Malaysia’s political MoU: a fragile peace built on thin ice

It is very difficult to hayati the spirit of the MoU when you know this is only for ten months, after which it will be kill or be killed all over again. You are sitting with an enemy who you will have to kill before you get killed. Basically, you shake with your right hand while holding a knife in your left hand.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Germany’s Berlin Wall was brought down on 9th November 1989. But why did they need to destroy The Wall? Why not just open the gates and allow traffic between East and West Berlin? In fact, The Wall would have made an interesting tourist attraction, like Buckingham Palace in London.

The Wall signified the partition between east and west. It signified the division between communism and capitalism. Destroying The Wall signified the end of communism. It signified the west winning against the east, capitalism winning against communism.

Bringing down The Wall symbolised bringing down communism. Finally, communism lost, and capitalism won. But we do not call it capitalism, because capitalism is sometimes perceived as bad (or exploitive, oppressive, etc.). We call it democracy, or western democracy, something touted as good, even better that a theological state (such as an Islamic state or a caliphate).

Yesterday, 13th September 2021, Malaysia’s Wall was brought down as well. The three main political blocs — Pakatan Harapan, Barisan Nasional and Perikatan Nasional — signed a gencatan senjata or ceasefire.

This was almost like the 1989 Peace Agreement of Hat Yai signed between the Government of Malaysia (GoM), Government of Thailand (GoT), and the Malayan Communist Party (MCP).

By 1989 (the same year the Berlin Wall was destroyed to signify the end of communism) the communist insurgency in Malaysia had practically ended. It had been years since a bomb had exploded or a planter was shot dead while inspecting his rubber trees in the dawn of the morning. But the signing of The Treaty was a symbolic gesture that the GoM had won the war while the MCP had lost.

And yesterday’s MoU signed between Pakatan Harapan, Barisan Nasional and Perikatan Nasional was also a symbolic gesture to show Malaysians that all sides of the political divide are laying down their arms and are working together or cooperating for a common cause to end the suffering of 33 million Malaysians due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and the economic affects because of it.

They call this the Pakatan Harapan-Perikatan Nasional MoU. But what must not be overlooked is the fact that it is also a Barisan Nasional-Perikatan Nasional MoU because Malaysian politics is not divided two ways but three ways.

Pakatan Harapan cannot bring down the government. Barisan Nasional also cannot bring down the government. But a pact between Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional can bring down the government (when “government” here means PPBM and PAS with some parties from Sabah and Sarawak).

So, yesterday’s MoU was as much a peace treaty between Umno, PAS and PPBM as it was a peace treaty between Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional. But, as we have been told, it is merely a temporary peace to last for probably the next ten months until mid-2022 when Parliament may be dissolved to make way for GE15 — if, by then, the Covid-19 situation has been brought under control.

Then, ten months from now (hopefully, if the Covid-19 situation is okay by then), the peace treaty will end, and all parties will go back to the battlefield to fight for the hearts and minds of Malaysians (meaning to win the votes of the Malaysian voters).

By then probably 23 million out of 33 million Malaysians will be eligible to vote (if the voting age is brought down to 18). But maybe only 20 million will register to vote while maybe only 16 million will turn out to vote. Hence seven million Malaysians eligible to vote will not vote and/or will not register to vote.

So, 16 million Malaysians will come out to choose their government. Seven million more will not bother to do anything. And, depending on what electoral pact Pakatan Harapan, Barisan Nasional and Perikatan Nasional make over the next ten months, the votes will be split with no one winning enough votes to form the government.

Umno, PKR, DAP and PAS may win roughly 2.5 million votes each. That will come to about ten million votes in total. The other six million votes will be shared by the other 30 or so political parties.

The post-GE15 government will be even weaker than Pakatan Harapan’s May 2018 government, Muhyiddin Yassin’s 1st March 2020 government, or the current government of Ismail Sabri Yaakob. But the next ten months will give time for all parties to get their act together to prepare to face GE15 and to decide what government Malaysia is going to have post-GE15.

This gencatan senjata is merely breathing space like what the Taliban agreed to in Afghanistan. Then, when sufficiently revived, the Taliban discarded the gencatan senjata and swept into Kabul.

In Malaysia’s case, who will be the first to violate the gencatan senjata and try to go for a win? That will be too early to say but, knowing politicians, they will not be quiet for too long and soon we shall hear all sorts of statements from various people that will destabilise things and threaten the fragile peace that was achieved yesterday.

There are only 222 parliament seats up for grabs in GE15. And there are more than 30 political parties that want those seats. Some will be happy with just one or two seats but parties such as Umno, PPBM, PAS, PKR, DAP, Amanah, PBB, PBS, Warisan, Pejuang, SUPP, MCA, Gerakan, MIC, etc., will not be happy with mere scraps.

So the fly in the ointment will be seat allocations and which constituencies those are going to be. Umno, DAP and PKR will want to contest at least 70 seats or so each, maybe even PPBM and PAS as well. So seats are going to be in short supply. Hence the competition starts today even before the ink on the MoU has dried. And once the MoU ends, it will have to be all-out war again.

It is very difficult to hayati the spirit of the MoU when you know this is only for ten months, after which it will be kill or be killed all over again. You are sitting with an enemy who you will have to kill before you get killed. Basically, you shake with your right hand while holding a knife in your left hand.

Notwithstanding that, it is certainly a landmark achievement in Malaysian history. This has allowed Ismail Sabri to focus on the Covid-19 problem and the economic downturn because of it. The enemy is still at the gate, but at least they have agreed to camp outside the gate and not knock the wall down.

Furthermore, Pakatan Harapan can stop trying to topple the government. This is a sort of face-saving for Anwar Ibrahim because he cannot topple the government anyway even if he wanted to. And this way he need not explain his failure to topple the government and instead blame it on the MoU that they signed (so he is not toppling the government because of the MoU and not because he is not able to).

Ten months is a long time in politics and many things can happen over that length of time. The CIA and U.S. Army Intelligence said Saigon can hold until at least 1976. In 1975, Saigon fell, a year earlier than anticipated. Kabul, a more recent development, also fell unexpectedly. And all it took was weeks for that to happen.