Gangs of Malaysia: Pakatan sheds principles to partner BN to bury PN

Praba Ganesan, Malay Mail Online

Malaysian politicians do not believe round pegs cannot fit square holes. They’d ask us to forget pegs and geometry if it improves our ability to maximise our gullibility.

Meanwhile they ride the elephant of populism up the easy hill of expediency to retain power by ganging up.

What exactly is being dissected here?

The peninsular parties which make up the unity government more precisely, and their indiscreet desire to merge right in front of voters and expect indifference.

The parties are criticised — Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional (BN) — but not the unity government. There’s a difference.

The unity government is a product of an electoral accident therefore exempt from vitriol. The absence of an outright winner forced perennial foes Pakatan and BN to govern together with the former as the senior partner.

The power share is medium-term in design, but both PM Anwar Ibrahim and DPM Zahid Hamidi use it as a window to foster permanent ties. To streamline the future of Pakatan and BN to birth a juggernaut.

Which explains why five months after, Pakatan and BN have failed to nail down coalition terms of engagement — civil but limited co-operation. Instead, they’ve opted for the absurd, pursuing a new vehicle, for now named unity secretariat.

The intention? To conjoin Pakatan and BN at the hips.

That’s what’s on the agenda, to succeed at the impending six state elections and use it as proof of concept to trot together to the 16th general election. Probably with a better name than unity secretariat.

In short, Pakatan has decided to eschew principles for dominance with BN.

They are the enemy, you said so

Why is this column dead set against this union?

To begin with, one grew as an opposition to tyranny, abuse of power and corruption by the other. One’s raison d’etre was to topple the other.

In the last 25 years since Anwar was sacked from Umno in 1998, a collection of parties and groups morphed into Pakatan.

This vehicle claimed that Malaysia was in trouble thanks to BN.

This fuelled ceramah after ceramah, fundraiser after fundraiser, volunteers who worked through the days and nights when election campaigns were on. To defeat the great enemy threatening to drown Malaysia in ineptitude, corruption and inaction.

This is our collective mission, the leaders told their followers.

To make matters worse, those parties long abandoned ideology internally and doggedly stuck to the theme that Umno must go. It was the GO-TO for votes.

The elevator pitch: “They are corrupt, we are not. They torment us daily. We will end their reign of terror. Free the people.”

And now, Pakatan leaders want to campaign in six states together with BN-Umno and speak about how Pakatan voters are serving the greater good by voting BN politicians into power?

Let that sink in. Unless they propose mass lobotomies so people above a certain age have their memories erased.

For those who proclaim bygones should be bygones and this is a new BN-Umno, firstly yes, it is possible to forgive those who ask for forgiveness.

But BN is not contrite, it has no regrets about its past and its deeds. No apologies have been extended. Neither have they cut out cancerous parts of the party. Those senior leaders with their court cases still run the party.

The look from my home-state is even more grim.

Free of BN for 15 years and they wilfully want to bring BN into the Selangor government?

What madness is that, by design wanting to usher BN back in, made colourful by characters like Jamal Yunos who used to pillory Pakatan Selangor in a towel with bucket in tow at the entrance gates of the state government.

Remember the longstanding water issues for Selangor originated from how Syabas and the whole value chain from treatment to distribution — pipe replacement and maintenance — was constructed by Umno Selangor through the 90s and the 2000s.

The antagonistic behaviour of BN towards Pakatan in Selangor and Penang over a decade and half is well recorded. They want the voters to ignore all that?

Those Pakatan leaders risk sounding hollow when they spin BN to the voters.

While the tactic may amass more votes through cross appeal in the short term, this decision lacks moral integrity.

It presents Pakatan as a set of rudderless power-crazy politicians. No different from BN of old. And in time, it won’t be easy to tell BN and Pakatan apart.

The what could have happened

Imagine for a second Pakatan chose not to create a secretariat with BN, and instead built from a dominant control of Cabinet to propel themselves in the state elections. And let BN care for its own campaign. Separate.

For Kelantan and Terengganu, Pakatan are perennially weak and it would be no harm to compete and lose on Pakatan’s terms, without Umno. Umno can gather a number of seats in both states.

Kedah has only been in play when Pakatan had PAS or Bersatu in its Mahathir Mohamad years. Both have joined forces and are too formidable.

Pakatan can target the urban seats. BN may end up with nought without Pakatan’s assistance, but BN’s presence is not going to secure the state.

Pakatan Penang does not need Umno. Whatever permutation the losses in the GE are replicated in the state polls, Pakatan still wins at a canter.

Pakatan Selangor has a 15-year record, it’s PKR’s home-state like Johor is for Umno. Its grip is firm even when you factor the six parliamentary seats lost to PN in 2022 which translates to 18 state seats.

Pakatan has to remind voters this is about performance and not symbolism, and PN is not ready to perform in Selangor or anywhere else. A two-third is more than possible for Pakatan regardless of what PN flings at them or Umno-BN as an extra opponent.

The unknown is Negeri Sembilan. An Umno state till 2018. Pakatan has only been in power for five years.

The state under-performs. It has for decades not the least when Umno deputy-president Mohamad Hasan was mentri besar from 2004 to 2018.

Here, a Pakatan-BN partnership can make the state safe, but safe with no future is how BN has managed Negeri Sembilan all these years. Take a KTM Komuter from MB Selangor Amirudin Shari’s Batu Caves through to Negeri Sembilan’s Pulau Sebang and the contrasts are self-evident.

But does electorate mathematics — co-operate with BN — rather than political integrity define Pakatan?

Even if realpolitik drives for an arrangement between Pakatan and BN, it can be a reductionist approach of a no-contest agreement. Pakatan and BN to avoid contests in Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Negeri Sembilan but to compete against each other elsewhere.

It’ll gut-wrench this columnist if the Unity Secretariat puts a BN candidate in Selangor’s Dusun Tua. I have never voted BN ever.

‘We’ve always been at war with Eastasia’

The problem with altering narratives to fit political expediency is it benefits leaders but leaves voters perplexed.

It is easier for Pakatan leaders — DAP in particular — to contest in various states as Umno’s ally, not foe.

But it is not easier for Pakatan or BN’s voters.

Whole BN FB pages and websites dedicated to attacking Pakatan as liberal, progressive and pro-Western had to change tracks, at times even renaming their sites in the past five months.

Pakatan leaders have gone silent on the elevation of tainted Umno leaders to board positions, or out of the ordinary steps undertaken in criminal prosecutions or pardon applications which ultimately may benefit Umno.

Voters who believe in Pakatan are asked to suspend their disbelief in order to achieve the greater good.

That’s uncertain but it is certainly raising a bout of mass schizophrenia in our electorate who will slowly but surely lose track of what is what, or who is who. They are left with a demand to trust their leaders even if it all looks like a U-turn.

Voters are now asked to abandon the need to weigh moral action but rather to pick a gang. Gang fights are cleaner when it is binary, two sides square up against each other.

Therefore, Pakatan and BN gangs pile up the votes to trump the PN gang.

It is tribalism rather than a pageant of reasons and discourse. This is what Pakatan trades off.

And to their strategists, compliments, it likely works out.

But elections are more than just results, they are about the beliefs competitors bring to it.

Pakatan voters may be tied to the leadership rather than ideas for the short and medium term, but blind love wanes in time. It may end up being the thing that sets the countdown to Pakatan’s implosion in the long-term.