Renewed hope for Pakatan Plus

The whole country now knows about Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s lack of majority in Parliament, as well as his lack of control in Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition. 

Pakatan Harapan (Amanah, DAP and PKR) and Warisan, together with Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s faction of Bersatu – whom I will collectively call “Pakatan Plus” – should be congratulated for exposing the truth on 18th May 2020. 

The Parliament sitting, originally scheduled on 9th March, had been postponed to 18th May – more than a two-month delay – based on the assumption that Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional would have sufficient time to swing enough Pakatan MPs to cross the floor with offer of positions as well as threats.

In a 222-member Dewan Rakyat, Pakatan Plus held tightly to its 107 parliamentary seats which was later increased to 109 seats. Muhyiddin’s wishful plan was foiled. 

Even on 18th May, technically, there were no actual Parliament sitting. The fledgling Perikatan Nasional government was very worried about possible defeat of a confidence vote or even any procedural vote. 

Holding on to the 109 seats tightly is the most crucial test for Pakatan Plus. The moment this number is broken, it’s game over, and the other side would be laughing all the way to the bank. 

Muhyiddin-Najib’s scheme of things

Muhyiddin is the public face of the other side but we must not ignore Najib Razak’s not-so-hidden hand in the larger scheme of things. Muhyiddin is dispensable in Najib’s game, and Najib is waiting for his chance to throw Muhyiddin under the bus. 

There are two slightly different games being played against Pakatan Plus. 

First, both Najib and Muhyiddin want to break up Pakatan Plus. If successful, they would have a more comfortable majority in Parliament. They are churning out massive propaganda pitting one Pakatan Plus party against another, provoking mistrust among leaders and supporters of Pakatan Plus.

Second, while Muhyiddin is trying hard to entice Members of Parliament from Pakatan to his side, Najib wants a fresh general election. He doesn’t want Muhyiddin as Prime Minister, and the talk in town now is that UMNO is pushing for dissolution by second half of this year. 

Najib who is facing massive corruption charges can’t wait for too long. If Muhyiddin gets a sizable majority in Parliament as buffer against Najib’s faction of UMNO MPs, the Prime Minister would want to see Najib in jail.  Never mind that Muhyiddin has no political legitimacy, if Najib goes to prison under his watch for corruption charges, Muhyiddin’s political stock would rise very high. Muhyiddin would also be able to take the moral high ground to say that he has not compromised on his principles, when it comes to the 1MDB case at least. 

On 9th May 2018, Pakatan Harapan was a grand coalition which means parties and people that were impossible allies came together for a larger common purpose – like United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union came together to fight Adolf Hilter’s Nazi in World War II. 

Plot against Pakatan Harapan

After 2018, plotters – some Trojan Horses in Pakatan were working treacherously with UMNO and PAS – exploited the understandable differences within the grand coalition to maximum effect.

Knowing the differences between Dr Mahathir and Anwar, they constantly pushed repeatedly on the question of transition of power, and in hindsight the information being fed to both leaders by those surrounding them played a role to further sowing the distrust. 

When I met Dr. Mahathir on 26th February 2019, he told me he was quite certain that Anwar was not plotting against him but he was briefed that “Anwar’s people” were. 

The intra-party differences between Dr Mahathir and Muhyiddin in Bersatu as well as Anwar and Azmin Ali in PKR were also heightened to the point of no return. 

The differences in political understanding between Bersatu and DAP supporters were extensively exploited through the fanning of racial anxieties on both the Malay and non-Malay ends. As a result, the Malays were worried that the Pakatan government was controlled by DAP with acquiescent Malay leaders while the non-Malays were worried that Pakatan was singularly controlled by “dictator” Mahathir with DAP being quiet and submissive to him. 

The truth is, Anwar is not Dr Mahathir’s enemy and vice versa. People who knew their psyches too well from the past were playing them off against each other. Their aim was simple – to break the centre, knowing that the entire edifice would collapse. Both Dr Mahathir and Anwar were the centre. 

Internal crisis of Perikatan Nasional

After the 18th May Parliament sitting which Muhyiddin failed to bring Pakatan MPs to his side, we have entered a new phase. He is racing against time to persuade parties to his side. 

He has about a month to do this. His timeline is the July parliament sitting which veteran politician Lim Kit Siang suspects the government would attempt to postpone, using Covid19 as an excuse if Muhyiddin still doesn’t have a comfortable majority. 

However, the Prime Minister can’t escape the Parliament sitting for Budget 2021, without which the government would have no money to spend next year.

As for Najib, he wants a fresh general election which Muhyiddin is trying very hard to avoid because he knew Bersatu under him would be wiped out. 

The tainted 1MDB scandal-ridden Najib is confident he could win a general election with the UMNO-PAS (Muafakat Nasional as opposed to Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional) coalition.

Najib’s group is banking on the breakup of Pakatan Plus and its component parties would go separate way because he believes Dr Mahathir and Anwar can’t see eye to eye.

The group is also assuming that there will be a general apathy towards politics, thus swing voters who live in urban areas but casting their votes in rural seats would not return to vote. 

Coupled with Covid19 difficulties in travelling and the need to fend for oneself and families, the group is hoping that Malaysians who work in Singapore and other cities may just switch off and not turn out to vote. Turnout in GE14 was 82 percent, and if the next one is below 65 percent, Najib’s plan may work. 

To battle Najib’s move, Pakatan Plus parties would have to stay together tightly, and give hope and purpose to the Malaysian middle ground to foil the return of the kleptocrats. 

I have faith in the Malaysian middle ground. I believe that when they are energised, Najib’s scheme of things would be defeated. The combined forces of UMNO and PAS are not as strong as they thought. One plus one doesn’t equal to two.  

It’s still murky waters ahead but if Pakatan Plus holds together, there will be renewed hope.

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