By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
In mid-February the country was a buzzed with news that seven former Umno MPs had crossed over to Tun Mahathir’s party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu, uninvited. The immediate reaction was one of indignation, as Malaysians are wary of these “turncoats” believing them to be nothing more than opportunists seeking protection against ongoing investigations by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
With the new addition the power balance within Pakatan Harapan (PH) has altered dramatically and the demise of Umno, once the most dominant political party in Malaysia, is not only assured but hastened. The significance of the event was minimised by the aborted and much-anticipated corruption trial of former Prime Minister, Najib Razak.
That is the nature of things in the country today and I attribute it to the popularity and extent of social media where news becomes stale in a matter of minutes or perhaps seconds.
The significance of Tuesday, February 12 event was lost in transition largely due to it being overshadowed by something larger than life – the court trial of an irrefutable kleptocrat who had amassed billions via a dishonest money laundering scheme – the 1MDB.
The power equilibrium in PH has tilted in favour of Tun M’s party, Bersatu. The party is now on track to achieve its ultimate aim – to be the most powerful partner or perhaps on par with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP) within the ruling coalition. And this is done before the “old man” hands over the premiership to his “anointed” successor – Anwar Ibrahim.
The power dynamics prevalent within PH presently is rather obvious. It is safe to assume that the strength of the coalition rests on the shoulders of one man. And that man is none other than Tun Mahathir. Love or loathe the guy, Mahathir is here to stay. He may be well past his prime but his influence is eternal.
A regime change would not have happened without Mahathir’s effort in splitting Umno apart and ensuring a smooth power transition. On May 9 the balance of power in parliament was this: PKR 47 seats, DAP 42 seats, Bersatu 13 seats and Amanah 11. With barely a third of seats of what PKR or DAP had, Bersatu wrested many important cabinet posts – the Prime Minister, Home Minister and Education portfolios. And over in Perak Bersatu with only one state assemblyman, Ahmad Faisal Azumu, was given the most coveted post of Menteri Besar.
To ensure Bersatu’s survival in the mid-term what would be your plan of action?
First is of course the neutralisation of an irritating political nemesis – Umno. Bersatu is largely made up of ex-Umno members who were kicked or forced out of the party during Najib’s presidency. If Umno is not dealt decisively it will remain a threat to Bersatu’s survival.
The similarity in Umno’s and Bersatu’s ideology is nothing strange as both are from the same mold. And the simplest way to destroy Umno is to encourage defection of its elected members namely, members of parliament and state assemblymen. The implosion of Sabah Umno is a result of this political maneuvering. Defection by Bersatu’s party members, supporters and voters to Umno is a threat Bersatu is wary but, fortunately, this has yet to happen.
Second, you need to ensure that Bersatu remains influential after Mahathir exits the political scene. This is a must and not something fictional. Mahathir will be 95 next year and if he remains till GE 15 he will be 98. There is no certainly of him returning to bolster Bersatu as he did in GE 14.
So the only way for the party to remain relevant in PH is to increase its number in parliament and state assemblies. Politics, essentially, is a numbers game, especially in parliament where it matters most.
Numbers may not be too important when you have someone of Mahathir’s stature in the forefront of Malaysian politics. But it will come into play once he is gone. With the inclusion of the seven Umno lawmakers, Bersatu now has 22 MPs. If more were to crossover a definitive change is expected in the country’s political landscape.
An old army friend had fallen on hard times. His wife and only daughter left him for good some years ago. The distraught guy did some odd jobs but the loss was too much to bear. It affected him mentally, physically and financially. He roamed the streets for a spell till a concerned citizen committed him to a welfare home in Kajang.
I came to know of this a few weeks ago and when friends decided to visit the destitute, I offered a helping hand. We passed the hat around and collected enough to see him through. That was what we thought. The Kajang home, however, does not allow money to be passed to its residents. So our donation was given to the manager for “safekeeping”.
The home, like similar shelters in the country, is not in the best of shape. What it requires most is a water dispenser, as the only source presently is the sole electric kettle in the kitchen. A good dispenser costs about RM4k. Getting the money for the item is our next goal, God willing.
One pertinent lesson I gleaned from this unfortunate episode is the importance of the family unit. Once the unit is broken, you are a goner. That is the fate of my old friend, Major Faizal Ragunathan (Rtd). Refer photo above.