The country is in unchartered waters with unprecedented fracture and fragmentation on both sides of the political divide – both with the UMNO-led coalition of Barisan Nasional and the splintered Opposition.
The gravity of the political situation in the governing coalition is best illustrated by the warning by the UMNO Deputy President and former Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin at a gathering of 1,000 Barisan Nasional leaders in Pagoh on Sunday that Malay support for UMNO has dwindled to 30 per cent while 78 per cent of Malaysians are dissatisfied with how the government was handling the economy.
Muhyiddin said the level of Chinese support for the government has also dwindled, from 13 percent in the last general election to only five percent at present.
Muhyiddin blamed UMNO’s woes primarily to Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s RM50 billion 1MDB and RM2.6 billion “donation” twin mega-scandals and warned that if the UMNO decline is not corrected within the next two years, UMNO may lose in the 14th General Election.
As Muhyiddin rightly pointed out, this is the first time approval for the government among Malays has fallen below 50 percent since Merdeka Centre began recording the data in February 2012.
These data were from an August poll by Merdeka Centre in Peninsular Malaysia which found that that only 31 percent of Malay voters were satisfied with the government in a survey conducted in Peninsular Malaysia, which was a drastic fall among Malay voters as it had stood at 52 percent this January.
The government’s overall approval rating also plummeted to 23 percent, the worst since the polls started in 2012. In January this year, the UMNO/BN coalition government’s approval rating remained at 38%, the same as the previous poll last October.
As for Chinese voters, only five percent approved of the government compared to 11 percent this January.
The survey found only 17 percent of respondents were satisfied with how the government was handling the economy, compared to 78 percent who were dissatisfied.
What Muhyiddin did not say was that these data were from a Merdeka Centre survey in August and that the results today after more than three months could be even more dismal, as public confidence in Najib as Prime Minister and the UMNO/BN coalition government had plunged further in the interval – and the Prime Minister’s popularity rating even among Malay voters could have fallen well below 25%!
But does this mean that the Opposition is on the verge of taking over Putrajaya in the 14th General Election?
Far from it, for the Opposition has it own woes of crisis of confidence after the heyday of Opposition hopes in the 13th General Election.
The 13GE in May 2013 was the highest water-mark of hopes of Malaysians for political change and the end of UMNO rule since Merdeka in 1957 and the beginning of a new Pakatan Rakyat Federal Government with a new Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Although Pakatan Rakyat comprising DAP, PKR and PAS won the majority of 53% of the popular votes, Najib continued as the first minority Prime Minister when the UMNO/BN coalition won 60 per cent of the parliamentary seats with only 47% of the popular votes.
The two years after the nation-wide disappointment at missing the opportunity for political change in Putrajaya on 13GE Polling Day on 5th May 2013 because of gerrymandering and unfair, unjust and undemocratic redelineation of parliamentary constituencies can be likened to a roller-coaster ride by Malaysians of high hopes for political change and virtual despair that such political change is possible because of an increasingly divided Pakatan Rakyat.
After the 13th general election, Pakatan Rakyat existed only in name – as PAS decided to renege on its commitment to adhere to the Pakatan Rakyat Common Policy Framework as well as the Pakatan Rakyat operational principle of consensus.
In retrospect, if Pakatan Rakyat had captured the majority of the parliamentary seats and the mandate to form the Federal Government in Putrajaya in the 13th General Election, Pakatan Rakyat would have been confronted with it first crisis even before the Pakatan Rakyat Federal Government was formed, as the PAS President had refused to accept Anwar Ibrahim as the Prime Minister candidate.
With the history of the PAS President refusing not only to accept Anwar as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, but also the PKR President Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as the Mentri Besar of Selangor, as well as his decision to renege from the PR Common Policy Framework particularly on the hudud and local government election issues, what is the basis to hope that there could be a revival of Pakatan Rakyat co-operation and unity for the 14GE?
There is no doubt that Malaysians who had rooted for political change in the 13GE went into the deepest and darkest despair at the demise of Pakatan Rakyat, for they see the hopes of political change being destroyed completely, at a time when the UMNO/BN government has proved to be such a national liability and disaster.
The formation of Parti Amanah Negara and establishment of Pakatan Harapan comprising DAP, PKR and AMANAH have however saved the political situation, filling the political vacuum and void caused by despair and seeming hopelessness for political change, with the country inundated by so many political, economic, good governance and nation-building scandals under the Najib premiership.
With the vigorous and vibrant advent of Parti Amanah Negara and Pakatan Harapan, Malaysians can dare to hope again that the goal of political change in Putrajaya is still possible and achievable in the 14th General Election.
My Ipoh friend, Koon Yew Yin, philanthropist and Malaysian social conscience, wrote an article in the Malaysian Insider on “How the Opposition can win the next elections”, suggesting that the winning formula is to ensure a “one-to-one” electoral contest in the 14GE.
After the failed Pakatan Rakyat experiment, electoral politics is not as simple and straight-forward as in the 12th and 13th General Elections.
I had previously said that if hudud had been a hot controversial issue in the 13th General Elections on May 5, 2013, the Barisan Nasional would not only have regained its two-thirds parliamentary majority to redelineate electoral constituencies at will to consolidate its power hold in Putrajaya in 14GE, Pakatan Rakyat might have lost Selangor apart from Kedah, and Johore would have reverted as an invincible Barisan Nasional “fixed-deposit” state.
The hudud issue has never been and will never be a vote winner in plural Malaysia based on past electoral evidence.
As an example, PAS and PKR won all the eight parliamentary seats and 28 out of 32 state seats in Terengganu in the 10th General Election in 1999 because of the backlash against UMNO arising from Anwar’s arrest and the Reformasi movement.
But despite passing the state hudud enactment in 2001 (which DAP opposed), PAS and PKR only managed to retain one out of eight parliament seats and four out of 28 state seats in the 11th General Election in 2004.
With hudud as a hot controversial issue in the 13GE, the damage for Pakatan Rakyat in terms of non-Malay support would have been very decisive.
The total number of 89 Parliamentary and 229 State Assembly seats won by the three parties in Pakatan Rakyat – DAP, PKR and PAS – in the 13GE could have been slashed as much as to leave Pakatan Rakyat only with 46 Parliamentary seats (i.e. 23 DAP, 16 PAS and 7 PKR) and 134 State Assembly seats (i.e. PAS 62, DAP 57 and PKR 15).
In the 14GE, would the voters forget about the hudud and local government elections controversies raised by PAS, the PAS leadership’s refusal to endorse Anwar Ibrahim as the Pakatan Rakyat candidate for Prime Minister and Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as Selangor Mentri Besar, and the most recent developments including the PAS President readiness to be UMNO’s adviser and refusal of the PAS leadership to direct the PAS MPs to vote against Najib’s 2016 Budget?
We must not overlook the adage “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”. We may be making a fatal error of judgment if we expect the Malaysian voters to forget these bitter lessons of the past which caused the demise of Pakatan Rakyat, if the offer we can give the Malaysian voters in the 14GE is only an opportunistic alliance to topple the UMNO-led coalition.
The great issue in Malaysian politics is good governance and an end to all the economic and political scandals, and if before the 14GE, the UMNO-led coalition can promise to reform to focus on good governance, an opportunistic Opposition alliance just to ensure “one-to-one” electoral fight against BN could suffer a severe electoral debacle.
For these same reasons, the model of a two-opposition front formula used in 1990 when there was Gagasan Rakyat and Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah with Parti Semangat 46 as the one party in both alliances cannot be replicated.
The greatest challenge in the run-up to the 14GE is how to re-ignite hopes of Malaysians for meaningful change in Putrajaya after the failure of the seven-year Pakatan Rakyat experiment, in other words, how in the 14 GE, Pakatan Harapan can fully play the role of Pakatan Rakyat in the 13 GE.
(Speech at the joint launch of DAP Sekolah Demokrasi (Zone Utara) and “Solidarity with Lim Kit Siang & Mana RM2.6 billion?” gathering at Taman Ipoh Timor, Ipoh on Monday, 30th November 2015 at 9 pm)