DECEMBER 1 — What kind of friends are we?
That regular voters ask this a week after the formation of a federal unity government — alongside two other state co-operation governments — is expected.
For seasoned politicians to struggle to explain the “friendship” shaped from hung houses — Dewan Rakyat and a couple of state assemblies — which worries.
This column is aware it has abused the phrase “brave new world” in the past but Malaysia just keeps handing out curveballs from Jupiter.
The good news first, enough of the coalitions with their various parties have come to an agreement to govern. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s — it still shocks to put the title before the PKR president’s name — administration should be intact till 2024, and Cabinet names published soon.
The cautious news — mind you, not bad news — ideology out and expediency in climate causes volatility. Which is why it is more an unprecedented coming-together rather than a grand alliance.
This transpires from 70 years of fixed co-operations masked as well-aligned interests.
The history of it
In 1952, the British decided an independent Malaya needed all representatives together despite its own duplicitous role to separate them hitherto. All the anti-socialist forces of Umno, MCA and MIC inside Perikatan (Alliance).
In 1972, Prime Minister Razak Hussein sought to end uncertainties and turn all valid political parties into a grand alliance. Only DAP rejected what then became Barisan Nasional (BN).
Both were fixed coalitions. From 1955 to 2008. Then it got deranged.
For GE12, PKR, DAP and PAS forged a loose pact to confront BN. This turned into Pakatan Rakyat before it morphed into Pakatan Harapan.
It broke the two-thirds monopoly and uncertainties ensued.
Pakatan rode its wave without shedding its image of “the necessary vehicle to unseat BN” and sacrificed any institutional integrity. PAS left and left its splinter Amanah in, and together with the other splinter, Bersatu, won federal power in 2018.
Since it was only built to defeat BN, it proceeded to undo itself. What surprised was its hasty implosion.
In the aftermath of Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation, factions from Bersatu and PKR agreed to terms with PAS, Umno and Sarawak’s GPS to ward off the existential “yellow peril” threat as Perikatan Nasional (PN).
Fast forward a year, an eternal reconstruction with no change of parts but Umno over Bersatu leadership under Ismail Sabri Yaakob, insisted by Umno president Zahid Hamidi.
Six coalition iterations from both sides of the divide since 1952 and none with any ideological underpinning.
Please, just please, don’t say stability, prosperity and peace are ideologies. Those are universal aspirations.
Seventy years and not one leader who has a message other than “hey, I like to lead.” Malaysia is not that dissimilar from how the Chinese People’s Party runs China, except elections.
Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail is pictured with Amanah's Mohamad Sabu (centre) and Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari (right) at a ceramah in Rompin November 30, 2022. — Bernama pic
Recounting the past underlines coalitions are merely anchors to pursue power.
The present unity government is a collection of four coalitions — Pakatan (PKR, Amanah, DAP, Upko, Muda), BN (Umno, MCA and MIC), GPS (PBB, PRS, PDP and SUPP) and GRS (Bersatu Sabah, PBS, SAPP, Star and Usno).
Even at its height, the old BN never had this many parties in it and certainly not in stages. The situation is layer under layer. The alacrity with which GPS switched support from PN to Pakatan indicates the instability inside the various coalitions inside the Sarawak coalition.
Already the confusion is palpable.
Presently, Pakatan and BN campaign together in Tioman for the latter though both appear on the ballot sheet for the December 7 by-election. Amanah's Mohd Fadzli Mohd Ramly wants to give way to Umno's Mohd Johari Hussain, and both Amanah President Mat Sabu has campaigned side by side with Pahang Mentri Besar Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail.
All above intent to protect the slim margin BN-Pakatan have in the state, 24 in total against PN’s 17 from faltering.
Meanwhile in Padang Serai BN-MIC candidate C. Sivaraj is unsure what to do since his name is on to oppose Pakatan-PKR Mohamad Sofee Razak. Are BN to stay onside with Pakatan since they hold the seat and need to fend off PN? But if Sivaraj backs down, it will be the first time since independence BN fails to have a parliamentary seat in Kedah.
Again, the reason is to fend off PN.
Will this create greater animosity between BN and PN despite the former’s role in the Pakatan-led unity government to stabilise Malaysia? Or is there more to it?
Defenders of the new NEW is that the government is too tender and therefore for now, gangs up against PN.
GPS and GRS have to contend with Pakatan and BN’s autonomous tentacles in Borneo.
Selangor has been a stable government for 14 years but MB Amiruddin Shari is already talking about cooperation with BN. Why?
The lack of nuance drives this confusion. Firstly, the conviction friends must back each other to death and attack opponents relentlessly.
This is not a grand coalition, and the multiple coalitions in it have to rationalise it as such. There are common interests and basic rules to operate with.
Pakatan, BN, GPS and GRS are competitors. They can oppose each other in by-elections and should not refrain from championing their goals which may be at odds with their partners in federal power.
The confusions emerge from the lack of clarity in the rush to this coalition and the false expectation that just having Anwar on top and the four coalitions in agreement about him would overwhelm all other chasms among them.
The four of them have to hold internal meetings to clarify the terms of engagement. Otherwise, more confusion is to follow, and these will raise resentments and shorten the unity government.
A clarity of purpose is important at the start, it becomes imperative at difficult times and with the sight of recession on the horizon, the differences risk spilling over.
Pakatan is Pakatan, BN is BN. They are friends of convenience, they might need reminders for both their sakes.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.