All sorts of people and especially close friends and acquaintances call up to ask ‘ What’s happening in Malaysia.’ The quick and honest answer would be to say one really does not know.
There are all kinds of manoeuvres and moves to entrench in positions of government authority politicians who lost badly in Malaysia’s 14th General Election held on May 9, 2018. They had generally backed the party that lost in that election.
Their most important contribution to this newly constituted government formed from early March 2020 is not the position offered, accepted and currently occupied by them. It would seem their importance stems more from their willingness to become traitors, turncoats and twerps to the very laudable causes they had campaigned for in that election. These are simply acts of political buffoonery. There is no other way to describe what the government of Muhyiddin and Azmin has achieved. It stole an election. That election had promised accountability, transparency and good governance and on victory day its proclaimed leader, Dr Mahathir Mohamad had spoken of a power sharing ethos. This power sharing ethos was based on the overriding cooperation between four or more parties.
Unfortunately the proclaimed leader of the reigning Pakatan Harapan government himself began buying into the lies perpetrated by the losers in that election and began braying about it. What was this perceived loss of political power? The peninsular Malays who have had the clear, continuous and uncontested upper hand in running state and non state affairs in Malaysia since 1963 said the Malays had lost political power.
The proclaimed leader, if he had any wisdom, should have immediately countered that. He should have said’ I am a Malay, the deputy prime minister is a Malay and the next prime minister after me will be a Malay. But the leader did not say that. Maybe deep down he could bring himself to say it. He had attempted to confuse the Malaysian people of his own ancestry. In his entire adult life he had maintained he was a Malay and often adverted to the definition of a Malay as enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution. The Constitution in Article 160(2) defines a Malay as a person who professes the Muslim religion, habitually speaks Malay and conforms to Malay customs while satisfying birth issues. While championing the cause of the Malays and advancing their interests he would mercilessly run down the Malays in public.
To know the kind of utter contempt and insensitivity he had for the Malays one could perhaps examine the treatment that he had meted out to his erstwhile deputy, Anwar Ibrahim. Anwar was not only stripped of all his government and party positions but was humiliated and bodily harmed after his sacking. Anwar’s trial was a mockery of justice.
The grapevine was systematically fed with stories of Anwar’s perfidy, his perversions and prevarications. It was not only the attempted destruction of his political career but of his character, the company he kept and his alleged closeness to allegedly antagonistic foreign powers. I was personally told of these things by one of my superiors in the place I worked.
It was bizarre, this whisper campaign making Anwar into some sort of a despicable subhuman species. These things are still stuck in the minds of all those who were anywhere near political power bases in the early 2000s. They have become axiomatic.
When Mahathir returned to power in May, 2018 the perpetrators and purveyors of these atrocious lies were restored to their positions in his newly reconstituted prime minister’s office. Some were way past their retirement and others were dinosaurs, dusted up and dressed to suit the new era.It was no surprise therefore to learn that he never had any intention of ceding power to Anwar. He had, of course, lied ad nauseam to the public that Anwar was his successor.
Interestingly this time before that big lie had commanded any further currency, Dr Mahathir himself lost his job. Two of his closest collaborators against Anwar had outmanoeuvred him. Then the Malaysian King decided that, is spite of the King’s own entreaties that Dr Mahathir should stay initially, that he had to make way for a new prime minister. The King had however overestimated the support garnered by the new prime minister. That issue became a back burner one because Covid-19 assumed an unprecedented significance in Malaysia, as in most parts of the civilised world.
Under the shadow the Covid-19 pandemic, the government of Muhyiddin and Azmin slowly began to attempt to consolidate itself. Twelve weeks have passed since Covid -19 became a centrepiece of Malaysia. Tackling Covid19 has been a relatively easier task for Muhyiddin although he has rendered the country’s coffers close to empty. The consolidation of his government remains precarious, propped up as it is by the prohibitions and precautions that Covid-19 entails. Parliament should have met and virtually if not vicariously endorsed Muhyiddin in office. Until that happens there will be ponderous propositions about the legitimacy of the Muhyiddin Government.Does he lack the visuals to clinch that parliamentary victory.
Meanwhile Kuala Lumpur and Putra Jaya are inundated with seemingly inside information that the Muhyiddin government’s viability is having difficulty staying afloat.
Really the issue that separates the Mahathir and Muhyiddin governments is the token or total control that peninsular Malays should have in Malaysia. Muhyiddin gave an added zing to the peninsular Malay by adding a challenging but credible extremist Islamic element to his government. By comparison invariably Mahathir’s government will be less Islamic. Mahathir who declared his country an Islamic country can’t go back on this track now that his opposition has already attached that label to itself. The nonagenarian is no where now, adrift although ageism and acute anti Mahathirism would not spare him.
The real issue is not about personalities. In geographical and ethnic terms it may be defined as an ambitious attempt to overcome SCHISMS( Sarawakians, Chinese,Humanitarian, Indians, Sabahans, and Malay Supremacists) that have historically played out and plagued the country since the 1960s. Mahathir entrenched peninsular Malay overlordship that was present but he took it to new heights and spheres. Somewhere along the line, he decided to become a champion of the Muslims not only in his own country and globally.
He is a failed leader on both counts. In his last term in office instead of concentrating on his domestic agenda he wasted his government’s precious time and talent on pursuing a world Islamic agenda together with Imran Khan and Erdogan, hardly the most inspiring leaders for universally acceptable causes.
Today he is paying the price for this distraction.