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COMMENT | Within a year, Umno was able to turn around its devastating defeat of May 2018 and reengage its political base, tapping into its resource and machinery advantages. Within less than another year, it was able to return to power in a new coalition. Despite factionalism and not being strong enough to hold power on its own, Umno is best posed to secure the most support if elections are called soon. They (and PAS) have a sweet spot – in power but not responsible for that power.

Today, three months have passed since the Pakatan Harapan government collapsed. To date, there has been little serious reflection on the reasons that the government fell. Blame has focused on those who grabbed power. Analyses of Harapan’s role – what little there is of it - has centred on the personalities involved – especially Dr Mahathir Mohamad. This piece aims to push the discussion further, to draw attention to additional issues that should be addressed for Harapan to restore hope to its supporters.

Leadership trap

Foremost, is the problem of leadership. Repeatedly the Malaysian public has been caught in the destructive distrust of Harapan’s two leaders – Anwar Ibrahim and Mahathir. These tensions continue to divide the opposition coalition and prevent it from moving forward. Both men have been badly damaged, with large shares of the electorate wanting to move beyond these individuals.

Besides personal loyalty, support for these leaders within Harapan stems from perceived strategic strengths of both men – Mahathir’s appeal to parts of the Malay ground and Anwar’s appeal to reformers as a long-standing leader fighting for change. Both of these arguments lost ground during Harapan’s tenure in office.

The by-elections before February this year showed serious decline in Malay support – as the Mahathir factor had completely eroded. Nowhere was this clearer than in the Tanjong Piai by-election in Johor. For Anwar, the focus on his own role as leader, as opposed to reforms, has undercut his credibility with voters. The distrust of the two men for each other is being overshadowed by distrust of these leaders in the... 

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