MySay: In search of a new stability

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on May 21, 2018 - May 27, 2018.
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The Barisan Nasional (BN) fortress has been smashed to smithereens, and it is unclear how the coalition will pick up the pieces, of which, I am sure, there are too many.

Umno, the spine of BN, is in a wilderness that is new to it, having increasingly depended on abundant funding and little passion. It has long lost the drive to struggle for anything substantial. Indeed, public perception is that its main motivation is personal gain.

Even its slogan of fighting for race and religion has become suspect. Clearly, Umno has lost the hearts of large sections of the Malays, many of whom are in the B40 group of Malaysian households that earn RM3,900 a month or less. It is no wonder that they rejected Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s leadership in the 14th general election, either by actively voting for the opposition or through poor voter participation. Therein lies Umno’s weak point.

BN component parties MCA and MIC hardly represent the aspirations of the Chinese and Indians respectively in this country. The Indians probably feel that it is better to not have one party represent them.

At this point, one cannot imagine BN being a viable opposition party. That is not a good state of affairs for a democracy. But that is where the country stands, the result of the excesses and carelessness of those who had been in power.

I would like to suggest that BN go back to the drawing board but I cannot for the coalition has lost the board it was drawing on.

For now, one of the best things BN can do is to engage in self-criticism and reinvent itself. This demands several steps: determine its objectives, decide on its guiding principles and rediscover how it plans to go about the nation-building process.

What then of PAS? It did not fare too badly in GE14. In fact, it did well in the poorer states, significantly Kelantan and Terengganu.

There are two routes PAS could take — pursue a regressive Islamist path or move with the times and take a more progressive and inclusive road, deriving inspiration from its late leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.

Should PAS join the new ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH)? Surely not now. Such a move would not appeal to PAS now, as it did not before GE14. PAS should continue to go it alone. Its identity is still intact, probably stronger since the election.

Where does this leave PH?

Ironically, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad personifies reformation, having led PH to victory. He has the difficult task of keeping the coalition together and going strong. One can be assured that this will be accomplished successfully as long as Mahathir holds the reins of leadership.

There is fear that the Mahathir of old will be resurrected but it is unlikely that this will happen. He has seen how racial exclusion, cronyism and money politics do not work. These are the very elements that struck him in the face during Najib’s rule. Besides, Mahathir has to work with those who have risen to power by campaigning against such activities. He now stresses that the rule of law must be observed for he has realised its significance.

It is expected that he will retrace his steps and reconstitute the independence of the judiciary and separation of powers.

Now, more than ever, Mahathir can see how the lack of transparency can wreck investment decisions. He has witnessed how the absence of transparency can lead to questionable investment inflows as perhaps is the case with investments from China.

Nobody needs to instruct Mahathir on human rights. Some of his current colleagues were incarcerated by him during his regime, and that is lesson enough.

Obviously, there is enough of a basis for a conscientised Mahathir to lead PH.

There are strong grounds for unity and cohesiveness without, at the same time, denying the presence of downside risks. At any rate, with a seriously wounded BN, there is little to activate the fault lines.

As far as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are concerned, PH has worked closely with Bersih and is on the same page as the G25 on many issues. PH component party Parti Keadilan Rakyat is strongly networked with the NGO community.

As it stands, all is well.

The big danger is if the present government thinks it has sole proprietorship over what is true, right and best for the people. This is a threat that consumed the most well-intentioned parties that overthrew ruthless dictators.


Dr Shankaran Nambiar is a senior research fellow at the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research. He is the author of The Malaysian Economy: Rethinking Policies and Purposes and Malaysia in Troubled Times.

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