SOMEONE who was in the corridors of national power recently intimated while we discussed national politics that it is time the nation moved from both Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and “prime minister-in-waiting”, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
While that summation neatly captures what animates much of the political goings-on of the moment, there is of course much more than the interplay of the two foremost party leaders within the Pakatan Harapan (PH) ruling coalition.
Without trying to put too fine a point to it, what happens within the next year or so may well be as pivotal (if not more so) as May 9, 2018. The political fate of the nation, no less, is at stake.
There is, to be sure, a considerable body of public opinion going for the reasonable argument that Malaysians voted in 2018 for a PH government which, prior to the elections, hammered out an agreement that Dr Mahathir will lead that government before subsequently handing over the reins to Anwar.
Those who voted based on such an understanding are likely to be rather disappointed if things do not turn out as agreed.
Yet, it will be churlish not to acknowledge that another body of public opinion has other ideas and, as Dr Mahathir himself acknowledged, in a democracy, political leaders ignore public opinion at their own peril. And, political dynamics have moved from what they were back in the middle of 2018.
Then, there was little argument that antipathies towards what the previous government was up to were truly national in scope. Only such breathtaking antipathies could have swept a well-entrenched coalition from power.
It might well have been that many — especially among the Malay majority — overcame some anxiety (with Dr Mahathir making the critical difference?) about overturning a nationalist political force that had the backing of that majority all these past decades to turf out an increasingly rotten and static political regime.
More than half of the present national mood may be likened to the bewilderment felt by the proverbial dog eternally chasing after a motor vehicle and finally succeeding in claiming its prize!
The accompanying angst (or buyers’ remorse) — no doubt furiously fanned by a freshly energised political opposition — is perhaps accentuated by new anxieties about how fractured Malay politics has presently become.
Meanwhile, non-Malay opinion predominantly has it that it is high time we all moved on and stick to the original political script. There is much impatience that racial thinking and politics have made a comeback, perhaps flippantly ignoring that they hardly ever left.
Such a majority-minority chasm in public opinion is the abiding tragedy of multi-racial Malaysia. The strains of such gaps are all too painfully evident in the political divisions within Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
Meanwhile, Malay angst seems to be somewhat affected by the still solid cohesion shown by DAP. It is an embarrassment of political strength for the party and of course it will be argued that it cannot be DAP’s fault.
It puzzles me endlessly why we keep hearing voices that multi-racial politics and political parties are the most natural state for the nation when in election after election, this has been disproven. PKR never quite made it until a well-known quantity on the most natural state of national politics (Dr Mahathir) helped nudge the coalition PKR nominally leads over the top.
Also, someone please explain why are there two, not one, ostensibly multi-racial parties in PH if multiracial politics is viewed as the overarching imperative driving the nation forward.
Shouldn’t the over-riding principle of political multiracialism have subsumed all other factors — such as personalities or ideological differences — so that a single multiracial political entity becomes the natural counter-weight to politics organised along communal lines?
The inescapable political truth is that as in all other democratically-inclined nations, what passes for majority opinion (however that is derived) ultimately carries the day politically. Dr Mahathir has not been shy in needling his coalition partners about the fact that being in the same political bed with him has somehow injected political realism into them.
This is perhaps best shown by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng publicly casting his party’s lot with the (vague) timetable the prime minister sets for the leadership transition against the clamour of the Anwar faction in PKR for a clearly-set one.
The other inescapable reality is that whoever is prime minister needs to assuage the majority angst and DAP must naturally be calculating which prime-ministerial candidate best serves its interests going forward.
The writer views developments in the nation, region and wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak