Malaysiakini : Power is the ability to direct or prevent the current or future actions of other groups and individuals.- Moisés Naím
| One question that kept cropping up before May 9, was, could Pakatan
Harapan control Dr Mahathir Mohamad if the coalition won the election?
Harapan political operatives assured their base and fence- sitters that
there were mechanisms in place that would constrain the former prime
minister who many claimed was the architect of the kleptocracy that then
prime minister Najib Abdul Razak was leading. Very quickly after
the election, it becomes obvious that Mahathir was still playing by his
own rules and all those voices pre-election were muted, embroiled in
their own battles of grappling with a bureaucracy that was attempting to
find its new master.
Most people view Mahathir’s backtracking on
accepting Umno members as some sort of betrayal of Harapan and the
people who voted for them. But is it really a betrayal? I was not the
only one writing of how the fall of Umno would see an infusion of Umno
talent into Bersatu. I remember writing of how that this was the game
plan, that Bersatu was the lifeboat for Umno members who wanted to jump
James Chin’s 2017 article on
why Mahathir is at the centre of Malaysia’s opposition power play is
required reading for anyone who thinks that Mahathir’s moves are out of
the ordinary. In it, he not only describes the political machinations of
someone I consider the shrewdest political operator in modern Malaysian
history but also clearly articulates the reasons why Mahathir joined
the then opposition.
numerous articles, I reminded readers that we should not be naive when
it comes to backing Mahathir. As Chin rightly pointed out, the reason
Mahathir joined the opposition was not for reform but to oust Najib. The
central reason why this was feasible because it involved the Malay
political establishment which is the only power structure which matters.
Two points, Chin made (and in all modesty which I have made numerous times also) are worth revising.
“The other two pillars of the Malay establishment, the civil service
and the security forces, would also be much more likely to accept a
non-BN government with Mahathir than they would one without. The Malay
establishment has a deep fear of the DAP who many view as Chinese
chauvinists who would destroy Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) and
Ketuanan Islam (Islam supremacy) should they win government. With
Mahathir at the helm of Harapan, these fears are minimised.”
“In summary, if the defenders of the Malay establishment are forced to
hand over power to someone from outside the Umno, should it lose the
upcoming election, there is no better person than Mahathir. For them,
Mahathir simply represents an alternative Ketuanan Melayu leadership,
rather than real political reforms.”
While PAS and Umno may
attempt to continue the narrative that the “Chinese DAP" is controlling
Mahathir, what they are really worried about is that the old maverick is
slowly consolidating Bersatu’s power in the civil service and the
people see these Umno defectors as merely corrupt politicians jumping
ship but it is deeper than that. What is really happening is people with
influence in the Malay establishment and people who actually have an
understanding of how the bureaucracy works – corruption and all –
pledging allegiance to Bersatu to carry on "business as usual" to
sustain a dominant Malay power structure, which Bersatu aims to be.
which is slowly replacing Umno as the right-wing Malay party capable of
maintaining the system of patronage and privilege of the Malay
community, is not something that happened overnight. It was the game
plan from the start and if you believe that Harapan political operatives
did not know this, then they are incompetent or are just plain lying to
their base. Or maybe the base was drunk on the Kool-Aid.
Nowhere is this game plan more evident than in the recent allegations
by Court of Appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer that the Harapan win
rattled senior members of the judiciary (for a whole minute) but then
they “extremely happy” when members of the old regime were elevated.
"The talk among the judicial members was that they were appointed
because of the influence of an ex-minister who they served earlier.”
the question changes from “Can Harapan control Mahathir” to “Does
Harapan want to control Mahathir?” This is really the question, right?
Voters may have been fooled by the promises of reform but does anyone
really think that the power-brokers in Harapan were fooled into thinking
that joining up with Mahathir, the creation of Bersatu and the ousting
of Najib would really bring the reform that this country needed?
about the broken promises. Look at what is happening in Harapan.
Besides a few nanny state policies, what they have been doing is
reworking the policies of the former Umno/BN regime. This goes far
beyond renaming BRIM or retaining propaganda organisations or
re-tweaking economic and social policies to give them a new spin which
is the least of our problems.
These days, the DAP seems more
interested in deflecting than in reforming, going after the MCA which
has nothing to lose by reminding DAP of its failed reform policies.
Meanwhile, PKR and Amanah are having to grapple with the fact that the
Malay establishment has very little use for them and the smarter
political operatives are already forming alliances which would be of use
in a post-Mahathir milieu.
Sure, you can point to some political
operatives who are making noises about the moves of the Harapan Grand
Poohbah but the reality is that the real power-brokers in Harapan and
their influential minions are remaining silent because they understand
that this was the nature of the bargain they made to get federal power.
upcoming Semenyih by-election is a good example of the inevitability of
the ascension of Bersatu. Even if Bersatu loses Semenyih, it more than
makes up for it with further defections from Umno. While a loss in
Semenyih may look bad perception-wise, the reality is that the Malay
establishment never relied on elections to maintain power.
may claim bragging rights if they win Semenyih but it would be worse for
them in the long run if more members jump ship and they are straddled
with an “official” alliance with PAS. People will forget the Semeyih
loss in wake of more defections and consolidating power through
defections is a game not anything as unpredictable as elections.
So to retain federal power, does anyone really think that Harapan wants to control Mahathir?