AUGUST 18 — Growing up in Malaysia, one constant reminder from the state apparatus is that complexity is bad.

It does not matter what is at hand, the repeated mantra is that complexity leads to confusion which then leads to chaos.

Therefore, the prescribed method — follow the familiar and established regardless of the absence of context and a festering sense of being caught in a time warp.

Race policies are regressive. Yes, but Malaysians only know race, do not confuse the people. Stick to race policies.

First past the post (FPTP) is reductionist and mires us in identity politics. Yes, but too much information in a ballot sheet and progressive election methods confuse Malaysians who only know how to cross twice every five years. Stick to the FPTP.

Protecting the government of the day at the expense of those perennially in the Opposition breeds unhealthy institutionalism, persistent corruption and stunts our political evolution. Yes, but more than one government confuses people, so have one permanent government and one permanent Opposition regardless of what elections can bring.

Complexity is the enemy of stability.

It continues to piss me off, over decades, and now eventually, perhaps too belatedly, it pisses off the larger population. Finally.

Because it dawns on people, complexity is not the creation of nefarious characters hell-bent on laying all of us in ruins. It is what reality always has been.

Dealing with the complexity challenges and frustrates in equal measure but where does Malaysia get off with the sense of entitlement that it does not need to confront its own demons? Look at the country over the last four years.

There has been a strong force in play, based on the conviction an unnatural occurrence transpired with the win for Pakatan Harapan in 2018. Too many Malaysians whispered on this talk. Giving it energy.

For the foreseeable future, even beyond GE16 in 2027, the overwhelming number of interests driven by geography, history, identity politics and splits of political forces will drag the country back. — Picture by Hari Anggara
For the foreseeable future, even beyond GE16 in 2027, the overwhelming number of interests driven by geography, history, identity politics and splits of political forces will drag the country back. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Echoes reverberated, that a return to the familiar and established order of Barisan Nasional (BN) is the path to stability and away from chaos.

Is that true? No.

There is no rabbit-hole back to Kansas. Time is not a loop and Malaysia’s future is in taking new steps to navigate this reality and not with nonsensical nostalgia for a past which is no more here.

On the ground

Firstly, there is no BN as old-timers remember it.

BN was a disciplined all-inclusive coalition which had exclusive power. In the 1990s, Sarawakian parties would fight each other but maintain a steadfast commitment to remain BN members.

Why? Elected politicians cannot provide voters without BN’s machinations. It was better to be one of the 14 parties in the coalition — however minor — then to operate as a proud independent party.

Without the actual title, Malaysia was a single coalition nation. Umno is the pre-eminent leader of the coalition and all roads to prosperity — at least for the leaders even if not for the general rakyat — only happen inside the fold.

BN today is neither inclusive nor possesses exclusive power.

In the coming election, two ex-prime ministers lead coalitions to compete against the sitting PM who has the shadows of one ex-PM with a penchant for social media and his party president who wants elections pronto lurking around.

That’s right folks, the Umno president is not Malaysia’s prime minister. But he might be if the election works in his favour.

All four of them — past and present PMs — were raised in BN traditions and today wear different colours.

How can Malaysia return to the familiar and established at the next general election when the paragons of BN’s durability are at loggerheads?

The elections

You are wrong, just look at all the by-elections and state elections since 2018. It’s been down, down and down for Pakatan.

The common error — not in any way, shape or form forgiving that coalition’s ability to fail at will — is that Pakatan’s electoral disasters are proof of BN’s return.

That is based on a binary calculation of only Pakatan and BN. Where the former’s ineptitude guarantees unfettered powers to the latter.

Examine the past four years and the evidence points in a different direction.

2018 to 2020. After initial walkovers, Pakatan tumbled over and over again in by-elections till its collapse in February 2020.

Between then and now, there have been four state elections. All lost by Pakatan — however they are not indicative of sole BN domination.

September 2020, Sabah. Pakatan ally Warisan wins 29, and with PKR’s and UPKO’s meagre contributions has 32 which is five shy of a majority. Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) are in second with 17, and with BN’s 14 and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) seven, they total 38 and cross the line. BN’s Bung Moktar Radin was inconsolable losing the race to be chief minister, instead PN’s Hajiji Noor heads the state.

Summary: Gabungan Rakyat Sabah and not BN run the state. The national fallout between PN and BN is set to play out during the general election.

November 2021, Melaka. BN won convincingly 21 of 28 seats.

Summary: The election was forced by Umno rivalry. Chief minister Sulaiman Md Ali and Umno chief Ab Rauf Yusoh remain at odds. Three times have power shifted in the last four years. Melaka’s six parliamentary seats except for Kota Melaka to DAP are no locks.

December 2021, Sarawak. Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) won 76 of 82 assembly seats. Parti Sarawak Bersatu and DAP shared the six. BN won nothing since BN did not contest. GPS has no interest to re-enter BN.

Summary: GPS in prime position to monopolise the 31 parliamentary seats at the general election. However, they will be a separate bloc ready to hold back their support to BN whenever it pleases them — happily divorced they healthily share custody of the state inside the federation. MA63, anyone?

March 2022, Johor. BN won 40 of 56 seats. Pakatan floundered with 12 — none for PKR.

Summary: BN with a strong chance for 20 of the 26 parliamentary seats.

While Pakatan’s obituary is overwritten and the memes are funny, BN is no more the juggernaut. It hopes for upswings in Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan — to the detriment of PN — in order not to be overly dependent on the Borneo states if it were to form a government.

Complexity fills the void

While the electoral outcomes of the past two years shape the potential result for BN in the general, whatever total — this refers to Umno only, since MCA and MIC will do as told — procured will stay volatile.

Why? Because whether it is 90 or 60 parliamentary seats for Umno, the factions inside the party will likely continue their power play in order to push their own agendas.

Ismail Sabri Yaakob might continue as PM, but also continues as a vice-president in Umno. Zahid Hamidi names himself as candidate and probably is still Bagan Datoh MP. Even if Najib Razak fails to find joy in the courts, a family member would hold on to Pekan on his behalf. The proxy wars beguile.

The inability to hold Umno’s election before national polls mean the complicated power relationships and negotiations are set to continue post-PRU15 — even if Pakatan’s presence most likely shrinks in Dewan Rakyat.

The Umno warlords are even more emboldened by the political vacuum.

From here on, there is no omniscient BN with the ability to steer Malaysia to a resolute foundation. For the foreseeable future, even beyond GE16 in 2027, the overwhelming number of interests driven by geography, history, identity politics and splits of political forces will drag the country back.

All those invested to divert us away from complexities in order to retain stability find their oversimplification offer no rebuttal. It gets messier by the day as the distractions of managing a post-pandemic economy and ever exploding scandals compound.

Political leaders, in and out of power, seek to offer simplistic solutions to the malaise. Hardly any have the stomach for complexities or the intellect to confront them. Hold on to your seats, this flight is all turbulence with no chance of meatballs.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.