You learn a lot from the body language of people, especially politicians. As I look back at the body language of the main winning political players in Malaysia’s GE 2014, I sense a strange desire to “make this thing work”.
Many readers may disagree with me (and I totally expect it, these are strange bedfellows out there). Yet, there is a strong comfort level being exhibited by key Cabinet members in the Pakatan Harapan administration. I only see goodwill and an utter preparedness to move on and get the country back in order.
It is like they have all beaten Sauron or the Dark Force. Never again. They will adjust. And they will succeed. All this will not be a small achievement, by any standard. It shows just how sophisticated politics is now in Malaysia, among the politicians as well as voters.
When Dr Mahathir Mohamad joined the Bersih rally in 2015, many people were surprised. Mr Anti-Reformasi throwing in his lot with the movement more associated with the person he first put in jail, his nemesis, Anwar Ibrahim? How’s that possible?
“I’ve forgiven Mahathir,” Anwar told reporters outside his home three year later, just hours after his release on May 16. “We’ve worked indefatigably hard together, he’s supported the reform agenda, he’s even facilitated my release. Why should I harbour any malice toward him?”
The Pakatan Harapan is not merely a movement but now a totally serious successor of the Barisan Nasional, the only government Malaysians have ever known for 60 long years.
This makes you wonder what would have happened if PH had lost. Mahahir in jail? Anwar still in jail?
After having suffered and survived, the two Malaysian political icons should be at ease with and more than eager to work with each other.
There should be an abundance of mutual respect. And both have certainly become more pragmatic. I may be wrong. The rather quick exit of A. Kadir Jasin, media head honcho for the Council of Eminent Persons, could be in deference to Anwar who has expressed his unhappiness with allegedly “inappropriate remarks” about Malaysian Royalty made by the veteran Malaysian journalist. Call him collateral damage.
Both Mahathir and Anwar may also have some bigger visions for the country.
They want larger roles for Malaysia.
In his prime years as PM, Mahathir saw himself as one of the spokesmen for the Islamic world and the non-aligned movement. According to Wikipedia, Anwar is the co-founder of the International Institute of Islamic Thought in the US.
Both can be said to be charismatic politicians much at ease with themselves and with what they have to offer their community. They do not waste time trying to impress anyone with power points and sleep-inducing statistics. I have watched an interview Anwar gave to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks. Very impressive. Mahathir I have seen on BBC’s Hard Talk and the Singapore Lecture. Equally formidable.
A number of the new Malaysian Cabinet have climbed through the ranks. The new Home Affairs Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, a close Mahathir ally, was Deputy PM in Najib Razak’s cabinet. Lim Guan Eng, besides having been jailed twice by Mahathir, was not intimidated by anyone. As Mahathir said, “he knows his job” and Lim, who was Penang’s Chief Minister, seems a good fit as Finance Minster, coming with his banking background. Mohamed Sabu, the Defence Minister, revels as a speaker at political rallies.
Indeed, a significant section of the Malaysian Cabinet know exactly how deep a chasm the country was falling into when things went wrong. I would describe them as problem fixers with a sense of fair play. They have seen how when you shut out good people who do not play along, the result is a society that will decline with each passing year.
Post GE14, even if some wish to deviate, enough concerned leaders would make sure it does not happen again. The next time, the damage may be irreparable.
My prediction: Malaysia will no longer be like what it was. There is a new generation which will now not allow what happened before GE14 to happen again.
Not even UMNO. The sad faces of the younger BN leaders at press conferences say so.
Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.