Reset or recalibrate? What’s next for Anwar and Pakatan after Budget 2021 shambles

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim speaks to reporters after giving his statement to the police at Bukit Aman in Kuala Lumpur October 16, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim speaks to reporters after giving his statement to the police at Bukit Aman in Kuala Lumpur October 16, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 20 — After failing to stop Budget 2021 at all three stages in the Dewan Rakyat, the Opposition now find itself in a position scarce of playable manoeuvres to try and shift the winds in its favour, political analysts have said.

For these observers, the best option now for the Opposition and its leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim would be to buckle down, concede defeat after failing to vote out the Budget and allow Perikatan Nasional (PN) to govern in the meantime.

The experts were also united in suggesting the Opposition begin strategising on how it will approach an impending general election (GE) to win the voters’ mandate.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Prof Azmi Hassan told Malay Mail the Opposition yielding and shifting its attention towards GE15 preparations after the Budget failure would be a better option not only for Anwar and Pakatan Harapan (PH) but also for the entire country.

“Let the PN government govern the nation without the constraint of having to thwart attempts to dismantle the government.

“Just get ready for GE15 as I feel [Prime Minister] Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin would really like to call for one as soon as possible to legitimise his government once and for all,” Azmi said when contacted.

Political analyst and University of Malaya’s professor Awang Azman Pawi also agreed that yielding may be the best and healthiest option for Anwar and his bloc, but was rather pessimistic of a lull in political manoeuvrings for the time being.

For him, the Opposition’s best options would be to strengthen its grassroots support, ensure good service in constituencies, and prepare a solid and credible lineup, one that can offer the best formula in developing the country, to face PN in the polls when Parliament is dissolved.

“Despite the best move for the Anwar and the Opposition is to prepare for GE15, they might still attempt to overthrow PN,” he suggested.

On the other hand, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun also affirmed the idea of politicians multitasking between GE15 preparations and power-grabs, but said such manoeuvrings were not confined to only Opposition politicians.

He said this is due to the currently fragmented political landscape, saying the rocky situation would most likely continue even after an election is held.

“All parties and politicians have been simultaneously preparing the grounds for the next GE and are still opportunistically engaging in either intramural fights both within parties and among coalition partners, or consolidating or wrestling powers from one another.

“This will continue to the next GE and beyond, as the fragmented political landscape is likely to persist,” said Oh.

With 220 MPs making up the entire Dewan Rakyat, following the deaths of two Sabah lawmakers, the Opposition managed 108 votes in Budget 2021’s third reading bloc vote, losing out by three votes to the Perikatan Nasional coalition who received 111.

Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan @ Harun when reading out the voting results on Tuesday, noted one absentee and despite not naming the lawmaker, it is likely the missing MP was Umno’s chief advisor and Gua Musang MP Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah after indicating his desire to sit out the proceedings.

The victory to some was a sign of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Muhyiddin’s majority in Parliament, albeit a slim one, with at least 27 motions of no-confidence that were filed in Dewan Negara against the prime minister yet be tabled.

Muhyiddin’s purported majority in Parliament has been a constant point of debate ever since he took over as in March following a coup now dubbed the Sheraton Move.

Before the Budget votes, the last attempt to seriously overthrow PN came in September when Anwar tried to topple the government by claiming to have “strong and formidable” numbers of MPs, a claim that failed to convince the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to confer him as the next prime minister.

Realistically, what can we expect?

UM’s Awang Azman said he expects to see continued efforts to dethrone PN, despite outlining what’s best for the Opposition.

He said one likely way could see PH and Anwar submitting Statutory Declarations (SD) to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong claiming to have the bigger support.

“This would be on the basis their vote for the budget was focused on the plight of the people and to avoid a government shutdown, one not similar to a vote of no-confidence towards Muhyiddin as the prime minister,” he suggested.

He added how recent actions by Tun Dr Mahathir Mahamad and Tengku Razaleigh to team up and offer themselves as alternatives to PN was a clear indicator of the disillusionment within Muhyiddin’s coalition.

Awang Azman was referring to the joint press conference held by Dr Mahathir and his long time foe Tengku Razaleigh, where they pledged to cooperate despite being in different parties and opposites sides of the political blocs.

Oh also agreed with the prediction the Opposition would opt for the route using SDs sent to the King, but warned it would be an uphill battle for Anwar, going on the allegiances that make up the current political landscape.

This includes public defiance towards Anwar coming from both Dr Mahathir, who now heads Parti Pejuang Tanah Air, and leaders from Parti Warisan Sabah led by former Sabah chief minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal.

“As Dr Mahathir and Shafie are not likely to support [Anwar], he would need at least the whole of Zahid and Najib’s faction in Umno to definitively declare such support,” he said referring to Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former chief Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

When asked what might be put on offer, Oh suggested one possible strategy could see Anwar take the psychological approach towards MPs still on the fence to persuade them and support him.

“The most important aspect is to create some sort of ‘impression of inevitability’ of Anwar clinching the premiership, such as engineering a working relationship with Shafie such that they partner as potential PM-deputy PM, then all and sundry would throw themselves at him.

“Anwar would also have to realistically offer them both material rewards and moral persuasion, ranging from immunities and positions, to them ‘being on the right side of history’,” Oh added.

For UTM’s Azmi, the internal turmoil within PH could prove to be their downfall, with many unresolved matters, like the absence of a clear prime ministerial candidate.

He said despite the option of nonagenarian Dr Mahathir, who Azmi said “thrives” in situations where an alpha male is needed, evident through PH’s historic victory in 2018’s GE14, the senior politician might be losing his sharpness.

“Looking how Dr Mahathir failed miserably through his Budget bloc vote request, maybe he has lost his magic touch,” Azmi suggested.

This on top of a recent concession by Anwar’s PH colleagues in DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu, when the duo said PH needs a reset and for the coalition to stop wasting time with opportunistic PN backbenchers teasing support for Anwar.

Warisan’s Shafie has also recently come out saying the Opposition needs ‘fresh faces’ in leadership positions, pointing out this must not discount East Malaysians as possible leaders.

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