It has been a long time since I wrote – back in 2013.
But recent events have given Malaysians hope, and despair, that I thought it is timely again to write.
This will be a long article, containing many subheadings, as I explore different facets of what's going on. At the end, I don't yet know if I can come to a definitive conclusion of what is, and how Malaysians could move forward – but in the attempt of doing so, I hope that I would have at least set out fairly comprehensively my segmented take of events.
1. For the longest time, we know that Najib has had to pander to the right, because the non-Malays desserted him in GE13 despite 1Malaysia theme. Forget about a long discourse about history, only that he has himself to blame because he allowed Muhyddin to insist he is Malay first Malaysian second, then there was Dr M's Perkasa, and then Pembela ... NGOs to hijack UMNO's extremist agenda so that UMNO may be "pure", but people saw through his machinations and still blame him for fracturing the nation. And there was Perak coup, and Altantuya continues to haunt him since his DPM days and some smallish scandals which are of no import. The good things he did – Peaceful Assembly Act. Nothing else, really.
2. Post GE13, 1Malaysia is dead, he insists Chinese are ingrates. He brings back Sedition Act, realises how dangerous Anwar still is and decided that he must go back to prison, and so Anwar did. He started courting PAS, dangling Hudud carrot in front of PAS' salivating mouth, leading PAS by the nose. One calculation he got right – Hadi Awang is power crazy. With Hadi Awang in his pocket, Anwar lost control of Selangor, Wan Azizah could not become MB, and Azmin Ali who became MB is beholden to PAS and therefore likely to be compromised. It's sweet victory, until someone caught him with his hands in the cookie jar.
3. 1MDB - the 4 letter word that may become the political death of Najib. For the longest time, without much information but smelling a rotten corpse (figuratively), opposition has been poking holes at 1MDB's bad investment decisions and financial management. Then Sarawak Report's Clare Rewcastle Brown happened, together with WSJ report, and Najib has been under siege since. Dr M happened. PAC and special committee (comprising the police, MACC and BNM) investigations closing in. His deputy started asking questions too often, to close to home. His problems compounded from pea size to mountain size.
4. He sacked his DPM, got a of people connected with the investigation to be transferred, almost stripped an investigator of her PR. Basically, abuse of power. Because of this, Bersih 4 happened. And Dr M fanned Bersih 4. And Malaysian Bar has also happened. All asking him to step down pending investigation.
5. Legal powers wise, Najib is secure. Electorally too because Malay ground did not appear to move much despite this grand corruption scandal. As long as the Speaker of Parliament do not approve a motion debating whether there is still confidence in the PM, he can only be removed if sufficient number of MP(s) gang up to defeat the budget bill. I imagine the political maneuvering should be happening behind closed doors and smoked filled rooms now. Nothing may happen if it is true that in the end, cash is king, and Najib has lots of it. And he will continue to run the country until the next GE14. By which time, he may have done several numbers on the opposition to weaken them further that BN might just win, on UMNO's strength alone.
6. The only critical political calculation within UMNO now is this – remove Najib and hope to win GE14, or think that Najib can win GE14 for them. It's essentially a debate whether Najib is a liability or an asset. Only in Malaysia can a corrupt person still be considered an asset. Goes to show how far from Westminster Parliamentary democracy we have fallen. Externally, UMNO's political consideration is this – do we court PAS all the way and help them legislate a national Hudud law that can be enforced? If they do, UMNO's concern is whether the voters will credit UMNO or PAS. Good if they credit UMNO. But bad if in crediting UMNO, non-Malay votes are lost to BN. Bad if they credit PAS because UMNO and PAS are essentially contesting the same space. If it is neutral, then all things being equal, it should be good news for UMNO because they show they have a"relatively better" developmental track record while PAS is pretty pathetic in this department.
7. In my idealist mind, I am hoping Hudud does not really matter. Food in the mouth, clothing, shelter, basic amenities and education – those are the things that matter most to people. But is the reality like this? PAS insisting on Hudud makes me think that there is groundswell preference for it. As to the reason, who knows? Is it because of corruption in UMNO? In which case, there can also be corrupt enforcement of Hudud – which makes already a repressive environment even more so. There can still be turning back from prison in a trumped up charge and conviction, but there is no turning back from losing a limp in a trumped up charge and conviction.
8. Perhaps the Sarawak state elections will be a barometer for UMNO. If Sarawak remains very secure to BN, then there is less incentive for UMNO to go it alone in GE14, and there won't be a need for Hudud. But if the opposition makes further inroads in Sarawak, then there is a stronger possibility UMNO would be spooked to realise it needs to neutralise any disadvantages and it will go alone in GE14. Its rationale would be – better to fight to stay in government and be branded racist than to play to the niceties of pluralism and lose power and all its wealth trappings.
9. Lastly, UMNO can always count on the bully pulpit, the one sided national mainstream media, government machinery, and continued tried and tested ways of offering development in exchange for votes.
Investigations are virtually dead. It would be surprising if a charge is ever preferred against the PM. That can only happen if and when he steps down albeit temporarily. The issues are these – huge sums of money found in his bank account, since then transferred overseas. Currently, various countries are investigating the money to see if there are money laundering crimes involved. Hong Kong, Singapore, to name a few. Najib admitted having the money in his account but said it is not to his benefit, which begs the question for who'se benefit. No one in UMNO knew except for maybe the Secretary General. Not even the deputy President. If the money was used up for GE13, then BN has broken election law. If some money is left and Najib stashed them away, but they belong to the party, then there is criminal breach of trust. It may also be treason because Najib took money from foreign power who wants to influence our elections. What if he is bought? What if he is selling state secrets to some middle eastern countries right now?
No way out for Najib. But it has happened in Malaysia before. Huge corruption scandals, investigated, and only some small fries have to suffer the indignation of being prosecuted. And who knows, later, when the matter is no longer in public focus, the small fry will be exonerated. We saw that happening in PKFZ scandal. But even that, named mother of all scandals few years back, is peanuts compared with 1MDB. The scandal is getting larger, not smaller. It's acquire an international flavour because everyone in the international anti corruption conference in KL knows Najib's a crook and they will go home and pay attention. The darndest things that Najib's supporters say to the press day in day out has also invited incredulity. Unlikely for the scandal to die down anytime soon. It's dragging down the economy which is already in trouble – and when people feel the economic pinch, they will blame Najib more. And if UMNO fails to get rid of him, they will also blame UMNO.
3. Bersih 4
It was successful because of a big turn out, showing multi-racial Malaysians having a common goal of clean elections and clean government. It was not so successful because of lower Malay participation on day one, which picked up on day 2, but Malays never made up more than 50% of the crowd. What it revealed is there are enough groundswell of discontent against Najib, which should make BN MP(s) sit up and think of the possibility of voting for the no-confidence motion, or defeating Najib's budget.
What it also revealed is that PAS has been compromised. Ulamas wiped out the Erdogans in their recent party elections. Hadi Awang, who is power crazy (perhaps for Islam), is firmly in his seat. Some of his deputies are still trying to say nice things to their ex-Pakatan colleagues, but they are not in power, Hadi is, and Hadi is not compromising on Hudud anytime soon. This bring us to...
4. Pakatan 2.0
There was a glimmer of hope when the Erdogans called it quits in PAS and came out to form Gabungan Harapan Baru. They plan to form a party under Parti Amanah Negara (PAN, but more commonly known as Amanah). DAP was elated because finally, we can have a coalition that does not have the thorny issue of Hudud. But PKR came and spoiled the game by insisting we need everyone to take down BN and PAS can be part of Pakatan 2.0
Some in Amanah says no way. DAP says over their dead body. But PKR insists we have a common objective – to get rid of BN. The plea is real because Anwar is literally rotting in prison, his health deteriorating. PKR pleads with DAP to give them time to talk with PAS. Amanah backtracks a bit – ok, we can accept PAS in the midst, but it's more of PAS not wanting to belong. Now PAS is playing hard to get, and PKR is sounding desperate. Hadi Awang has said they are stronger than when they are in Pakatan, so they won't be joining Pakatan 2.0
There are many disturbing features to this flurry of to and fro from the parties:
1. PKR does not have any principles? – it appears that in accepting PAS, they are going to continue to be coy about Hudud – but they fail to see that there is a difference between pre GE13 position and post GE13 position – PAS has come out into the open and say they want Hudud – they have even demonstrated willingness to talk with UMNO – sleep with their enemy – to pass Hudud – so PKR's indifference cannot work anymore. At the same time, one can understand PKR's desparation for wanting to save their leader at all costs and they are running out of time.
2. PAS is PAS – their position is clear now. It is entirely possible that they are gaining strength in rural areas – UMNO strongholds – by taking a clear and unequivocal stance on Hudud. They have a well -oiled grassroots machine which PKR has been riding tailcoats on – they don't need PKR or Amanah – they can go to GE14, battling DAP because DAP bruised their go, and continue to battle UMNO – and hope to win big – then they come to Pakatan 2.0 table and talk like an equal. The downside is, non-Malays will reject PAS so PAS might as well fight in rural areas only
3. DAP may also be affected also because people may still treat DAP Malays as "agents" of the Chinese. DAP may lose some votes from areas where Malays are not insubstantial – but it is likely they can still pull through on their own. Their Impian Sarawak could work in helping them wrest sub-urban and perhaps some rural seats from BN. And they will eventually expand Impian to entire Malaysia. The thing is, DAP cannot pick up all the slack for PKR, or even Amanah, in order for Pakatan 2.0 (ex PAS) to obtain simple majority. The support will be too glaring and will definitely be canon fodder for BN/UMNO campaign about "chinese now wants to wrest over Malay political power". And it's not like DAP has so much wealth to do so. It's not money – grassroots politics take years to develop trust. At the end, no matter how big or strong DAP can be on its own, it should be careful not to be seen as taking the lead. Leaders of DAP must be very careful to speak with some deference to the other opposition leaders. I know it's hard to do when you've been successful and you have demonstrated success, but in politics, arrogance is usually a disadvantage.
5. No confidence motion
So where do we go from here? Pakatan's problems – whether to have PAS, seems like a distant problem if the current objective is to remove Najib first.
Pakatan's offer to work with BN MP(s) is very real. It is conditional on releasing Anwar. But I'm thinking – they've already been bitten twice by Anwar in 2008 and again in 2013. It's not in their political calculus to release their arch enemy. It makes it more difficult for them to say – we want Najib down, but we still want to keep the government, while Pakatan is talking about unity government. There is no eye to eye consensus on this yet simply because anyone on the side of BN would be shy of showing their hands – not to the watchful eyes of Special Branch reporting to the new DPM. Bersih 4 can continue to make demands, but they have no idea what degree of sophistication and challenge it is to execute this kind of consensus building. Only time can tell.
Of course, there is always rumour that the new DPM himself is after the job in coup of his own...
Much would depend on external conditions. If the external conditions continue to deteriorate, more minds may be swayed to take this desperate measure.
Even if Najib manages to stabilise the boat now, he will still have to face the Sarawak state election. If that election becomes a referendum on him and BN suffers badly, the no confidence measure will pick up steam again. If DAP's Impian Sarawak and other outreach programs by the opposition have some success, this threat is reasonably real. Which makes me thing – he will want to stretch the Sarawak elections to as long as possible, so that in UMNO's calculus, they will think by then that there is too little time to change captain – no matter how badly they dislike him.
We shall see.
UMNO's side has been discussed in UMNO section above.
For Pakatan, the permutations are now mind boggling. In forming Pakatan 2.0, they should have in mind what is their end game. Is it really that simple as removing BN from federal power without sorting out who will be PM and whether there will be Hudud?
How will they divide between themselves going into the elections? In GE13, Pakatan contested all 222 seats. They divided that between themselves roughly equally, hence each of them contested close to 75 seats. This time, do they accord equal treatment to Amanah and split 4 ways i.e. about 55 seats each? Technically, between DAP, PKR and Amanah, they can form majority. But PKR and Amanah still has much to develop by way of grassroots machinery.
The problem is overlaps. In GE13, PKR overlapped with PAS in two areas resulting in UMNO wins. This time, PAS has threatened to contest against DAP. It is laughable, and their candidates may lose their deposits, but still, it is a distraction. It is possible Amanah and PAS may contest against each other in some areas where Amanah thinks people can be persuaded to take a more moderate appraoch in Islam. Amanah and PKR overlaps are very real, because in becoming moderate Islam, how different is that from PKR?
If PAS does not initially join Pakatan 2.0 but agrees to work with Pakatan 2.0 on an electoral basis, then after Pakatan 2.0 has agreed with seats allocation, they will need another round with PAS, which may result in Pakatan 2.0 having internally reallocate again depending on which Pakatan 2.0 turf PAS intends to invade more. The fact is, if PAS thinks that it is stronger now, it should face UMNO largely in rural areas.
Assuming the horse trading works out, the real challenge is this – how do we build up the grassroots machinery for PKR and Amanah? It is one thing to have the best intentions, and even putting in the best efforts. But at the end, there are only so much resources, and party members, and not forgetting UMNO/BN is also working the ground desperately. And they have bigger guns too. It is perhaps this concern that PKR is insisting on having PAS in Pakatan 2.0. It will take some deft diplomacy to make a compromise that works for everyone, and at the same time get an irrevocable commitment from PAS from having to change their minds again. Which leads to this ultimate question..
What exactly can Pakatan 2.0 and PAS compromise on?
As demonstrated above, horse trading can only go so far. At the end, the parties are cannibalising each other. In GE13, PAS needed those two PKR seats because they felt they have a better chance there. It didn't matter whether they are right or wrong – in politics, there is a fair amount of gambling involved. But can we afford gambling, for the sake of Malaysians? And if we don't want to gamble, what can we do?
What's the real contention between DAP and PAS? Hudud. What is Hudud? A range of criminal offences with its own prosecutorial and evidential standards, and punishments.
Why is Hudud unconstitutional? Is it because the constitution does not recognise punishments of decapitation, but only death in extremely serious offence? Or is it because there can only be one criminal justice system, run by the federal government?
Is PAS willing to compromise on the types of criminal offences, perhaps starting small? Is PAS willing to compromise on evidential rules to bring in more in line with practical reality? I.e. is it possible to bring Hudud in line with modern reality so that while it is called Hudud, it is actually just an extension of the current criminal justice system?
Is PAS willing to compromise that instead of implementing Hudud now, it agrees to defer to a season of debate by academics, criminal law practitioners, Islamic scholars, and other interested local and international organisations, and after that a commission of inquiry who will make a recommendation, after that a national referendum, and after that a moratorium until the actual criminal justice system has been sufficiently reformed to ensure there will not be corruption involved in prosecuting Hudud cases?
It may not be such a bad idea of taking Hudud off the political agenda into a real criminal justice system issue to be examined with cool heads. PAS will be seen as successfully moved for this very measured and mature approach and take this win to the electorate while at the same time not condemning its non-Muslim allies to political cruxification. All these can of course be only done when BN is beaten the Pakatan 2.0 forms the next federal government.
If the above approach can even be contemplated by the opposition coalition, the next step is really to first find out what PAS wants out of Hudud, and then work on a roadmap that gives them a respectable chance at succeeding. We are a democracy after all. And it is not unfathomable because PAS has always said it is willing to wait for Malaysians to "mature", accept Hudud and allow the federal constitution to be amended.
The trade off is PAS can provide its grassroots mechanism to help PKR and hopefully Amanah. That way, Pakatan 2.0 stands a real chance at giving BN a run for its money in GE14.
Consider also this – if Pakatan 2.0 manages to agree, it gives PAS a leverage against UMNO. UMNO may decide to go alone and pass Hudud. But that can be shot down for being reckless and dangerous and will cost BN seats ex UMNO.
The above sounds promising. But for completeness purpose, let's take this other point - one might question – even with a watered down Hudud and despite the safeguards, are we opening a pandora's box in which there is no going back? Systems can become corrupt again. Shouln't we agree that we should not embark on any venture because its worst outcome is not something that we can accept? And will PAS actually accept such a long timeline?
Well, consider this – the middle east is shifting away from conservative form of Islam to more modernist one. It took a decade for conservative Islam to seap into Malaysian culture. It'll probably take another decade for them to disappear. If we trust this cycle, then by the time Pakatan is in power and well into its first term, there may not even be an imperative for Hudud to be implemented anymore.
Of course, ultimately, there is still the risk that this plan may come and bite Pakatan 2.0's ass, and that is by some freak electoral results, PAS becomes the leading party and stakes its claim to PMship which may well accelerate the process. The rest of Pakatan can try to break away from the ruling coalition, but PAS could ask UMNO to jointly form government. This is a disturbing, but no less real possibility.
My head spins from these permutations.
At the end, I fail to reach a definitive conclusion. There are many moving parts, motivations are unknown. Circumstances may yet change. Hadi Awang may simply pass away (not that anyone wishes so) and Amanah may decide to go back to PAS and PAS becomes moderate. Najib may suddenly step down, and the next leader may prove to be so incompetent and disruptive to Malaysian values that BN is completely decimated in the next elections. Or a new continental faultline is discovered along Peninsular Malaysia and in a major earthquake destroys the whole country – kind of like divine justice. Or Russia and US starts World War III and that's the end of human existence. Or a bright warm light from the sky turn all Malaysians into enlightened beings and we'd vote any colour as long as he/she is a competent, inspiring leader. Who knows?
For now, the smart thing for Pakatan 2.0 to do is to slowly court PAS, but at the same time, PKR, DAP and Amanah with more commonality can start planning outreach campaigns together, hone a consistent message of not only change and reform but of progress. Campaign for GE14 has to start now while BN is in defensive mode. I see no harm engaging PAS in earnest to at least find out what it really wants and then find a away to compromise. If PAS' stand is that it will never work with UMNO, and we find that this stand remains immutable, then perhaps that is yet a sign of hope. But PKR should stop insisting PAS joins them now, not that it's even possible because PAS appears intent on wanting to test waters on being solo first, which is well within its right. If a compromise cannot be reached by GE14, then at least instead of chasing after the wind, you've have gotten off on your own start and travelled some distance. It's the saying – 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing.
Any contrarian or supporting or supplementing thoughts are very welcomed. I hope to engage opinion leaders on my views especially on this compromise once I think I've covered all the bases.