Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Reformasi won’t win the next general election

Murray Hunter

Reformasi won’t win the next general election

The key to victory will be to win over Malay voters, many of whom do not relate to the push for “reformasi”.

MAY 28, 2024

The “reformasi” idea in Malaysia emulated the movement with the same name in Indonesia as the Suharto era ended.

“Reformasi” in Malaysia followed suit as a reaction to the harsh aspects of the Dr Mahathir Mohamad government in late 1998, just after Anwar Ibrahim, then deputy prime minister, was sacked by Mahathir.

“Reformasi” began as a movement espousing the spirit of change for the better, a branding that was 25 years in the making.

The slogan attracted a hardcore following of believers across the span of liberal and western educated Malays – Malays who were sick of Umno’s corrupt practices and abuse of power – and a large cohort of Chinese represented primarily within the DAP, and segments of Indian ethnic groups.

NGOs like Bersih also touted a reform agenda inspired by the movement.

Anwar became the symbol of “reformasi”. The movement focused upon his persona, first focusing on freeing him from prison, and then getting him into power.

In 2018, when Mahathir became prime minister of a Pakatan Harapan government, the subsequent pardoning and release from prison of Anwar built hope for reform.

Anwar-Mahathir tussle

However, the presence of Anwar and Mahathir on the same stage became destabilising, with Anwar being dubbed the “PM-in-waiting”. Casual political discussion seemed to be dominated with talk about when Mahathir would step down and hand the reins of power over to Anwar.

Was the Anwar-Mahathir conflict one of the underlying factors that led to the destruction of that government? Historians will argue over the causes of the February 2020 Sheraton putsch for years to come.

The people have now witnessed 18 months of Anwar’s leadership as prime minister since he finally took office in November 2022, an occasion greeted with euphoria by his supporters.

Anwar and reforms

However, over the following months, some started questioning Anwar’s commitment to reform. Some of his believers explained the cognitive dissonance between what they were seeing, and the promise of reforms, by saying the Anwar government was not a reform government, as he had to lead the unity government decreed by the then king.

“True” Anwar supporters still believe that, one day in the future, Anwar will wake up one morning and start his reform programme. They urge patience.

The bottom-line is that Anwar’s “reformasi” followers today are living in disappointment to varying degrees.

PKR’s position

Cynics hold the position that PKR was just a vehicle to carry Anwar to the premiership. The sceptics hold the view that PH gave in to pragmatism, as the temptation to take the prize of becoming prime minister was too great.

This is another point historians may argue over. Was Anwar’s quest of the premiership an end in itself?

Forming a government coalition with Umno, and with Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as deputy prime minister while criminal charges were pending, seemed fine for the PH leadership. It was the cost PH had to pay to form and lead the government. Only a week before that during the 2022 election campaign, Zahid and Umno were the arch nemesis of PH.

Still today, the Umno, PKR, and DAP support base are finding this difficult to accept.

Support coming from Sabah and Sarawak has given Anwar a super-majority in the Dewan Rakyat. This will most probably be the same coalition that Anwar leads into GE16, due by 2027, unless some “black swan” political event occurs before then.

‘Reformasi’ won’t work

Anwar doesn’t need reformasi to get a second term as prime minister. The reformasi platform isn’t needed by PH in the next general election.

The DAP lost only two seats in the 2022 general election, and now holds 40 seats. The majority of these seats are in urban areas. Any increasing support for the DAP will not result in any extra seats in the next general election due to the malapportionment of urban constituencies (unless this is changed by the Election Commission).

PKR lost 16 seats and now holds 31 seats in the current Parliament. Likewise, Amanah, the third member of PH, lost three seats and holds eight seats.

Lesser of two evils

Any campaigning on the “reformasi” platform in the coming general election will not increase the number of seats for PH in the new parliament for two primary reasons.

First, unless there is any major change in PH ’s direction in government and reforms are introduced before 2027, no voters will take the coalition seriously on the “reformasi” platform any more.

The DAP will most likely maintain its traditional support, but the only reason liberal thinking people will continue to vote for PKR will be because they see the party as the lesser of two evils. Many believe the only alternative to a “unity government” would be a much more extreme one.

Second, the demographics of the voters in the Malay majority seats aren’t open to a “reformasi” platform. “Reformasi” just doesn’t resonate with them. Voters are much more responsive to the bread and butter issues of the cost of living and wage security.

Over the next couple of years PH will have to quietly abandon the word reformasi, if it is going to have any chance of winning more Malay majority seats.

Sea change for DAP, survival for Umno

Since the DAP cannot effectively lead any state government other than Penang, the party may move closer towards the doctrine of consolidating in Penang, the DAP’s natural stronghold.

The state is not without challenges, with declining percentages of Chinese and Indian population. The DAP must work hard on dealing with this. Adding to this problem is the reality that the party will at best only be a junior partner in any future federal government and hold only a few minister positions.

With Sabah and Sarawak seeking more autonomy, states in the Peninsula may follow suit. This could be the future for the DAP.

The key to winning the next general election will be winning the Malay vote and maintaining the current coalition. PH has little choice but to depend upon the sinking ship Umno to survive.

This is a dilemma for PH. Thus, the current ways of governance will dominate “unity government” narratives over the next couple of years. Factions within PKR may become more pronounced as party elections near. Umno party infighting will continue in the public domain. This dynamic is keeping the issue of former prime minister Najib Razak alive.

Anwar watchers certainly see him pursuing the strategy outlined above.

1 comment:

  1. Ketuanan Melayu and Ketuanan Islam is all that matters for the majority.

    Too bad they are of no use for Malaysia's daily struggle to compete in the international marketplace.

    Neighbours Indonesia, Vietnam and even Thailand are focused on rapidly building fast growing economies.

    Alas, Not Melayu-sia.