Should we play it long or short?

JANUARY 12 ― It would not be too presumptuous to say that the arrival of 2018 has been eagerly awaited by many, if not most Malaysians.

What makes it particularly portentous is not simply because the 14th general election will be held this year, but more because of the heavy stakes involved for all stakeholders.

For the incumbent Barisan Nasional regime, losing is an unimaginable option. Having never been out of power from the inception of the nation, defeat would be an end not only to their careers, but their way of life altogether.

For the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition, the moment is a long time coming. Having overcome the difficulties of the past few years, from the tragic loss of key opposition leaders and the jailing of coalition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, as well as a disappointing Sarawak state election campaign, the opposition has managed to get its act together.

For the very first time, seat negotiations ― typically the stickiest issue ― have been settled early and a prime minister candidate has been announced. With perhaps the strongest line-up of leaders ever presented by any Opposition coalition in the history of the country, it is a veritable “do-or-die” mission, particularly for many of the senior generation who would likely be contesting for the last time.

The short game

Perhaps the most exciting and controversial move by Pakatan Harapan is the naming of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the opposition’s choice for the top post.

This has of course generated emotional debates in the public realm, with much heated criticism coming from Opposition supporters.

Part of my role in the coalition is to keep track of and at times engage with the many opinions and views on the social media.

I appreciate every constructive view expressed, even if some may contradict entirely with my own. But one thing that I have learned in recent years, is that the advent of the social media has resulted in people becoming more orientated towards the “short game.”

Perhaps it is a consequence of today’s fast-paced world, where we are often pressured to do everything immediately.

Information must be available now. Results have to be seen now. Satisfaction has to come now. This world of the immediate has resulted in our priorities being mismanaged as we become obsessed with seeking short-term pleasure.

How many times have we logged onto the internet for some purpose but end up scrolling through our Facebook or Instagram feeds instead? Often, we would even forget why we were online in the first place (this happens to me too!).

In this age of social media and high-speed everything, our yearning for immediate approval and gratification has conditioned us to make decisions based on hasty, populist and short-term desires.

In short, we are consumed with playing the short game.

The long game

It is opportune for us to use the occasion of the new year to remind ourselves that history is more concerned with the long, rather than short game.

As much as we want to satisfy our immediate needs and feelings, we owe it to ourselves and our future generation to take a step (or 10) back to consider the bigger picture.

It is often said that the key to long-term success is perseverance. This includes the ability to learn from failures and to make short-term decisions that may not sit well with our instinctive urges, but which may be necessary in the long run. This is how I view the recent decision made by Pakatan Harapan.

It is easy to disagree with the prospect of Mahathir returning to power. It is easy to point to the many “sins” made during his term of power. It is also easy to accuse him of acting for selfish reasons.

These would be the immediate reactions of many people. But surely it is also difficult to disagree with the fact that he is one of the most recognisable political figures in the country, who still commands considerable respect across many layers of society.

Considering that he has not only apologised but also made peace with his many foes, including Anwar and DAP's Lim Kit Siang, I believe we should give him a chance. If only to give ourselves one.

Past elections have shown the limits of the Opposition’s reach. The electoral system is such that it is difficult for the Opposition to win despite gaining the lion’s share of the popular vote.

With non-Malay votes at saturation point, the only way to make it across the finish line is to reach out to segments of Malay voters who would not normally vote for the Opposition. And that is precisely what is being offered by Mahathir and his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

The alternative is to allow BN to win again, which would result in a consolidation of power and the likely end to the careers of a whole generation of opposition leaders who had fought their whole lives for political reform. It would also be unlikely that another golden opportunity would present itself in the foreseeable future.

There are very few Malaysians who would disagree that there are many wrongs in the country that need to be set right. And we all know that this would not be achieved without first changing the government.

As Machiavellian as it sounds, the long-term end in this case might really justify the short-term means.

With the future of Malaysia at stake, we cannot afford to miss the forest for the trees. If we do not learn to play the long game, we will end up losing it all.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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