Winning is not everything, beware the poisoned chalice and the pyrrhic victory — Ronnie Ooi

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MARCH 6 — This article argues that Pakatan Harapan should not table a motion of no confidence against Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s government (composed of Bersatu, Umno, PAS, GPS, MCA and MIC) at the next Parliamentary session. In the unlikely event that Harapan wins the vote of no confidence, either there will be a snap election, which is by far the most likely outcome, or Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will be appointed the 9th Prime Minister. Both outcomes are disastrous for the future of Harapan and the country. Now is the time for Harapan to deeply reflect on what went wrong, and why it went wrong, and not dream about getting back to power. The first step to the recovery of Harapan is clearly the removal of Dr Mahathir as leader of Harapan.

Poisoned chalice and pyrrhic victory are English expressions which Malaysians may not be familiar with. But they represent political events which should be taken into account in the current political situation.

At first sight tabling a motion of no confidence is the obvious thing to do. What can be more important than to be in government?

But beware the poisoned chalice. A chalice is a magnificent drinking vessel used to drink a toast. In the Middle Ages it was famously used by a Catholic Pope to poison his rival. A poisoned chalice is something which seems at first to be very attractive but in time will cause failure or trouble.

Becoming Prime Minister again after the victory of GE14 was a poisoned chalice for Dr Mahathir. What appeared to be a glittering opportunity to enhance his legacy to the nation turned into ashes, with his reputation destroyed. 

With the Covid-19 pandemic anticipated to cause a world recession, factions jostling for position, and treacherous MPs, the job of Prime Minister has got even more difficult. Why not let Muhyiddin drink from the poisoned chalice of being Prime Minister and let him take the blame and anger of the people for the pain of a world recession?

In my view the vote of no confidence is unlikely to succeed because Dr Mahathir’s declared 114 supporters are not a solid band of people with similar ideology, objectives, and integrity. By the time the vote of no confidence can be tabled, some will have melted away. The Agong is right not to rely on the list which is very much in the nature of here today and gone to-morrow.

If Harapan is committed to a vote of no confidence, it is committed to retaining Dr Mahathir as leader, in order to benefit from the extra votes he brings to Harapan. In the unlikely event that the vote of no confidence succeeds, then it will only be a pyrrhic victory for Harapan. A pyrrhic victory is one where the cost or consequence of victory is so great that the victor is unable to benefit from it or be even ruined by it.

If the vote of no confidence succeeds, one of two things will happen: either the Agong will dissolve Parliament for a snap election, which is by far the most likely option, or appoint Dr Mahathir as the 9th Prime Minister. Both outcomes are far worse for the future of Harapan and those who want to see a New Malaysia than allowing Muhyiddin’s backdoor Perikatan government an opportunity to show us what they can do.

Snap election?

So before proceeding with a vote of no confidence, Harapan and its supporters must ask themselves how prepared they are to face a snap election?

The answer must be “completely unprepared”. The first question is: who is going to lead Pakatan? If it is Dr Mahathir, is Pakatan going to spin the same story of Dr Mahathir ruling for two years before passing on the baton to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim? Having seen Dr Mahathir’s plots, lies and manoeuvres to deny Anwar the succession unravel before their eyes, nobody is going to believe this story anymore. Can Anwar ever trust Dr Mahathir again? If Anwar is going to lead Pakatan, the question will be how Anwar can control the country if he cannot control his own party?

For both men, there will be the suspicion amongst the Malays that it will be the DAP pulling the strings in a Harapan government. The public is fed up with the constant politicking and lost faith in Harapan. The non-Muslims may not vote Perikatan Nasional but they will certainly ask themselves why bother to vote at all? DAP will probably still gather votes as the protector of the non-Muslims against a Perikatan coalition but why would the Malays vote for Harapan?

How about the Harapan Manifesto for a snap election? Harapan cannot simply re-use its GE14 manifesto as some of its promises are clearly undeliverable, such as the amount of affordable housing it promised to build. Harapan needs time to draw up an honest and deliverable manifesto and to re-build the voters’ trust in them. Perikatan is in the same boat. Having a snap election will force both coalitions to draw up hasty, ill considered, fairy tale manifestoes designed to attract votes rather than be delivered. What is the value of having a snap election where voters have to choose based on fraudulent manifestoes?

The federal constitution has been changed to give the vote to 18year olds and above, and there are 9 million of them waiting to be added to the rolls. A snap poll will deprive them of their right to vote.

Dr Mahathir as PM9 and Leader of Harapan 2.0

What if the Agong appoints Dr Mahathir as PM9 leading a Harapan 2.0 Government?

With 114 declared supporters, Dr Mahathir’s government would have a majority of two. Such a slim majority gives ample opportunity to the potential traitors and MPs for sale within the 114 to make extortionate demands on party leaders. There would be constant politicking and political uncertainty. Such a government would be unelectable come GE15.

Dr Mahathir is a man who said it is perfectly okay with him if Muhyiddin is proposed as Bersatu’s candidate for Prime Minister, but then calls Muhyiddin a traitor for being appointed Prime Minister. Lim Guan Eng reported that Dr Mahathir had told him that he, Dr Mahathir, is no longer committed to the Pakatan Manifesto. A few days later, on the morning of the chase for the 114 signatures, we are assured by PKR leader, Wong Chen, that Dr Mahathir is now fully committed to the Harapan manifesto.

We expect such flip flopping from a 94-year-old, but is it acceptable for a political leader and potential Prime Minister? How can anyone believe what Dr Mahathir says anymore?

Dr Mahathir has shown, in his second period as Prime Minister, that he has no new ideas, no new vision to take Malaysia forward but is constantly looking backwards to implement the failed policies of his first period in office, such as the national car, teaching maths and science in English. His machinations to set up a government of national unity which he can dominate is an attempt to recreate his days as leader of Barisan Nasional. Dr Mahathir can never be the leader of a New Malaysia.

When can we start building a New Malaysia?

Let us look at the situation from another angle.

As the legal and constitutional government, most people will feel it is fair to give Muhyiddin’s Perikatan government an opportunity to see what it can do. Furthermore it will help provide an answer to one of the most important questions facing the country today: will the country be more prosperous and happier if it is ruled by a government composed of the best talents of all the races or by a government composed of Malays and Muslims only? As sufficient numbers of Malays, headed by PAS and Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, have questioned the role of non-Muslims in government, I look forward to seeing what Muhyiddin’s predominantly or even exclusively Malay Islamic government can do for the Malay community and the country as a whole.

But if, after a sufficient period in power, it is evident that an exclusively Malay government is harmful both to the Malay community and the country, that such a government cannot build a New Malaysia, then we should be able to remove it in three years’ time at GE15 or even earlier through a vote of no confidence in Parliament if the votes are there.

If instead we have a snap election, there is no doubt in my mind that Perikatan Nasional will win with a bigger majority than they have at present and have the right to rule for five years instead of the three years they have now.

A one race government could have been prevented if the Harapan government had delivered. Unfortunately, it fell apart and cannot be put together again. As argued above, a Harapan 2.0 government under Dr Mahathir will be dysfunctional and will not prevent Perikatan Nasional winning GE15 in three years’ time. We will then not be able to remove it until eight years’ time at GE16. A Harapan 2.0 government under Dr Mahathir as PM9 will only delay when we start to build a new Malaysia.

Winning is not everything

The NGO Bersih and others demand a vote of no confidence, based on the moral argument that a backdoor government is not what the people voted for. True, but Dr Mahathir’s betrayal of the Harapan manifesto is similarly not what the people voted for, and a Dr Mahathir-led Pakatan is as morally reprehensible as Muhyiddin’s backdoor government. An Anwar-led Pakatan is what the people voted for, and the most legitimate from the moral point of view but unfortunately, he does not have the numbers.

If Harapan is committed to a vote of no confidence against Muhyiddin, it is committed to retaining Dr Mahathir as leader. But now is not the time to drink from the poisoned chalice of being in power nor be ruined by a pyrrhic victory. Now is the time for Harapan to deeply reflect on what went wrong, why it went wrong, to re-organise and to re-group, to restore faith in the party. This cannot happen if Dr Mahathir is the leader of Harapan.

If Dr Mahathir is leader of Harapan, he will block any honest analysis of what went wrong. He will blame everybody but himself. The blame game which has already started will intensify: “DAP is arrogant!” “Anwar is crazy to want to be PM!” Events have shown Dr Mahathir’s leopard cannot change its spots. If Harapan really wants to lead Malaysia to a brighter future, the first step it must take is to remove Dr Mahathir as its leader, and not table a motion of no confidence when it is not ready to govern.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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