Dear government in waiting

Praba Ganesan
Malay Mail Online
October 1, 2015

OCT 1 — This is when they say the abyss stares back at you.

The purgatory which politicians outside Barisan Nasional (BN) are residing in presently is fossilising. How else can those bequeathed with political gifts — a slipping economy, GST squeezing the humour out of lower income homes, misfiring ministers and a prime minister facing heat missile after missile often from a predecessor — struggle? They seem to be buried by the weight of zero-expectation when they should be readying for the parade.

It should be Hari Raya daily in the opposition camp, but instead doubts fill their days and nights.

Who should be partners? Everybody.

Result: Every day they find different ways to defend the old Pakatan Rakyat, in a maddening effort to force a square peg in a round hole.

Who should lead? Why Anwar Ibrahim of course, for every other choice is flawed.

Opinion: Anwar should be free but the country is larger than the opposition, it is certainly larger than the former leader of the opposition. Focus on ideas not personalities, otherwise can’t tell Pakatan’s avatar apart from BN’s.

Reality: They are so unsure of winning the next general election that it’s not playing Peeping Tom with the abyss anymore, they are halfway into the abyss.

Two whoppers

Let’s begin with the puzzles if we want to help the opposition: How to keep a clear opposition coalition in Semenanjung (Peninsular Malaysia) and what will win over the Borneo people from BN’s grip?

PAS will never play ball. They have an agenda and it has to them greater purpose than the trivialities of Malaysian politics. Nasrudin Hassan Tantawi, Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man and Nik Abduh Nik Aziz — without mentioning the president Hadi Awang — are indifferent to temporal matters when they transgress on their beliefs. They can’t understand why the rest of us can’t believe like them.

Therefore, trying to look for a point of agreement is akin to willingly bend over backwards for a partner already convinced you are wrong. In his mind, he is right, you are wrong.

Everyone outside PAS is wrong. Therefore, they will keep praying till the rest see the light. Which explains why those seeking means to tie Islamism, modernism and stability to govern together after experience in government have left the party.

Now for that two-hour flight.

Sabah and Sarawak is not about winning the majority of the seats there, but to win enough to negate BN’s absolute advantage in Dewan Rakyat. Borneo despises Semenanjung (Peninsular Malaysia) dominance. Everything across from the South China Sea is associated with half a century of subjugation, without distinction. The fear can only dissipate if control is transferred, which is why despite all the Borneo based parties yielding little influence in Putrajaya they are phenomenally preferable to any Semenanjung-based party. The fear is not baseless.

I forget the number of times Semenanjung-based Pakatan leaders observe that they should be driving Sarawak or Sabah forward. PKR for instance has always favoured Muslim leaders as default for Borneo. Reminds me that not long ago the British argued Malaya was better in their hands than in the local hands.

Trust is not built by promises, it is built by action. Pakatan needs Borneo-based leaders in the driving seat over there. It’s not rocket science.

Street brawl, not Marquess of Queensberry Rules

If tough decisions are made there will be three-way fights— you can cringe now.

The unspoken rule has been that BN cannot be overtaken in multi-corner fights. BN have too large a base is the unchallenged paradigm.

I posit that things may have changed since, and mostly in the last decade.

BN’s “base” claim works side by side with the idea that the opposition only receives the “anything but Umno” vote.

What is the “anything but Umno” vote? Since independence, BN — The Alliance before — while winning comfortably never crossed the two thirds vote numbers even if they won more than two-thirds of the seats. In the tougher elections they only just managed to cross the 50 per cent threshold.

Because there are many Malaysians who can’t even in their worst days stomach BN — which belongs to Umno. All opposition parties collect these votes though the distribution is indeterminate.

Here it’s pertinent to refer Britain — the home of first past the post method— about multi-corner fights. Both the Conservatives and Labour Party prefer first past the post, because despite five-way fights everywhere, they have enough of a base to edge past those other than themselves. Once it is preferential or proportional voting, the smaller players will become relevant like in Indonesia and Germany. And they will be emboldened. If there is substantial enough a base then multi-cornered fights are manageable. That’s the lesson for Malaysia.

PKR, DAP and the mutineers at Amanah may have a base built since 2008. What they may need is confidence in themselves rather than reliance on reluctant, nay, suspect partners.

Three-way fights are mortal wounds only if the new coalition relies on the population’s aversion of BN rather than their own value proposition to pull votes.

Slow West

Neither does appeals to the West end our misery.

International relations is about self-interest.

Which is why Israel always matters to America, and Malaysia not so much. If there was concern it will be about having a stable partner since we affect the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea, with a role in the Tran Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

The guy in power is who they appeal to unless the other guy out of power appears to be a few inches away from power.

The US is not alone in that think.

If Malaysia’s opposition wants serious attention, then they have to show they are serious and with real intent.

The world warmed up to Barack Obama even before he became the Democratic Party’s candidate, and that is largely because they sensed a winner. It is not that there has never been a black academic liberal with a penchant for geopolitics willing to engage the world. Obama was the first with a winning ticket.

Opposition leaders are serving their interests better by zeroing in on the votes they have not than the charity of foreign friends for moral validation. Morals are second place to the morale of the people at home.

Move forward, not rue the past

Pakatan, or the coterie of parties minus PAS, are at a crossroad.

Half-hoping that dejected partners are willing to endure enough to carry on together even if not altogether sold on the core principles of the coalition is irresponsible. That’s just inviting perpetual renegotiations which inundate the landscape and hampers a consistent gameplan for the general election.

Decisions have to be about winning not about being morally superior. So what if the present government has lost the moral authority. The people of Malaysia seek leadership and comfort in knowing we are on the right track. Winners lead, while the righteous are welcome to prime positions in the critics’ bench.

The opposition has to paint the picture of their reality for Malaysia.

So that Malaysia matches its promise.

To be a vibrant democracy with a thriving economy, a leading light of multiculturalism and pluralism, a reminder for the globe that people not labels drive prosperity.

Tell us that vision. We like to know what is wrong with the present picture, but we like to know more what is next. And that you have that boldness to carry a nation to that vision.

Try that, might get some votes that way.

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