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AUGUST 1 — How to forge a nation of principles?

If it were to be realised, it requires leaders with principles.

Therefore, are the present leaders following principles or expediencies?

Few Malaysians can answer in a satisfactory fashion about their leaders. Because the undoing of the past monopolistic government required convoluted, layered and faintly dishonest compromises among the ranks which defeated it.

But perhaps there are means to demarcate prior decisions and compromises, and utilise rational devices to drive us forward, while fully cognisant of externalities before and after the 2018 general election.

They orbit around two issues; one loyalty to party, therefore leader and two, pacts among unlikelies.

Daily there are reports of yet another PKR leader reaffirming support for president Anwar Ibrahim. Yet, incessant too reports Pakatan Harapan leaders, from PKR and not, exulting Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, which is a backhanded slap of the PKR president’s ambition to succeed as PM in a year.

Meanwhile, the Umno and PAS alliance grows in their glorious summer with even seat negotiations scheduled while Khairy Jamaluddin sits in his own winter of discontent.

He’s worn out further by the return of Zahid Hamidi as active president — who beat him in the party polls — and the appointment of ex-president Najib Razak as Barisan Nasional adviser.

None of these sit well with political observers as it appears no cogent development can occur from them. As they are not real threads to a government of substance, but rather lead to governments of convenience.

Anwar, economic minister Azmin Ali, Mahathir, Wan Azizah and other Pakatan leaders are in a conceptual musical chair of power but not of purpose.

While Zahid, Najib, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and a slew of spiteful right wingers count on Malaysia’s communal situation to fracture so badly that a distasteful and ugly general election will bring them to Putrajaya, while Khairy and the moderates wish — with little hope — the party returns to the centre.

In the end, this column asks leaders to walk away from the past and construct henceforth ideological beliefs and sides from the ground up.

The binary past

When Mahathir walked into the Anwar court room in 2016, days before Bersatu Pribumi was formed, it sent shockwaves through Malaysian politics.

Anwar’s Keadilan was set up to defeat Mahathir’s Umno in 1999. Almost two decades later, the seeds of co-operation were laid for Mahathir’s newest “Umno” and his ex-deputy’s party to unseat Najib’s Umno. And their alliance triumphed over BN-Umno last year.

However, considerations for the pact have come back to haunt Pakatan.

Mahathir’s promise to stand aside for Anwar is debated by Malaysians, day in, day out.

Pacts under duress in the face of formidable opponents are not new. The US and Western allies were never happy to be in cahoots with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union at the height of the Second World War, but military outcomes often require arrangements with the devil.

So was the coerced 1920s pact between the Chinese Communist Party and Kuomintang when the fledgling monarchy-less homeland was under the cosh of warlords.

When confronted by an unyielding BN possessing enormous strength, the choice to gather a united opposition was paramount. By hook or crook. The monopoly can’t be overcome otherwise.

Which is why Mahathir insisted on a single logo for the Peninsula campaign, which ended up being PKR’s eye.

All agreements to the lead-up of the election has to be seen in this light.

The ethos “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” was in operation, and those with common enemies would be foolish to assume the men standing beside them to fight that foe are natural lifelong friends.

While the rakyat can expect all election promises are met, for they pledged their votes in exchange, that’s not the same for arrangements among combatants. Electoral pact promises are not sure things, unfortunately, when it’s between politicians.

A losing hand?

Some claim it’s not fair to all inside Pakatan despite the electoral breakthrough. They should reconsider that statement. The general election result keeps giving.

Every Pakatan senior politician has benefitted in the past year. The same can’t be said for party operatives and most certainly members. So the sight of these politicians moaning can be a bit too much.

Many are ministers and deputy ministers now. The backbenchers look at plum seats in government and the select committees. They are celebrated as triumphant heroes.

A defeat instead would have seen the end of Mahathir. He would have slipped from the people’s imagination and instead be reconstituted as Onn Jaffar’s successor, a great man who ends up as a sore loser, and left alone and reimagined in history books.

Anwar is Port Dickson MP and party president. While he was slated for prison release last year anyways, he would not have received a royal pardon which was necessary for him to hold those two positions.

Even the tabloid news grabbing Rafizi Ramli is not dragged to court as often with the threat of incarceration ominously hanging over his head.

It has not been painful, for any of them. Some got more, but that’s par for the course. Politics is not about guarantees, it’s about permanent negotiations.

Therefore, these politicians might want to count their blessings and show some gratitude to the Malaysian people.

The opportune present

Malaysia is a place for competitive politics, finally.

The addition of at least 10 million eligible voters to the next election through the vote bill underlines the shift best. An engorged electoral roll, access to voters and technology does its share in upping the array of communication points. Votes are ready to be persuaded to very different directions.

Both major pacts have control of some mainstream media and political space is at an all-time high. This column can say BN-Umno was a repressive government bent on suppressing democracy and its adjacent pillars without fear today.

The binary of the past is no more, but why are the politicians behaving as if it is? Of being locked to old dynamics and restrictions.

For example, can we abandon the farcical notion PKR has an ideological spine? Umno and Bersatu Pribumi are barren in this regard, but at least they don’t try to lie about it.

They just believe race first and then fairness to the rest is relevant in the 21st century. It’s obviously retrogressive, but in an either-or environment, it gets oxygen.

Khairy toys with the idea of a centrist platform without intimating whether it’s for Umno or for a new movement yet to be a party.

Nurul Izzah Anwar rears her head occasionally, which forces conjectures of when more will arrive from the Puteri Reformasi.

With many loose pieces on this political chessboard it is high time for co-ordination and a consolidated attack to win, in New Malaysia.

Principle, ideology and not just populism

It’s cringeworthy, the parade of support for Anwar. The future of Malaysia should be ideas, not the perpetual mathematics of who has a comfortable majority of MPs in Parliament, based on permutations of Pakatan and Opposition reps.

If PKR emerges formidable, then Mahathir’s stay comes under threat. Anwar should spend more time displaying superior party leadership and spunk in parliamentary proceedings.

A 94-year-old in a structureless party is not a rival. But he is not going to make himself redundant. Want his job? Get Malaysians to believe in your value, and not in the depreciation of your opponent’s value.

But this great open invitation today is not just for the party leaders, it’s for all local politicians.

However, the invitation can’t save them if they doublespeak. They can’t hold on to the past, their party’s inadequacies and occasional idiocies to retain support while they seek different votes on a different platform.

Support for either party, presumed ideology or electoral with other parties must be founded on principle and not just expediency.

In the past, it had to be sacrificed quickly to survive the vagaries of a binary system. It is time to come from behind the scenes and capture the moment.

The only facts are Mahathir is PM and almost all parties in and out of power want this status quo to continue in the medium term.

In a queer development, while so many things are up in the air, meaning political instability in usual circumstances, the universal insistence this government should carry on offers a wide space for competitors to build their brand.

To not be tied by party allegiances which were always facetious anyway, or purely strategic pacts among parties.

However, it would be quite helpful if the politicians were clear about their stand and side.

There is a country to be won and it’s open to all takers. Time to rev up.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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