Has our politics become about choosing the less harmful option?

With the Umno president’s corruption charges now withdrawn, what does it say about the PM’s reformist and anti-corruption platform?

Shankar R. Santhiram, Free Malaysia Today

It has been a rather disconcerting week for Malaysia, hasn’t it?

When Umno and BN joined the PH coalition to form the unity government, it was a surreal moment. Enemies becoming bedfellows was hard to fathom. But the narrative was that they were following the edict of our King to solve the political impasse at the time.

For nearly 25 years, our current prime minister was waiting in the wings with a reformist agenda. So, when he took over in November last year, with the then corruption charged Umno president by his side, it was mystifying for many observers. How was this going to sit with the PM’s reformist and anti-corruption platform?

But liberal Malaysia set aside the shock to accept it, because the alternative was unthinkable. For many, the thought that the prime ministership might go to the PAS president was simply too terrifying. Rightly or wrongly, liberals and non-Malays feel that if the Islamic party takes over the governance of the country, Malaysia will be kicked back into the dark ages.

So, many accepted that this partnership with Umno/BN was the less harmful option.

The PM and the unity government continue to speak against corruption at every opportunity. But the PM sits on a rather precarious perch. His government depends on Umno/BN and the East Malaysian coalitions to survive. And many suspect that if Umno/BN withdraws its support, the East Malaysians will also go, so the unity government will fall.

The Umno president went on a purge in his own party because it looked like some of his party leaders were not in favour of this partnership with PH. Now, as the corruption charges against him have been withdrawn, the prevalent feeling in the country is that some high level “horse-trading” was done.

And again, the same narrative is spun to Malaysians. This, apparently, is the less harmful option.

The Umno man must be saved because if he goes, the government will fall. And, if the unity government falls, the alternative is that Malaysia will be subjected to draconian rules by a parochial and narrow-minded coalition.

I get it. This fear is real and palpable. The alternative is scary.

However, it is plausible to consider that even if this unity government somehow manages to chug along for the next four years, as a lame duck government, at the next general elections, Malaysia might still get that alternative. Voting trends and the growing popularity of the PN coalition seems to be pointing in this direction.

In the meanwhile, to claw back Malay-Muslim support, the PM has become “hyper” Muslim himself. We see his constant reassurances to the community, the increase in funding to the Islamic branches of the administration, and so on.

But the voters who are swayed and have thrown their support to PN, the very people the PM wants back, also know that the prime minister’s actual backing comes from the non-Malay populace, and with corruption-tainted Umno/BN propping up the government.

The PM becoming more Malay-Muslim than he already is, will not make a difference to them. They might argue that this is all political gamesmanship. He is just duping us.

And of course, their argument might be right.

Was the withdrawal of the charges against the Umno president, after four years of the trial, serving justice? The judge was satisfied that the prosecution had proven its case, and called the defence. Yet the charges were withdrawn. What will the court of public opinion think? Was it just political expediency?

So, it is political gamesmanship… choosing “the less harmful option”.

In the process, the justice system in our country comes under scrutiny. People who steal nappies, rice, and sardine tins, because of tough times, get jail sentences. People who tell jokes that some deem unsuitable, get hefty fines. But for political convenience, some are mysteriously let off the hook.

And what is this chicanery going to result in?

It looks like “the alternative” might be coming into power in due course, with the constant missteps and blunders that this unity government seems to be making. And, even political parties who built their foundation on a platform of fighting for justice and the citizenry, are silent now. Having safely ensconced themselves in the comfort of power, they justify their actions or inaction, on choosing the lesser of two evils.

So, where do ordinary people like us seek refuge, when there is one set of laws for us, and another for the political classes in our country? And which politician can you trust to helm our country properly?

Across either side of the Malaysian political divide, is there anyone that you and I can actually trust? Everyone has some “dirt” on them. And, everyone is suing each other. Yet, for their own political advancement, they will easily move the goalposts, and become bosom buddies at any time.

Can we then also resign ourselves to accept that everything that happens in Malaysia from now on is just a question of whether it is the less harmful option.