Faced with a massive defeat in the Tanjung Piai by-elections in Johor yesterday, the Pakatan Harapan should not lose hope.
Neither should the Barisan Nasional and the Umno’s ‘union’ with the Islamists PAS think that they are on the verge of grabbing power.
There are lessons for all, including for the direct neighbours of the Johoreans, in Singapore who are keeping a close tab on Malaysian politics.
What happened in Malaysia in 2018 galvanized some opposition figures and parties in Singapore.
Pakatan gave hope to the opponents of the People Action Party that change can happen.
“Perhaps we can repeat the PH union and victory in Singapore?” was in the thoughts of some leaders, if not on their lips.
A group of activists from Singapore met with Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Maybe the idea was to learn the ropes of unifying a divided opposition and a show of admiration for the nonagenarian.
New parties propped up in Singapore but the most significant one on paper is the Progress Singapore Party headed by yet another veteran politician, Dr Tan Cheng Bock. But this is the only parallel one can draw between the unravelling of the political scene in Malaysia since 2016 and what is happening in Singapore.
Singapore does not have a strong opposition group that could match the Pakatan Rakyat built by Anwar Ibrahim prior to the 2013 general elections.
What they have is a multitude of political formations that have fared badly in elections with the exception for the Workers Party.
They do not have a ‘Pakatan’ or an alliance of opposition parties and it now falls on Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s shoulders to build one. Nevertheless, time is against the Singaporean opposition parties.
If they do not join forces now, they may miss the train, unlike the Pakatan. The Pakatan deal to win the elections in 2018 was not a strong one.
The veterans in the opposition coalition made a deal with Dr Mahathir, one they may be regretting today.
They were desperate to get Dr Mahathir on board and flinched at his tantrum when he said he will not join the Pakatan if his terms are not accepted.
Instead, Dr Mahathir got the most out of it. He got them to accept a deal with a vague promise he would resign after a period.
This should serve as a lesson to the opposition parties in Singapore. A deal is a deal and it must be inked in stone.
Once in power, he back-peddled on the deal and with the events from June onward (with gay-sex videos involving Anwar’s PKR party members going viral) Dr M gained a firmer hand on the Pakatan leadership. But six months down the road, he messed it up.
Dr Mahathir saw his grip on the ruling coalition fade like ice in the hot sun and it is now slipping away. While the Singapore opposition is looking into the possibility of an alliance of parties against the PAP, they will now see that Tanjung Piai stands in the way.
This by-election could become the Waterloo or the ‘Charles Martel’ moment in contemporary Malaysian political history.
But I believe the defeat of the Pakatan regime in the by-election in Johor represents a turning point in the ruling coalition’s internal politics, instead.
ONE LAST CHANCE?
Now that pressure will resume on Dr Mahathir to agree on a departure date, we expect more talks and leaks from within the PH.
We also expect some to resist change despite the massive defeat in Tanjung Piai. But the coalition in power has reached its watershed moment. Do or die. Change leadership or vanish.
However, for the Umno-BN-PAS, it is still a long road ahead. Tanjung Piai was a chance for the ‘rakyat’ to teach a lesson to the government of Dr Mahathir and reject all the nonsenses they imposed on the people since the outbursts at the Mariamman Temple in Subang Jaya, Selangor almost a year ago.
It is not necessarily a complete swing in favour of the inconsistent BN-Umno-PAS alliance for a return of ‘who is the boss’ politics in the country.