FEBRUARY 27 — Democracy is messy.
If it appears to be an orderly procession resplendent with well-drilled marchers, then you’re in Pyongyang, the grand capital of North Korea, not Kuala Lumpur.
Where Fatty’s in charge — still north of the DMZ — with an army of hackers. And his dogs do bite opponents’ heads off before they chew the intestines.
They’ve outlawed problems over there, except for sporadic but inexplicable executions, imprisonments, famine and animal attacks — it’s worth repeating.
Those averse to democracy’s innate quality to possess people who disagree with each other should head over to where Kim Jong-un reigns pretty.
If Malaysia’s system of government was a computer, it’s not had a hardware or software upgrade for decades due to a political elite’s fear of peasant participation.
The enforced update and maintenance over the last two years, have expectedly overwhelmed politicians, bureaucrats and voters — which does not explain how the current leadership stalemate emerged but shows why the conditions were ripe. It was way overdue.
Millennials might lose their mind — and feel immensely offended for their parents and grandparents — at the mere notion, but the prime minister in the 1980s ran the country as how he felt with little regard for public opinion.
Not very #woke. Elections were not too scary — for him — because they were guided by firm hands.
When he mooted a car company then, it was up and running in three years with media waxing lyrical about its “game-changing” effects and drive for the Malaysian economy.
He does that again, almost 30 years later, and is met by a tepid media and disinterested population. A chastening experience for one used to adulation.
What happened to trusting your leader unabashedly? The 21st century happened to it.
Mahathir Mohamad’s frustrations as a representative leader under the cosh of a Pakatan Harapan Presidential Council is well documented.
While he agreed to helm as one of the four parties, with the support of a fifth, he didn’t feel he had to abide by it. These new allies didn’t concur.
I don’t quote Anwar Ibrahim a lot, but he’s pointed out in the past how it’s a battle to win a proposal inside Pakatan as opposed to the “rubber-stamp” culture inside Barisan Nasional (BN) in its heydays — 13 parties to give voice and duly accept Umno’s domination, and three million in Umno to be seen but to fear the president.
The presidential coucil meeting last Friday was the last straw. Mahathir didn’t enjoy looking up to PKR and DAP’s superior MP count, and perpetually requesting for their indulgence to continue ruling.
While history may record the stillborn realignment — over the weekend — of the majority to back Mahathir being done without Mahathir’s blessings, political scientists would struggle to accept a “clueless” Mahathir.
Clandestine operations are non-starters inside these shores.
Observing an environment where all parties — inside and outside Pakatan — professed support for Mahathir as prime minister would have tempted Mahathir to leave the constrictive and exclusive space of Pakatan, and appeal to all of the parties directly and have a direct lower house mandate without the chains of a formal coalition.
The choice to resign last Monday, rather than to abandon Pakatan for Muafakat Nasional — Pribumi Bersatu, Azmin’s PKR defectors, PAS and Umno — opened subscription to a non-coalition option.
Mahathir stays as interim prime minister, while waiting for the riff raff from Pakatan, Muafakat and the rest to grudgingly accept his terms — to have all their blessings but none of their demands forced upon him.
A PM who governs without friends and foes lurking over his shoulders.
And he kept silent for days to allow them to mull and to capitulate; after all they’ve all been raving about him, so much so PAS fights to have a parliamentary motion to applaud Mahathir.
Which got unhinged yesterday when Umno/PAS and Pakatan rescinded their support for divergent reasons. Umno/PAS can’t stomach a unity set-up which seats them with DAP, and Pakatan demands that Mahathir operate inside their presidential council if he wants their MPs.
They lost patience and named Anwar’s candidacy.
This precipitated the PM’s early evening national address yesterday, which emphasised three matters.
His remorse over the pain the present predicament brings the rakyat, the rationale for this resignation forced by his Umno-allergy and his sincere desire to lead the country again through a non-coalition mandate.
Mahathir mentioned the need for cross-aisle resolve to fix an ailing economy and combat Covid-19. What to him constitutes grave threats which requires all Malaysian MPs to do their duty and leave their party stripes at their respective headquarters. To roll up their sleeves and to serve Malaysia under his leadership. To fight the war together through the mechanisation of a unity/war Cabinet.
This must bring cause to pause.
Sure, the economy is mighty tricky with more questions than answers, but it’s no war. Asking India rather than bossing India might lift the anxieties about palm oil exports to the sub-continent, for instance. And the Wuhan-originated virus requires attention, but it’s not the Plague, and certainly not Hitler.
I fear the prime minister’s request for the abdication of political affiliations for the sake of the country sounds hollow, and risks being seen as one man’s desire to operate without the stress of coalition partners, especially when his party is only in fourth place in MP tally.
Mahathir now seems more Cromwell than Churchill.
Though the above may shed light on this most eventful of weeks, it does little to sort the predicament.
While small factions remain non-committal, three paths pace-set currently. The gaiety and confidence of Muafakat last Sunday has died, and now they seek fresh elections; a restocked Pakatan readies for an Anwar-led minority government; and Mahathir’s ardent desire to have a large umbrella of bipartisan support devoid of party-affiliations to back his return as prime minister.
Luckily, unlimited calls and Internet are the rage with telco providers, therefore all the MPs can alternate between strapping their devices to their cheeks or bruising their fingers on their keypads, without fear of hefty phone bills. It’s mad, I can imagine. The horse-trading.
After decades of trades these characters have played out at the expense of others, there is a glint of schadenfreude to see them at the receiving end in this high-stakes poker game.
But the point about seeing the sausage made as a democratic right, remains. It’s not very dignified, as democracy’s clumsiness is now clear for all Malaysians to see.
And them seeing it does a world of good for Malaysia’s progress to a developed democracy.
I wish Mahathir, Anwar and BN’s usurpers search for fresh elections all the luck in the world.
Maybe less for BN, if I was being honest. But my intense desire is for this episode to grow democracy in the hearts of Malaysians. Like a predictable schoolteacher to say that we learn from doing.
And the only lesson to derive from Churchill here, surely not his wartime Cabinet, is his speech to the House of Commons in 1947: Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
May that be the light for Malaysians through this necessary ordeal.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.