said that while ministers must toe the line, they should
also have the courage to question their big boss. “If Mahathir says no,
then you have to question and ask why. If you just say, ‘Mahathir wants
it,’ then it shows you’re weak.”
This, of course, is to be expected. BN is a victim of its own
success. For years they coasted on the fact that Malaysians were
comfortable with the system. While Harapan (as yet) cannot claim to enjoy the same support as BN
at its zenith, the reality is that the fear of some of some in Harapan
of alienating the Malay base is resulting in all sorts of screw-ups.
Coupled with this is their confidence that the Harapan base is with
them, and that there is practically no opposition but Umno, which is a
dangerous brew of insecurity and arrogance. Does all of this sound
familiar? The insecurity of the Malay base coupled with the arrogance
that their base – non-Malays included – will support the ruling hegemon?
Another DAP political operative echoes my belief that the disconnect
between the rural and urban youths and their predation by Malay power
structures – using race and religion for the former and the Bangsa
Malaysia Kool-Aid for the latter – will come back to haunt Harapan.
The predation of young people by Malay powerbrokers using race and
religion and the enabling of non-political operatives is straight from
the Umno playbook. As one young Malay activist/journalist (and who took exception to my last piece
about Anwar), plying his trade online told me, that people do not
really need to worry about Umno joining the new establishment because if
the “Umno culture” (which also means the complicity of non-Malay power
structures) carries on, this would do far more damage to any kind of
reforms that are needed in this country because it would that people
accepted the old comfortable ways of BN.
So while Umno may still pose an external threat, a culture that is slowly growing in Harapan has to exorcised.
As always, the more dangerous adversary is the enemy within.