Last chance for Malaysia to move forward

ON November 19, Malaysians will have an opportunity to put an end to more than 40 years of corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement that began in 1981 when Dr Mahathir Mohamad became prime minister.

For Malay voters, it will also be a chance to expose the cruel fraud of “ketuanan Melayu” (Malay special privileges) that has been perpetrated upon them all these years. Far from being a scheme to improve the impoverished lot of the Malay masses as envisioned by our earlier enlightened and farsighted leaders, it is but a nefarious ruse to line the pockets of our “orang kayangan” (Malay elite). This gluttonous group includes not only the sultans but also hordes of their wannabes, in particular politicians in Umno and PAS. This perversion of what was once a noble endeavour to help the Malays was also the handiwork of Dr Mahathir.

Malaysians had two earlier tries at rectifying Dr Mahathir’s colossal errors. The first was in 1999, in the wake of the devastating Asian economic tsunami. Dr Mahathir must have had an inkling that he was a major factor to that crisis for he resigned soon after.

On superficial analysis, the Dr Mahathir-led coalition had a resounding victory in that year’s election, winning over 75% of the parliamentary seats despite gaining only 55% of the popular vote. More telling, however, was that many prominent Umno leaders would have been eliminated had it not been for “last-minute” postal votes from some nearby army bases. That election was held in the background of Anwar’s massive Reformasi movement against corruption, cronyism and nepotism.

The second try was in 2018 when the Najib Razak-lead Barisan Nasional coalition lost power. In the ensuing euphoria, leaders of the winning Pakatan Harapan were too generous in attributing their victory to Dr Mahathir’s efforts. That led to their fatal error of inviting the sly Dr Mahathir to be the prime minister. They should have just expressed their gratitude to the man and then led him out of the door. Had they done so, there would not have been the subsequent backdoor “Sheraton Move” in which Dr Mahathir schemed to block Anwar Ibrahim’s right to succeed him, as was agreed earlier. Dr Mahathir’s “success” burdened Malaysia with subsequent political instability – three prime ministers in fewer than five years, all equally inept!

Malaysia also missed the chance to have her first woman prime minister in May 2018. Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail would not only have been that but also the best prime minister, a Malaysian Angela Merkel – quiet, smart, and effective. What an inspiration that would have been for our young girls! Intellectual-wise, Wan Azizah is head and shoulders above the rest. At the very least she would have spared Malaysia Dr Mahathir’s subsequent treachery that burdened the nation with Muhyiddin Yassin’s embarrassing incompetence and Ismail Sabri’ Yaakob’s rudderless leadership.

Or, had Dr Mahathir let his then deputy Wan Azizah take over in February 2020, when he resigned for the second time, as normal practice would have it, he would at least have helped to rehabilitate his tattered legacy after having cursed Malaysia with Abdullah Badawi and Najib.

Pakatan Harapan’s Anwar Ibrahim and Rafizi Ramli are in their political prime, putting other leaders on the defensive. Consider this poignant scene circulating on TikTok. The erstwhile formidable Dr Mahathir is about to deliver his campaign speech when a junior police officer tells him politely that he cannot do so as he doesn’t have a permit. Look at his body language as he meekly moves away from the microphone and off the stage. A pathetic sight!

Contrast him to Fahmi Reza, a non-candidate in this election. He too was told to leave a local campus because his “democracy class” did not have a permit. Fahmi, however, stood his ground and although he finally left, the students were cheering him and he made the authorities look childish if not stupid

In this election, Malay conservative voters, the bulk of the electorate, have not changed, or if they have, it is only marginally, not enough to change the overall electoral dynamics. What has changed is that they are now split between the Umno-led Barisan coalition and the Malay-led Perikatan Nasional. This works to Pakatan Harapan’s advantage.

The other new factor is the expected influx of young first-time voters. The bulk of them would be Malays too but unlike their elders, these young voters are less likely to hew to traditional patterns. I expect them to identify more with the vigorous and inspiring young leaders in Pakatan Harapan. 

These young voters give me reason to be optimistic. They will usher in a new Malaysia by burying the old, corrupt, and incompetent faces in the BN and PN coalitions. – November 15, 2022.

* M. Bakri Musa reads The Malaysian Insight.

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