Now that the euphoria of Pakatan Harapan’s historic win is gradually waning, Malaysians must find the strength to question the undemocratic, and ultimately unconstitutional, agreement for Dr. Mahathir to step down and for Anwar to take over as Prime Minister in an uncertain “year or two”.
Prior to this, the decision of who is to be Prime Minister was relatively straightforward as it was decided within the power structure of UMNO itself. The President of UMNO was by default the president of BN, and therefore the Prime Minister.
Now that the Barisan Nasional government has been booted out, the succession plan filling the leadership void should be cause for concern.
The road to power
In GE13, Anwar led the opposition charge but failed to turn the tides, winning the popular vote but without the number of seats required to form a government. Later, in what would play out like a re-staging of the 1998 drama, this time under the Prime Minister Najib Razak’s gaze, Anwar was accused of sodomy by his former aide and after a hasty trial sentenced to five years in prison in February 2015.
In January 2018 Dr. Mahathir joined the opposition coalition with his own Parti Pribumi Bersatu, and in GE14 contested under the PKR logo. As the chairman of Pakatan Harapan, he crisscrossed the country with the other component party leaders on a rigorous campaign tour promising to bring Malaysia back to where it once was and beyond.
While Anwar’s vague movement, represented by the reformasi chant remains a mainstay at rallies, there was a parallel reformasi being pushed forth at the same time, helmed by Dr. Mahathir himself.
Dr. Mahathir’s campaign called for a return to the glory days of the past, specifically while it was under his own rule as Prime Minister between 1981 and 2003. During the many ceramahs around the country, he played to the sentiments of how Malaysia used to be; to the urban crowd it was how the Malaysia used to be known as the ‘Tiger of Asia’, and in the rural areas, the amount of groceries one could purchase with RM50 in the ‘80s.
On 9 May 2018, Malaysians gave Pakatan Harapan a decisive mandate to form the new government. Dr.M wasted no time in sworn-in as Prime Minister the next day, and immediately began addressing deep-rooted problems in corruption, abuse of power, wastage, national debt etc, left behind by the previous administration. Behind the curtain he is still held back by internal bickering over ministerial posts by component parties (namely PKR). Having had a taste of Mahathir and Mahathirism for more than two decades, the nation is both cynical and hopeful with his swift, decisive actions since coming into power.
In his maiden speech to civil servants in Putrajaya, he called on them to “bring back our glory days”, reminding them that it was “our duty to rebuild this country.”
This is a chance for Malaysia to be dismantled and completely rebuilt by the man (and his team of eminent persons) who knew the inner workings of the administrative machinery better than anyone else. This will take time and considerable effort to accomplish, and Mahathir is not the man to wait.
The many reformasis
If we are to go back to the original Permatang Pauh Declaration, then the reformasi to implement sweeping reforms in governance is already well underway, and it is now up to the elected representatives to draft policies, implement them and continue to monitor the new government.
In a brief interview with TRT World, Nurul Izzah was questioned about the formation of a “family dynasty” and concerns about nepotism if both her parents led the country. She responded with a vague “I can’t care less what people say, what’s important is how you live your life, your credibility” and went on to issue a reminder that she is the “daughter of reformasi for more than two decades”.
“Anwar spent 11 years in prison, and at the end of the day, we are concerned about the reform movement. An whoever becomes prime minister, my job, the youth’s job, is to make sure the prime minister toes the line of the reform agenda.” she added, reaffirming her responsibility to serve the people.
On the night of his release from imprisonment, Anwar attended a celebration rally and again spoke of reformasi just like before. One wonders if the agenda has ever been clearly defined or does it simply take on the flavour of its time, bending to the need of whoever wielding it. Is the reformasi movement now nothing more than a personal (or now familial) charge towards the seat of power?
What happens next?
Anwar has clearly stated his intention to return to active politics by contesting in a by-election at year’s end in a “safe seat”. This poses numerous problems, as listed below:
- The naming of a ‘next prime minister’ clearly undermines the position and authority of the current prime minister, especially when the transition is only vaguely established as “in a year or two”. The only person qualified to succeed a prime minister should be his deputy, unless he is subjected of a vote-of-no-confidence in Parliament.
- Expecting an elected representative (wakil rakyat) to step down would be a slap to the face of democracy, and voters of that constituency alike, for all Malaysians, regardless if its his own daughter (Permatang Pauh) or wife (Pandan, also the current Deputy Prime Minister).
- In the case there is a by-election, and Anwar returns as a member of parliament, would the DPM then be expected to step down to make way for a seat in the Cabinet? If not, then will the Prime Minister step down immediately, and Malaysia is to be helmed by a husband-and-wife team?
The ‘revolution’ of 9 May was a display of maturity from both sides of the divide. It was then or never, and every one knew it. Opposition leaders put aside their differences and sang the same tune, while Malaysians took the leap of faith to put a self-professed dictator back in the driver’s seat.
If critics of Pakatan Harapan’s campaign were quick to single out the return of Mahathir as a major step backwards for the country, then they should be very concerned about the way Anwar Ibrahim is being ushered towards the premiership. The only ‘clean’ way forward is to let the elected PM see his term to completion, and for Anwar to lead the coalition to victory as a candidate and opposition leader in the next General Elections.