COMMENTARY, Feb 11 — Ask any professional sports team or athlete and they will likely tell you that winning a title is not easy but defending it is much, much harder.
When Pakatan Harapan (PH) — which could best be described as a ragtag coalition of political interests — won the 14th General Election (GE14) against a political juggernaut that had effectively been in power for 61 years, it was no surprise that it almost felt like an end to a very tough journey, a culmination of years and decades of political struggle against an oppressive regime.
But barely a year into its administration, the disillusionment has most certainly set in.
Politics, as in sports or life, shows us that getting to the top can be hard, but staying on top is the real trick.
It has gotten so bad for PH that even as Datuk Seri Najib Razak — the disgraced, scandal-plagued former prime minister of ours — prepares to stand trial in the “largest kleptocracy case in the world”, he is the one basking in new-found popularity thanks to his astute use of social media and capitalising on the government’s poor teamwork and mistakes.
Sure, his popularity may not translate to votes in an election hey, wait a minute, didn’t Barisan Nasional (BN) politicians dismiss Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s popularity on Facebook in the same way before GE14?
The thing is perception is everything. And that’s a cliché because it is true.
And the PH government has lost the narrative of the moment in Malaysian politics.
You can argue all you like about how PH has actually fulfilled or are on the way to fulfilling most of its election promises, but the narrative now is that this is a U-turn government that has failed to deliver its promises.
That is of course not true; it is a false narrative. Fake news, even.
But it is here that the truth does not matter. It is the perception. People repeat something enough times and it becomes the truth.
It does not help that PH now has a deputy minister mired in a fake claim over his university qualifications or lack thereof.
It does not help that it takes time to fix the economy which BN broke under Najib. The problem is PH is at the helm now and people who need to feed their families want instant results.
It’s the economy, stupid, That’s the mantra that has become a cliche since the Bill Clinton election campaign in the US in 1992. And again, it’s a cliché because it’s true.
The people are really not interested in whether single-use plastics are banned.
And while the new enhanced smoking ban is to be generally applauded, it could not have come at a worse time. This is seen as a reflection of an uncaring government that won’t even let the common man have a smoke at a roadside stall after a hard day at work.
The truth, of course, is the smoking ban is a good move that should show a government that cares for people’s health. But you know what? Timing sucks.
It also does not help that the many businesses and businessmen who may have backed PH in GE14 are also the beneficiaries of government contracts, of which many are suspect and dodgy. So now that PH is doing the right thing by reviewing these contracts because of possible corruption, it is these same businessmen who are complaining because the money has stopped flowing.
Ah, the hypocrisy of us the voters.
But therein lies the reality.
So what’s the solution? Well for one PH has to start with honesty.
For the most part, PH is full of honest leaders. But many have been silent for fear of offending their partners or some other mind-boggling political reason most of us do not care about.
What’s that old adage that evil happens when good men do nothing?
DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang, who holds no post except perhaps that of PH’s conscience, has been railing almost daily against any move that would see PH becoming BN. But there needs to be more than one Lim Kit Siang in PH.
But let’s go back to the sports analogy.
When Manchester United won the English Premier League in 1993, its first top-flight title after 26 years, legendary manager Alex Ferguson was motivated by an obsession to knock arch-rivals Liverpool, the previous perennial champions then, “off their perch.” His team went on to win another 12 titles.
But at the end of every title-winning season, Ryan Giggs, a star of those Manchester United teams, would kind of puncture victory celebrations by telling his teammates that winning the title just meant they would have to do it all over again.
So, the question is does PH want to have staying power or are they content with being a one-season wonder?