The Malaysian Insider
8 March 2016
It is often said that in politics, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies. The Malaysian scenario is no different. Alliances, both long term (as is often the case with Barisan Nasional), and short term (as is often the case with the opposition), would often see friend turn foe turn friend again with each passing election.
But I believe, even as recent as a few days ago, no one would have been able to foresee old arch nemeses sitting and smiling at the same table, reaching an agreement to oust a newer “arch nemesis”.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the country’s former prime minister and long-time Umno president; his long-time Parliament duelling partner Lim Kit Siang; Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, whose party was ironically formed mainly to oust Dr Mahathir; his former rival in Kubang Pasu and current Parti Amanah Negara president, Mohamad Sabu; one of his strongest critics, Hishamuddin Rais; and 53 other leaders from Umno, Pakatan Harapan and various NGOs had signed a declaration seeking to remove the current Prime Minister alongside other demands for reforms.
Even the most seasoned political analysts appeared to fumble for words. The more blunt commentators called it hypocritical. The more polite, called it hasty.
After all, these are parties that have been at each other’s throats, swearing to never work with each other. On one end, you’ve got the parties that have come up with names like “Mahafiraun” and “Mahazalim” and on the other, the party that came up with “DAPig” and “Anwar Al-Juburi”.
After all, it had only been days since Dr Mahathir left Umno for a second time in recent memory. Certainly, there wasn’t enough time for the grassroots of Bersih, or Pakatan parties or even the Umno dissidents to have their opinions even heard, much less considered.
While the coalition itself would appear to be a little of both, are not the judgement calls against it too?
Yes, longtime supporters, especially those of the opposition, would naturally feel betrayed. After all, supporters of either side, very likely grew up hating the other. You feel betrayed because these are the people you rooted for, and they are now in the pitching field together with the very people you rooted against, because of them.
You may feel as though you now have to lick your own spit from all those years of condemning the other side, because here was your leader, sitting and merrily smiling with the man they had for so many years held responsible for their misery.
Many of those who agreed to the joint declaration had struggled a long time against the powers that be, often at great personal cost.
Take for instance Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. He’s been torn away from his family and thrown into jail more than once (he’s still in jail) and many hold the government, particularly Dr Mahathir, responsible for it, and for the system that allowed him to be imprisoned.
Or Lim Kit Siang, who was thrown into Kamunting prison when detained under the ISA together with his son – again an incident that occurred under Dr Mahathir’s administration.
What do you think it would have taken them to endorse the declaration?
You feel they have abandoned you.
But are you abandoning them arguably when they need you most?
I personally do not think they would have come together had it not been the only way they saw.
Many believe the individuals are doing it for their own agenda.
But of course they are. That’s what politics is all about, no? To further one’s own agenda.
But I’m not entirely convinced that they have desperate personal reasons to do this.
For Dr Mahathir, he is happily retired, with a cushy position in Proton and a few other organisations. His children are mostly successful in business and even the one he is often accused of doing this for, Datuk Seri Mukhriz, seemed to be in the good books of the prime minister – he was chosen as a deputy minister in 2009 despite losing the Umno Youth chief race, and was chosen as Kedah menteri besar in 2013, and reportedly offered a federal ministry position when he fell out of favour with the Kedah Umno leadership. At 90, Dr Mahathir should be retired and enjoying it.
Same goes for Kit Siang – he went from political detainee to a member of a coalition that won in five states, one of them led by his son. He lived to see the party he led from a fringe PAP remnant to a party that won more seats than even most Barisan components, save Umno.
As for political activists like Maria Chin Abdullah or Ambiga Sreenevasan or Hishamuddin Rais, power has never been their motivation.
So, was it a wise political decision? Maybe not. After all, they do run a very real risk of alienating their respective traditional support base, sending them running to the other side.
Will anything come out of it? Maybe nothing. After all, it’s just a petition, like the hundreds of petitions signed before to little or no outcome.
The 58 people sitting there that day come from many different backgrounds – but they are all passionate and experienced hands at what they do.
Between Kit Siang and Dr Mahathir alone, there is over a century of political leadership experience, and over 50 of those are as the top leader of either side of the political divide.
Between Tian Chua and Hishamuddin Rais there are about half that number of years dodging bullets, both of the legal/criminal and rubber variety, and inhaling plenty of tear gas in the process.
That’s a lot of wisdom, and a lot of heart. And I wouldn’t discount either yet. – March 8, 2016.