Anwar wants to be PM, the clock’s on and citizens still baffled

FEBRUARY 13 — A foreign observer waded in — this is a peculiar country with quite peculiar distractions which possess no particular objectives other than to sustain peculiarities common with its zeitgeist, whatever that might be.

He might as well have said it’s a twirl which leaves him — and probably all of us — breathless and clueless.

Though he admitted it’s a fascinating watch.

Anwar Ibrahim — PKR president and Port Dickson MP — intends to swear in as prime minister by May 10. There are 12 weeks between now and then, but more tellingly the six within the window when Dewan Rakyat convenes. [N1] 

Either things fall into place for Anwar’s parade or he’s to stand ashen-faced outside the lower house with no explanation to offer. Except perhaps one of embarrassment. [N2]

It’s peculiar when resolute Islamists of PAS prepare a parliamentary resolution to back the current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who mind you expressed there's too much Islam in public schools — which he directly controls which in return appals religionists.  All in order to bar Anwar’s passage to power, despite him for the past four decades tying Islam to government.

In other developments, a highly unoriginal statutory declaration rumour grows, of MPs inking their love for Mahathir.

The distractions, peculiar or otherwise, are set to continue in the interim. In these 12 weeks, at least.

Country before citizens, leaders after citizens

The sporadic bafflements are due to the chaotic manner the Anwar-Mahathir power grapple’s discussed. Both claim a calm in their relationship, however none of their supporters feel placated by the other’s pronouncements.

Discussing what Anwar deserves, how Mahathir owes his second coming to Anwar, why Mahathir’s a designated temp and when a suitable period has passed for a polite baton-pass from Pakatan Harapan’s first PM to the presumed replacement are false analyses.

A country is a living construct which is not for whimsical horse-trading, regardless of how qualified the traders feel they are. [N3] 

More importantly, when the country struggles, the people struggle. So, equations can’t be rejigged for a laugh.

Decisions about it revolve around it, not about characters massively interested to dominate it.

A leadership change affects 32 million lives.

It’s a staggering decision which is why the regime change on May 9, 2018 was monumental. It asked a lot of the people. The same people can’t be asked to undergo another shift because it makes the PM keep his promise.

His promise to the people trumps any other pledge.

It is life and death, and those to be affected deserve better consideration. For neither man is likely to forfeit his own life if an error occurs.

This is not to deny Anwar his chance. But it can’t be about him, it’s about the people.

The necessity of an Anwar administration, which requires the immense tectonic shifts across our whole federation to occur, has not been argued. Nowhere near sufficiently.

A new PM is not merely the changing framed pictures at government offices. It’s a new ride for a whole people.

So yes, every administration change requires the process of acquiring the people’s confidence in it, not just merely the reliance on gentlemen’s agreements in small meeting rooms years ago.

Power, successions, leadership challenges and coalitions

Politicians are defined by power, therefore, it’s counter-intuitive to yield it when you have it.

For those without it?

Timing’s essential, and one learns to take a seat when it’s not on.

Here’s the usual paths to power outside a general election.

Through planned successions in planned democracies or a leadership challenge inside parties in a competitive political arena.

The excellent example of Singapore comes to mind.

People Action Party’s Lee Kuan Yew (1959-1990) passed the reins to Goh Chok Tong (1990-2004) who then handed it back to his boss’ son, Lee Hsien Loong (2004-present). The gold class of planned power, even if boring like their food.

We’re no Temasek, and the last GE put paid to the idea of Malaysia, the planned democracy.

The other brings us to our colonial master.

Both UK’s Conservatives and Labour have had leadership challenges and in the last two occasions presented Theresa May and Boris Johnson as prime ministers.

Umno’s own previous experience in an open fight tore up the party in 1987.

But our path today is unusual.

How to navigate power among leaders inside a coalition, representing varied interests and whose dynamics have shifted drastically after two years?

There’s the temptation to have a straightforward leadership MP vote to determine. PKR (50), DAP (41), Pribumi Bersatu (26), Amanah (10) and allies Warisan (9) and UPKO (1) to cast ballots without the fear of party restraint.  

Though in real terms, the rest minus PKR are ready to vote along party lines. Perhaps it’s time to know where Anwar and Mahathir stand without the diplomacy of the presidents’ council. 

With a mandate, perhaps they can head to Dewan Rakyat without fear or remorse on how to deal with the Opposition bench. Presently, they are trapped by uncertainty inside Pakatan.

The drag and alternative roadshow

Of course, Pribumi Bersatu dig their heels in when it comes to discussing Anwar’s dreams. He’s from a different party. He’s not invested with Pribumi Bersatu’s future, or present for the matter.

James Carville, strategist for the US Democratic Party, said last week, in a startling admission, "The purpose of a political party is to acquire power. All right? Without power, nothing matters."

He could have been speaking on behalf of Pribumi Bersatu — or every other Pakatan party. [N4]

So, why would Mahathir’s party countenance an Anwar administration, when he’ll diminish Bersatu’s powers?

Every day they stave off Anwar, they cement their own party’s foundation.  

Meanwhile, between parliament sessions, Anwar attends events near and far to embellish his credentials.

He also comments on political space, internationalism and progressive Islam.

However, his plan for the country has yet to appear on an app. He could rush along that, for all the reasons above.

The buying time strategy and Anwar’s halfway shows at half the interest nationwide frustrates many. Indeed, it’s about the people, but since they both possess the strength to perpetuate the impasse and perhaps focus on impasse, the people still suffer from the indecision.

So perhaps Anwar’s countdown to power, while a dangerous game of brinkmanship, does allow for a conclusion. Whether or not the former deputy prime minister can step past Mahathir, or reluctantly step away from the stage.

Distractions, peculiar or not, are set to fill the landscape including PAS members waxing lyrically about Mahathir. Don’t get flustered too quickly by ridiculous antics. This is not a marathon anymore. Anwar is on the clock and a nation watches on as the finishing line starts to show.

[N1] Welcome to 2020 proper, since Malaysia only stirs up a fortnight after Chinese New Year. Though, it grounds to a halt in mid-April for the double whammy — fasting month and a month of Syawal merriments. Parliament sits March 9 to April 16.

[N2] Anwar may remember the last time he set a deadline to assume power outside an election, September 16, 2008, turned into a disaster. MPs dashed out of the country notwithstanding, he should have learnt from it.

[N3] Anwaristas are never loathe to remind all about the arrangement which allowed PKR to back Mahathir as PM candidate for the 2018 General Election.

[N4] The coalition of Barisan Nasional — fixed control with Umno — is different from Pakatan with equally ambitious parties.   

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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