Dysfunctional 2018... the winners

DECEMBER 20 ― One man’s meat is another man’s tofu, a former vegetarian told me. It suits the occasion, the quote, I mean.

Random, hazard-ridden and all kinds of into the unknown, best describe — the wayward even if ultimately rewarding — 2018.

I won’t trade the year for all the toddy in Sepang, but surely it must count as bizarre as they come, and it was not easy to decide, the champions.

Set aside the euphoria of May, and the promises made and assumed, it is a peculiar challenge to sift through the calendar year and spot the real winners. Hindsight is an unforgiving mistress.

Not about partial gainers, losers with a silver lining or unsatisfying measures which leave much to be desired, but rather this is about out and out winners. This column looks for the guys still standing at the bar when the gun-smoke is over.

To determine the clear victors, I had to gather on top of a slope overlooking a former rubber plantation in Cheras, friends from my childhood. Mambang, David, Esan, Kogabalan, Poppeh and Doc-7-times.  Then we decided to let the stray dogs in the dead of midnight call the shots with their barks.

These are the medallists.

Bersatu for not all

United in division is the mantra of Bersatu Pribumi which claimed to be everything Umno except for being led by now-axed prime minister Najib Razak.

With a singular value proposition, while owning all the race rhetoric of its precursor, Bersatu went out to woo votes.

It was a limited proposition, though with the single star attraction in Mahathir Mohamad.

In most universes, it’s a miracle, for a party to have the prime minister-elect despite only possessing 13 seats or 6 per cent of the Dewan Rakyat’s (Lower House) 222. Then another five of the 12 remaining become ministers. That’s a sweet deal.

This month, defectors arrived hard and fast from a collapsing Umno, with the promise of more soon. The party it was fashioned after is a free for all. The series of exits decimates Umno and demoralises those who stay. Yet the informed electorate is wary of legislators abandoning ship as a tactic to avoid legal charges.

Regardless, Mahathir in triage mood seeks to temper his political nous with the public’s cry for the punishing noose. Every MP in will up his value inside the Pakatan Harapan coalition. He’d reject some and take in the rest. He’d won’t shed more than he has to, as his new Umno is underway.

So yes, Bersatu is a massive winner from an unlikely electoral victory.

Sarawak gets a chance

Sarawak remained under Barisan Nasional after election day.

Yet, even after the state coalition severed ties with BN, the newly formed Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS-Sarawak Coalition) remains in power for now.

With serious inroad, both DAP and PKR in tandem can swing the state over to Pakatan. This is not a pipe dream anymore.

GPS runs the state, but with minister Baru Bian and a coterie of federally elected politicians coming for them, the only defence it holds out is of state patriotism.

A local coalition with no federal power is slated to defend against a federally based coalition. In the past, any Sarawak coalition opposed to Putrajaya is bitten, chewed and spit out.

For the federal government will always dwarf any state election funding, which is why Pakatan is in super-shape for state elections 2021.

With only emotions to back them, GPS is in a precarious position. Right now, the state is only for Pakatan to lose. It’s a fair game, finally, after more than half a century.

The council of eminent persons

They came, they met and they left. Little was recorded except they were extended unprecedented authority to know and then to act.

Whispers remain of how Mahathir brought ex-finance minister and point-man Daim Zainuddin from the crypt and asked him, with other friends, to sort matters out.

From the start many were alarmed by the inclusion of former Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, former president and CEO of Petronas Tan Sri Hassan Merican, billionaire Tan Sri Robert Kuok and economist Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram.

It was not that the unelected were offered positions of influence, but that they were expected to be the bulwark of initial reform bypassing the elected members of parliament. 

A regime change after 61 years and the guys asked to walk into rooms to investigate, negotiate and decide are Mahathir’s wingmen.

They were offered a free reign and they called in anyone they needed to talk to. And now, over, they are not lined up to assume responsibility for the tenure, the MPs and ministers are expected to.

The council of eminent persons. A sweet deal, we just aren’t sure about the details.

Media and truth

There was a rumour the senior staff at the national news agency, Bernama, were gobsmacked for a week after the election. Decades of describing the incoming ministers as clear and present threats to the Malaysia’s survival, they had to now serenade the bosses as manna from the skies.

The landscape had to be reimagined.

Sarawak Report is available online without the need for evasion and its editor Clare Rewcastle Brown goes on a media tour across the country, except (cheekily) Sarawak.

Where were we before this?

When the truth is a version of perceived goodness for decades, people can’t tell an honest desire for good apart from fact. The latter is not to flatter, but to empower.

The government before was interested in securing power rather than interested in real participation. Participation in any democracy relies heavily on media, a fertile and varied media.

The change of government has become an invitation to up media. With no constraints on how media can operate, the environment has been invigorating.

Though the politicians may not share the sentiment.

Nurul Izzah has political ambitions

In the words of the Permatang Pauh MP, she felt she should have abdicated her positions much earlier.

Better late than never, Izzah.

While a change of government is crucial, it can’t be denied the anachronistic fervour of the present government from age to style is suffocating for those seeking real reforms, a break from the past.

While her dad Anwar Ibrahim queues to replace Mahathir, and her mother remains as deputy prime minister, Nurul Izzah had to carve her own path on the political stage, distinct from this period of ascension for her parents.

Or she risks being the daughter, only.

The resignation as vice-president — after securing the highest number of votes, again — and rejecting the title of Penang party leader from her father, are bold moves to assert her own thinking into the national political mix.

But in which direction?

Not a coincidence the open nature of her pow wows with party colleague Rafizi Ramly and Khairy Jamaluddin. One rejected by PKR members who chose Azmin Ali as deputy president, and the other dumped from Umno senior leadership after being defeated for the presidency by Zahid Hamidi. All in a position to plan the future.

Though I feel icky when they over-elaborate their mutual admiration and support via social media. The Bro-Sis-mancing is an acquired taste.

Still, Nurul Izzah is a winner, because in Malaysian politics leaders don’t leave their posts as they rise or are at the peak unless they are ousted or shoved out of the way. 

She won her family’s traditional parliamentary seat, topped the contest to be number three in her party and receives adulation from her crowd. To leave before a scandal is unprecedented, and for that she becomes a true winner of 2018.

A sample of the future of politics, to be principled rather than adorned with titles and power.

The Malaysian people

It’s not cheese, its sheer gold.

There was madness in Germany when the Wall came down in 1989, because despite the potential, a monumental volatile shift will leave the many breathless. Germany found its footing, in time.

Malaysians will in time look at 2018 as a crowning moment, especially those born after it. It does not seem as much today, because change is a bitter proposition.

They can move in so many more directions than the culture and race limiting Umno led-BN.

This part will take time. Probably the only refuge for the confused would be comedy.

Like watching PDRM (the police) snatch the prime minister’s wife Rosmah Mansor’s highest-end handbags. To be fair, they were just lying around, in the ex-prime minister’s home.

Goodbye 2018

Our pilot reminds us the turbulent ride is not over yet.

It has been grand, even if our dysfunctions are laid out for all to examine. These problems predate them, but they have festered for decades.

An election upset is not the only thing necessary to lift our common democratic legacy but it is a start.

That has happened, and the fact is not enough wins have surfaced since; those who seek change have to try more, and perhaps try different.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.