ginning up the base and amplifying the bellicose rhetoric of
Harapan-friendly talking heads, what the coalition did was create a set
of expectations that Harapan political operatives were too chicken
manure to carry out.
kept telling any Harapan operatives that would listen to make this
about policy issues instead of a political one. In this way, you could
get support from a diverse range of people by making the argument that
Perikatan Nasional (PN) was letting down the rakyat through specific
policy initiatives and wastage.
This would have made it more
difficult for non-Harapan MPs to wash their hands of this fiasco and
instead defend their support or opposition to PN on policy grounds. The
irony was that some political operatives were worried that choices
Harapan made with its budget would be dredged up. Well, there is that.
former Harapan prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who vowed to be a
thorn in the side of his former protégé, could not muster the “moral
fibre” to make it clear he was dethroning the current PM. Instead, he
chose to go down this chaotic route were deflection and misdirection are
the stratagems at play.
The Harapan base wanted a clear signal
that this government was illegitimate but what they got were factional
politics and the perception that Anwar Ibrahim is an incapable
opposition leader. Truth be told, this plays into the narrative of his
detractors both within Harapan and on the outside.
What was on
display was the kind of infighting and lily-livered deflections that has
come to define the post-Sheraton-Move Harapan. The fact is that Budget
2021 should never have been a referendum on Prime Minister Muhyiddin
not get me wrong, it could have become one but it should not have been
framed as a mechanism to delegitimise the government during a pandemic. This
is why there is a mad scramble to not look as if MPs are playing
politics with lives and livelihoods on the line, when clearly
politicians were playing politics in the lead-up to this budget fiasco.
Gudang MP Hassan Karim continuing to question the legitimacy of the PN
government is more of the kind of weaselly politics that is defining the
It does not matter if the PN government does
not have a significant majority. What matters most is the reality that
the PN government can carry through with its agendas even in this highly
partisan political landscape, and the perception that Harapan was so
incompetent it could not strategise with its allies to move against the
Umno MPs sitting out of the bloc vote does not cost them
anything politically. They can continue questioning the legitimacy of
the Muhyiddin government but they do not have to actually “oppose” the
budget. Hence Umno can escape the blowback from the establishment
that they are going against the rakyat, or more importantly, the Malay
establishment which includes the royalty.
The same applies to Warisan with the added agenda that they never wanted Anwar as an opposition leader anyway. The
foundational parties of Harapan do not have this luxury. They need to
remain relevant and at the very least, advance economic agendas which
they could consider a win even if the budget is passed. However, what
they are left with so far is finding scapegoats for their inability to
form a cohesive and effective opposition.
Folks like to talk about
the American experience when it comes to voting but forget that both
parties there have shut down the government to advance agendas (even if
the primary agenda is obstructionists), which were needed to appease
their respective bases. However, by-partisanship did exist with each
side making compromises to achieve certain party agendas.
No shadow budget
is why having a shadow budget and arguing on grounds of policy and
economic efficacy should have been the strategy instead of the rhetoric
that this would be a referendum on the PN regime. This makes
Harapan look like a power-hungry multi-racial cabal and since so far
they have been flailing, the opposition coalition looks like an
incompetent multi-racial power-hungry cabal.
Now, of course, the
big final vote is coming up and it remains to be seen whether PN can
muster the required majority. What Harapan has failed to do up to now is
present a coherent strategy but more importantly, an alternative
Anwar, it's the optics of him failing to dislodge this government. But
more damaging are the very public displays of dissatisfaction with his
leadership. This further entrenches mainstream
narratives that a racially diverse government-in-waiting could not
manage its internal affairs without making fools of themselves and carry
out its political agendas.
Never mind the fact that during its
pre-Sheraton-Move, the “Malay” leadership was too busy backstabbing
partners and making moves to destabilise the government while Harapan
non-Malay apparatchiks were burying their heads in the sand, blaming
every misstep on the deep state and unknown actors while gaslighting the
The same kind of nonsense is going on now, with
Harapan operatives attempting to find scapegoats instead of readjusting
the way they do business. Anwar claimed he has the numbers and the
rest of his allies always maintained that they are in the dark about
this. In the budget fiasco, they were told to stand down and they were
not happy about it. What exactly were they unhappy about?
also claimed that the PN government made concessions, but how exactly do
we evaluate these concessions when Harapan does not have a shadow
budget we can use to compare and contrast? Dethroning the Muhyiddin regime on the grounds that the budget is unacceptable means that:
should have been a shadow budget which we could evaluate how the PN
government had failed to meet the requirements of the Covid-19 pandemic
and the resulting economic fallout, and
- A strategy was in place
and agreed to by Harapan (excluding Umno and whoever else tagging
along for the ride) that this was the moment when a unified Harapan
rejected the budget on policy grounds, making the argument that thereby
the government was not up to the job of managing the country.
what we got were the expectations that Harapan had the numbers and the
allies to move against PN which again has proven false. This should not
have happened, again. Blaming Anwar is convenient but also
disingenuous. The reality is that while Anwar is muddling around for
whatever reasons, if the goal was to reject the Muhyiddin regime, then
all of Harapan is to blame.
I suspect that the final vote will go
PN's way with Anwar claiming that the “concession” Harapan got was more
important than simply opposing a budget during these trying times. Which
is a fair enough outcome but again, the problem here is - what exactly
has PN conceded to the Harapan political agenda? This is the realpolitik
What did the Harapan opposition get, which satisfies the base and that pushes forward its economic and political agenda?