Kajang: Machiavelli, the man we ‘hated’

mikhail rosli

Kajang is not about saving Selangor. With a paltry 12 seats in the state’s legislative body and the dramatic failure to retake Selangor in GE13, Barisan Nasional must surely know that Selangor is drastically out of their reach. It may be beyond their admission but they surely know it.

What adds to the hilarity of the farce is that Pakatan Rakyat knows this. Even if you choose to map out scenarios in which this could happen, you’d find yourself struggling to even begin to explain the likelihood of such a thing happening.

In an interview with The Malaysian Insider, Anwar explains that he sees the need for his presence in order to counter Barisan Nasional’s use of the race and religion cards.

This can come off as a sensible reason, if it were not for the lack of racial voting patterns in urban Selangor, indicating that the race and religion cards are less potent in increasing distrust among the races. Also, the fact it is highly politically expedient for the multi-racial Pakatan Rakyat to allow Barisan Nasional to continue painting themselves as the party to stoke racial tensions. It strengthens their hold on their current and fast-growing support base.

Which leaves Anwar’s possible motive even more political. He seems to be gunning for the mentri besar post. As to why he wishes to do this, however, is at best coffee shop speculation but it doesn’t negate our ability to perhaps guess what may be on his mind.

The leading theory seems to be that he wishes to resolve the incessant power play between Azmin Ali and Khalid Ibrahim. It’s no secret that Azmin Ali has been rather displeased with not being selected as mentri besar and if one were to follow (and trust) Raja Petra Kamarudin’s theory, one would be aware of the number of moves Azmin has taken to undermine Khalid Ibrahim.

Another theory would cast Anwar as wanting to be mentri besar to have access to Selangor’s vast resources, which will act as a means for him to vault into Putrajaya. Control over Selangor will give him the chance to counter Barisan’s political tricks more effectively and would provide him the machinery to run politically popular policies.

It may help to remember Khalid Ibrahim’s frugality and how he failed to response when Jais seized Malay-language Bibles.

However you may wish to map it, the likely motives remain political rather than the selfless “In the name of public harmony” rhetoric that Anwar has been dispensing. Needless to say, this isn’t the moral politics that the opposition has prided themselves as proponents of, not the high ground they claim to be on. In fact, it would faintly mirror the Mahathir-era that they have condemned as dictatorial, dirty and Machiavellian.

The name Machiavelli has always been used as a synonym for the devil. Even though the overarching principle of the text The Prince had been that there are moments that public necessity requires actions that private ethics would deem as immoral. Machiavelli was actually trying to invent a new public ethic based on the “ragion di stato” (Reason of State).

His text would not have survived for so long if it were indefensible. Machiavelli never said doing evil is okay, only that it is necessary. Plus, a leader guided by public necessity is less likely to be cruel and vicious rather than one guided by self-interest.

Although you might be persuaded by the previous justification for Machiavellianism, you should take some time to consider whether Anwar’s political manoeuvres are even worth it.

By being in the Selangor State Assembly (and presumably mentri besar), Anwar risks making the inter-party relationship in Pakatan Rakyat much more complicated. PAS and DAP have to effectively surrender any claim to the mentri besar position, which might have been agreed upon by the higher ups but may come with great discontent at grassroots level. PAS Youth openly comments they might not support Anwar as mentri besar.

Anwar as mentri besar would also mean we would see state and federal governments at each other’s throats even more this time. And if the Cold War were to be any lesson, when both sides have something to prove to their supporters, we would naturally see detrimental brinkmanship as a result.

Despite the obvious Machiavellianism, Universiti Malaya’s Centre of Democracy and Election polled that 59 per cent of 576 selected Kajang voters thought it was reasonable to have the Kajang by-election to allow Anwar Ibrahim to become Selangor mentri besar.

It seems very likely that Anwar Ibrahim will win his Kajang seat. But this is cause for caution for opposition supporters. Or else they’ll see that the man they voted in is no different than the devil they voted out. Because, God knows, it wasn’t Machiavelli they hated.