Pakatan Harapan’s MOU gamble


A POLITICAL cartoon went viral after the government and Pakatan Harapan leaders signed the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on bipartisan cooperation on Monday.

The cartoon depicted a blindfolded DSAI, holding a card with the word “MOU”, leading a blindfolded LGE, blindfolded Sabu, blindfolded PKR, blindfolded DAP and blindfolded Amanah. DSAI was about to step in a pile of poop.

DSAI is supposed to be Opposition leader and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, LGE is DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Sabu is Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu. Pakatan consists of PKR, DAP, Amanah and Upko.

It would be interesting to know who created the cartoon. Was it someone within Pakatan who is unhappy about the alliance signing the MOU? Someone from a disgruntled faction in the government? Someone from an Opposition party, such as Pejuang or Warisan, which did not sign it? Or just someone with time on their hands?

I felt that all was not well in Pakatan when one of its leader forwarded a viral message to me: “*Strange but true…* None from the government side who negotiated and signed the MOU are from Kluster Mahkamah. But PH sent in one as MOU signatory as nobody raised an issue. Tainted right from Day 1 as far as the sanctity of contracts is concerned.”

(Kluster Mahkamah refers to politicians from Umno, DAP and not-yet-registered Muda who are facing charges in court. No prizes for guessing who from Kluster Mahkamah on the Pakatan side signed the MOU.)

A DAP leader then WhatsApp-ed me: “It’s like DAP telling its grassroots, ‘Sorry folks, we could not deliver the reforms during PH time at Putrajaya, but we can do it now – for you – by supporting Ismail Sabri’s government’.”

To check whether there are rumblings over the MOU among Pakatan adherents, I quizzed political research firm Ilham Centre’s Prof Hamidin Abdul Hamid and political scientist Prof Wong Chin Huat.

“Many Pakatan supporters are sceptical about the signing of the MOU. They see that Pakatan’s hand is now locked by the MOU,” said Prof Hamidin.

Prof Wong noted that the MOU is supported by three overlapping types of Opposition supporters: the pragmatic, the reform-driven and the middle grounders. He said some hardcore Pakatan members and opinion leaders reject the peace deal on two grounds.

“First, they misunderstand that by promising to support or not vote against the government on budget and confidence matters, the Opposition would be emasculated.

“Second, some cannot see the political fatigue of ordinary Malaysians and fantasise that Pakatan will win GE15 by attacking Ismail Sabri like it did Muhyiddin,” he said, referring to Prime Minister and Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and former prime minister and Parti Pribumi Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Many – from both sides of the political divide – are curious why Pakatan is gung-ho about the MOU. Why didn’t it take up Muhyiddin’s bipartisan offer on Aug 13 to get the nation out of the political crisis? What is the difference between the Ismail Sabri and Muhyiddin offers?

Prof Wong concedes that the two offers are “more or less the same”. The difference, he said, was the political situation – Pakatan had a chance to wrest the PM’s post from Muhyiddin but not from Ismail Sabri.

“After Aug 26, it was confirmed that even if Umno splits and brings down a Prime Minister, it still will not back Anwar or any other Opposition leader as the Prime Minister.

“Without any reforms, the Opposition will not have any achievement before GE15. Even if the Ismail Sabri government fails again like Muhyiddin’s, Pakatan may still be blamed by voters for going after power instead of looking after the people’s welfare,” he said.

Prof Hamidin argued that Pakatan strongly believed that the people would support it over the MOU. Pakatan, he said, wanted to please its crowd.

“But this MOU will not bring new supporters to Pakatan. Many are sceptical about the MOU, as much of it is the same as what was offered by TSMY (Muhyiddin) but that was rejected flatly by the Pakatan leadership,” he said.

“The manner in which Pakatan accepted the MOU created a rumour mill that there is more to it than what appears on the surface.”

An Umno leader messaged me: “The MOU is like we are given a ventilator thanks to Pakatan. If not, we might be dead without oxygen.”

Not really, said Prof Hamidin. The MOU could be the wrong medicine for the wrong illness for Umno, he said.

“The MOU will make factions in Umno become more open and start gearing up for party elections. So the MOU is just the opening for the Umno pemilihan (election) episodes,” he said.

Prof Wong articulated Umno’s internal political intrigue. He hypothesised that Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri pushed for the MOU to increase his chances of being Prime Minister after GE15.

“The earlier GE15 is called, the likelier Ismail Sabri’s PM tenure will end,” he said.

The political scientist pointed out that Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi – if he is still president when Parliament is dissolved – would likely drop many of Ismail Sabri’s staunch allies in choosing who will contest in the elections.

“But if the MOU works, Ismail Sabri may delay the election even until September 2023 and increase his post-GE15 chance (of remaining PM),” he said.

There’s a question mark about what will happen to parties like Pejuang, Warisan or Parti Sarawak Bersatu, which did not sign the MOU. Will they become more popular if the MOU fails? Will they be left out if the MOU succeeds?

“Not really. On the ground, people are not bothered by the MOU. It did not create a buzz among the people. It is just party elite bargaining,” said Prof Hamidin.

Prof Wong forecasts that while an anti-Umno and anti-Bersatu minority might turn to Warisan or Pejuang, most would eventually rally behind Pakatan as long as the Ismail Sabri government delivered on its promises.

Will the cartoon of the blindfolded politician leading other blindfolded politicians be prophetic? Or will Pakatan step in political poop?