Will Pakatan’s fearmongering push voters away?

JANUARY 14 – It was disappointing, but not unexpected. Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) announcement last week that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will return as prime minister — after an almost 15-year “hiatus” from politics and before that a record 22 years serving the country — only served to snuff out any dreams of a fresh hope.

The Opposition pact needed to find its footing, and it decided to do so by promoting Dr Mahathir’s fledgling Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) as the lynchpin, not only with its PM candidate, but by gifting PPBM the most seats to be contested in the next polls.

PPBM will contest 52 parliamentary seats, one more than traditional chief PKR. Perhaps in a bid to silence detractors who accused it of dominating the pact, DAP would take just 35 -- just one less from its current ones.

It is, however, the opposite for Parti Amanah Negara which has been consigned to doom and irrelevance with just 27 seats.

Some supporters dream of the pair of Dr Mahathir and de facto Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim leading the country side by side, as they used to two decades ago -- as if the country can suddenly reset itself by “rewinding” to that moment in time.

Of course, two decades later we now look at the the late 1990s through rose-tinted glasses. But such a dream is also depressing, for at least two reasons.

One: It is as if the past 20 years has been all for nothing, and could have been avoided had Dr Mahathir simply not thrown Anwar under the bus back then. Lest we forget, it was Dr Mahathir himself who “chose” his successors.

Two: It seems that the only way to win the Malaysian political game is to present “another Umno” to the voters -- in this case PPBM, and the possible Dr Mahathir-Anwar duo.

Dr Mahathir giving a speech at the Pakatan Harapan convention in Shah Alam on Jan 7, 2018. — Picture by AFP
Dr Mahathir giving a speech at the Pakatan Harapan convention in Shah Alam on Jan 7, 2018. — Picture by AFP

Of course, this was inevitable, as keen political observer Clive Kessler suggested back in 2016: “In Malaysia — this is the basic political fact — there can be no plausible and enduring change, no change that has any prospect of enjoying broad acceptance and real effect, that is not backed and supported, even promoted, by Umno.”

It was a schismatic decision that is bound to rile up both those who felt the brunt of Dr Mahathir’s and his successors’ administrations, and PH should have expected resistance — regardless of Dr Mahathir’s apology (or non-apology, as it turned out to be).

Perhaps this was what Anwar had hinted at in his letter from the hospital early this month.

However, some PH supporters had in the past few days reacted against those — mostly youths — who rejected Dr Mahathir by playing the fearmongering card.

These supporters would comment or reply to such rejections on social media with photo macros of the prime minister and his wife laughing — with crudely added tears streaming down their faces — and thanking voters who plan to spoil their votes, or not even bothering to turn up.

One vote that does not go to PH, they seemed to say, is merely one more vote that would go to BN.

There are several ways this could backfire.

By putting voters to ransom — especially those who are sitting on the fence not so much because of apathy, but because of their rejection of the Coke-Pepsi analogue — would only endorse their suspicion that both are merely different sides of the same coin.

These are the same voters who were faced with the rhetoric that the country would be driven to ruin should they vote the Opposition. And now, they are being threatened similarly, only this time, the other way round.

Such ransom can also be intellectually insulting, especially to the young, those who are politically woke, who pride themselves on being critical. It is not as if they do not know what is at stake.

They just do not see what’s in it for them, and for the rest of the country.

Academic Amrita Malhi wrote in several publications this week that putting Dr Mahathir as a figurehead is meant to placate two demographics: the non-Malays, and the so-called “liberal” Malays.

What is at stake if BN wins, together with PAS by its side, is the price PAS would demand: including the federal green light for Islamic penal law hudud, and “wholesale Islamisation” of the State and public life.

Dr Mahathir has a proven track record of being a bulwark against Islamisation, and in recent times has opposed blind faith. But much like his latter career and now Opposition role, it seems as if the statesman has always been trying to atone for his sins — including creating the institutionalised monster that is consuming our very lives now.

Perhaps PH can do more than that for the sake of the youths: among others pledging not only to retard, but reverse, the spreading tendrils of Islamisation in the country. But PH probably would not, and will never, not when the Islamist lobby is becoming more daring and rejuvenated after its mega Ummah convention yesterday.

PH has announced that it would limit prime ministers to just two terms. But it can do one better: by presenting a clear line of succession from Dr Mahathir to younger leaders with grassroots support, and the ability to shine a glimmer of hope for disenchanted youths.

If PH seems like the same ol’ thing, one way to dispel such perspective is to look at what it can be in the future.

Resorting to threats, mockery, and disdain are merely insults to a generation that does not merely want alternatives, but options.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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