Anwar, you have bungled yet again
by P Gunasegaram
COMMENT | Dear Saudara Anwar,
This is my first letter to you. I call you “saudara” because when you organised student demonstrations for Baling rubber holders in 1974, that was what university students – I was one of them then – called you. Many called you that when you became sports minister in 1982, under the government of Dr Mahathir Mohamad then. Later they stopped – I wonder why.
Saudara, I write to tell you that you have bungled yet again by tying your fate and faith to this man who has let you down, betrayed you, and did the most vicious things that one person can do to another over the last three decades.
More than that, you have abdicated the responsibility put upon your shoulders to lead this country towards reformasi and a brand-new future. A future where everyone puts aside racial and religious differences to work as one towards our own betterment and the betterment of our common heritage, which is our country.
Oh, we are not so silly as to think that this will be done overnight, metaphorically speaking, but with the historic Pakatan Harapan victory of May 9, 2018 - which you commemorated with a joint statement renewing your ties and alliance with Mahathir - we thought a start would be made.
But one man ruined all that, he of the ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ mould, who promised to hand over power to you but broke it repeatedly while still barefacedly repeating his promise until he could not anymore and then promptly denounced you.
He brought reform, which he never started during his two years, to an abrupt halt. Now you are teaming up with him again to bring back reform? Come on, saudara, you must be joking. But I am running ahead of myself here. Let’s wind back a bit.
Your relationship with Mahathir goes back a long way. In 1974, when Abdul Razak Hussein was prime minister, and Mahathir was education minister, during the student demonstrations in support of the Baling rubber holders, you were arrested under the infamous Internal Security Act or ISA.
After your release, you continued being a youth leader with a strong Islamic bent. In a surprise move, Mahathir brought you into the cabinet as sports minister, ostensibly for your Islamic credentials to blunt the impact that PAS was making among Malays.
You rose rapidly through the ranks to become Mahathir’s chosen deputy. And then there was the fallout between the two of you in 1998 when you were seen as challenging his authority and trying to overthrow him during the Asian financial crisis.
You were arrested under the ISA at gunpoint, subsequently charged with sodomy and corruption and went to prison. After Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became prime minister, you were exonerated from your earlier sodomy charges by the Federal Court in 2004. You were jailed a second time for sodomy under the premiership of Najib Abdul Razak, one of Mahathir’s chosen ones.
Despite Mahathir previously supporting Umno in both the 2008 and 2013 elections, your coalition led by PKR did very well in both elections, even winning the popular vote in 2013.
But as the 2018 elections approached, under severe pressure from your coalition members, particularly DAP, who felt that a Mahathir-led Malay party will help tip the balance in Harapan’s favour, you agreed to join forces with him and to let him become interim prime minister until you were able to become prime minister.
That was a bad mistake, as you and Harapan would find out later.
Harapan won handsomely but the figures showed that Harapan may have won anyway without Mahathir, whose Bersatu won just 13 seats out of 52 contested for a dismal win rate of a poor 25%, the worst among Harapan coalition partners. But Harapan kept to its promise.
The king offered your wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the right to form the government as the leader of PKR but she declined, saying in effect that a promise was a promise and instead asked for a pardon for you, which he agreed to.
Mahathir’s list of promises broken are long – but I will deal with the main ones. Harapan almost collapsed when Mahathir announced that DAP leader Lim Guan Eng will become finance minister and other key ministries which severely under-represented PKR and extremely over-represented Bersatu, Mahathir’s fledgling party. But still you went along.
Early on he drove a wedge between PKR and DAP by giving Lim the plum finance minister’s position and an overjoyed Lim and DAP freely resorted to the phrase “Prime Minister’s prerogative” when asked about the PM’s choice. But still you went along.
He brought in his old friend, crony and hatchet-man Daim Zainuddin and gave him more powers than the cabinet through the so-called Council of Eminent Persons (CEP), undermining a cabinet already under-represented in terms of PKR and DAP, as the DAP found out later. But still you went along.
Then he courted your number two, Mohamed Azmin Ali, brought him into the cabinet and gave him substantial powers under the Ministry of Economic Affairs. But even after you became an MP at Port Dickson in October 2018, there was no move to get you into the cabinet. You should have been made deputy prime minister. Mahathir succeeded in driving a wedge between you and Azmin by positioning Azmin as his successor instead. But still you went along.
When you won the Port Dickson elections by a huge majority, you were ready to become PM. By then, Mahathir was hinting at two years being the PM and sometimes even a full term, throwing the country into considerable uncertainty as to its leadership. But still you went along.
He said the Harapan manifesto was made with no thought of winning the election and therefore was not valid and could not be implemented. He put aside virtually all the reform programmes in the manifesto, especially those related to greater accountability and governance. But still you went along.
He brought in Umno members into Bersatu to boost their small numbers, gradually increasing his power base. He brought in disreputable MPs into Harapan just to alter the balance of power in the Harapan coalition in his favour. But still you went along.
When the two years approached, you and PKR started putting pressure on him. He could not keep delaying any longer. He made noises about continuing, hinting that the people did not want you. And then the Sheraton Move started. But still you went along.
He suddenly, without warning, tendered his resignation to the king, not just him but the entire cabinet. However, he convinced the king that he should be interim prime minister, a rather conflicted state of affairs. There was talk of a unity government but nothing materialised. He ruled without a cabinet. But still you went along.
But by now, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had other plans. He mustered what appears to be a razor-thin majority with Bersatu and PKR defectors and suddenly Harapan was no longer the government. But still you went along.
Betrayal time and again
Mahathir blamed you for everything – you were impatient, he said. He said other bad things about you. And now you have signed a joint statement with him to restore the people’s mandate. How can you still go along?
Mahathir has betrayed Harapan’s cause time and again. If he becomes PM again, he will be nothing more than the “musuh dalam selimut” that he has been since becoming PM again under Harapan. He is the Trojan horse that brought down the legitimately elected and most widely supported government in the last elections.
Saudara, how can you work with a man like that and sully whatever reputation and goodwill that you have? “What choice do I have”, you may ask yourself?
You always had and have a choice and you should have exercised that a long time ago. Simply refuse to work with traitors and supremacists of any kind. Return Harapan to the reform agenda.
Forget political expediency and put real people in important posts. You have lost for now but go back to the drawing board, come up with a plan to win in the coming elections. That requires courage, gumption and guts.
Start working for that now. Choose your coalition partners. Discuss seat allocations. Make sure every candidate from every party is clean, incorruptible and competent.
State and articulate your policies, how you will implement them. Convince the public you can do it, and just maybe, they will vote for you and your coalition again. But it may be a war that you start, you may not see its completion – be prepared to hand over to younger people. Groom your successors carefully.
If there is anything that you should have learnt by now, Saudara, it is this – you cannot deal with the tainted and expect them not to stab you in your back when it is turned. Also remember, the sign of a good leader is that he knows when to cut losses, move on and rebuild.