The by-election result in Johor was not entirely unexpected but what was totally unpredicted by both Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barsian Nasional (BN) is the sheer magnitude of the defeat: a 15,000 majority.
Never in recent memory has a ruling coalition in Malaysia ever lost a by-election seat it held with such a thumping and emphatic message.
Analysts and political commentators were at a loss. Defeat was on the cards. But, certainly not by such a massive quantum.
Fundamentally, the results are a clear and present indication that it was a vote against PH and not a vote for BN.
Its been almost two years since the new government has come into power but its inability to grasp the basics of governance as well as various problems within the coalition partners have unnerved the electorate.
Some of the issues that were raised were PH’s inept performance and flip flopping policies, trying to outdo the 3R agenda against BN/PAS, the infighting in PKR, the silence of DAP against the increasingly racist tone of Bersatu.
“The people have clearly spoken – betrayal will never be tolerated, even from erstwhile heroes. Let the massive loss be a lesson to all, including fellow travellers in Harapan and especially DAP,” said one commentator.
But now, quo vadis PH?
It is quite evident that there is a huge divide in thinking on how to run “New Malaysia.”
PH came into power on a massive surge of non-Malay support that propelled the motley crew of Opposition parties into power, led by former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
From the time PH started governing, things just did not fall quite into place. Several policies have even threatened to tear apart the very thin fabric holding such disparate parties together.
Crossing the Rubicon
People voted for Dr Mahathir to lead the new government and was expected to effect and handover the reigns to Anwar.
The bottom-line is that nobody who voted for PH voted with the understanding that Azmin Ali, Mukhriz Mahathir or anyone else will be the subsequent Prime Minister. It was Anwar only.
It was a vote for a clean government. Not for an MP who never denied having sex with his maid (but only never “raped” her) nor a MB who backstabbed his coalition partner whilst dishing our contracts to two ringgit companies and bailing out white elephant projects
They voted for a competent government and civil service. Not an Inspector General of Police who does nothing to restore the credibility of the force but talk nonsense half the time and a civil service that sabotages the government.
Most importantly, they voted to bring down cost of living and better utilisation of government funds. There has been no indication that this has happened.
With nothing fulfilled, certain policies, actions and actions by the prime minster have totally distanced the people from the PH government.
Mahathir, attending a Congress, ostensibly to shore up eroding Malay dignity, described the non-Malays as ‘foreigners’ despite the fact that a majority of them were born and raised in Malaysia for generations.
The use of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) on 12 members of the Indian community and two DAP members was so well executed, it forced the Chinese majority DAP into a muted response.
The presence of Indian fugitive Zakir Naik in Malaysia has irked both the local Indian and Chinese communities.
Naik’s description of the Chinese as ‘guests’ in Malaysia and that the Indians were more loyal to the Indian Prime Minister Modi than to local political leaders more than ruffled feathers ina n already fragile social environment.
While the electorate accepted that there would be inevitable bailouts to Tabung Haji, KWAP, LTAT and other Malay beneficiary funds, there were no coherent message to underscore this.
Instead, PH allowed and even encouraged the Malays to feel “under siege”?
But all that has brought the coalition to the banks of the Rubicon after the Tanjung Piai disaster.
Push now must come to shove. The obstacle to progress has to be removed.
It will not take a genius to finger the source of discontent: the man at the top. Dr Mahathir’s autocratic and almost dictatorial behaviour is simply a carbon copy of his earlier tenure as PM and of the 61 years of abuse under Umno and BN.
More than ever, the need for a succession plan to be placed must now be made plain and clear if the coalition is to be saved from the ultimate disaster: a one term hit government.
A snap general elections may be the answer to shore up fast flagging support. For this to happen, analysts believe, that the current form that PH is now, may change in composition and membership.
If the PH Presidential Council is unable to convince Dr Mahathir to step down and quickly, there may be a realignment of loyalties.
Bersatu, the party Dr Mahathir heads, may soon find itself increasingly isolated. And if Anwar Ibrahim takes over the premiership, one of the fisrt things on his agenda is put in a team he can work with. Inevitably, this would mean dropping several Bersatu members holding strategic Cabinet portfolios.
If it comes to this, coalition partners DAP, PKR and Amanah may have to have a rethink about relations with Dr Mahathir’s Bersatu. If this happens, Bersatu, may be pushed to realign itself with more Malay leaning parties and may end up with Umno, Pas, MCA and the MIC.
Should this realignment of the stars happen, the PH presidential council may be forced to go for snap General Elections, as early as March or May next year.
By then, sufficient time would have passed for serious negotiations between Bersatu and the remaining coalition partners to either work out a succession plan or part ways. And if the there is a parting of the ways, it is likely to be very acrimonious.
And if there is a subsequent snap polls, it will be the most dirtiest ever, even more than the spectacular 2018 GE that swept PH into power. It will be a fight between moderation and extremist views. Between bigotry and inclusiveness.
And it will be a winner take all fight.
As one analyst said “If Malaysia is going down the longkang (drain), it doesn’t matter who the people vote for.”