“And that's that.”
- Ace Rothstein (Casino)
COMMENT | The visit by the current Umno grand poohbah Najib Razak and the grand poohbah-in-waiting Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to the bedside of political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim who is recovering from surgery has become a kind of Rorschach test of how people interpret Malay political and social culture.
Indeed, in Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegaram’s piece, he makes it very clear that for people who “understand” Malay culture, this meeting is nothing more than a meeting between two former allies turned political opponents at a time when one is convalescing.
It does not take someone with an in-depth understanding of Malay culture to realise that these meetings between Malay potentates present good optics – in press speak – to their political bases. Anwar, who has been imprisoned and vilified by the Umno hegemon, appears composed and magnanimous while Prime Minister Najib and Deputy Prime Minister Zahid present themselves as benign and mindful of Malay civility and compassion, even to rebels who would choose to usurp their power.
Despite establishment narratives that non-Malays – the Chinese specifically – seek to supplant Malay/Muslim power in Malaysia, the reality is that this could never happen. Why this is the case is beyond the scope of this article, but since Malay powerbrokers hold the keys to Putrajaya, the sight of Malay political opponents meeting always arouses speculation and yes, insecurity amongst the non-Malay demographic, especially those invested in regime change.
Beyond that, the meeting has fuelled speculation that a possible deal could be brokered between the disparate Malay power structures that have caused so much trouble for the current Umno regime. Not only has Najib have to deal with the charismatic Anwar, guard his flanks against the religious machinations of PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang, but he also has to deal with the master of realpolitik Dr Mahathir Mohamad who is probably playing the last and great political game of his life. The stakes are high.
Here is a conspiracy for you. Perhaps the “delay” in the Registrar of Societies (ROS) registration of Pakatan Harapan as a coalition is to pave the way for a smooth transition of power between disparate Malay power groups and stifle the rebellion of the Najib refuseniks. Without a registered and formalised opposition, it would be easier to use legalese to justify unexpected mergers and yes, acquisitions.
Remember, this is not the first “deal” between Anwar and the Najib regime. There was also that deal brokered by Indonesia’s Jusuf Kalla in 2013 that both camps reneged on for various reasons. Why such a deal was needed – to respect the outcome of the general elections – is beyond me, but apparently, it was...