COMMENT | "All politics is local," said the folksy former US speaker Tip O'Neill. But O'Neill's maxim may not apply to Bersatu.
The formation Bersatu two years ago was completely national, nothing personal or local about it at all. If anything, it was guided by altruism, albeit with the personas of Dr Mahathir Mohamed, Muhyiddin Yassin and Mukhriz Mahathir looming large.
Although Bersatu was consolidated in a manner not unlike Umno – from the branches right down to the 165 divisions that span the entire peninsula – the party took to forming a strategic pact with anyone that was determined enough to end the kleptocratic practices of former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak.
Given such a wide berth, Bersatu found itself allied vertically and horizontally with everyone from NGOs to top political parties. Be it Bersih, Tindak Malaysia, or what remained of Pakatan Rakyat, Bersatu was not devoid of strategic, structural and intellectually savvy partners.
Right from the get-go, Bersatu found itself able to forge powerful alliances with PKR, DAP and Amanah, as well as Warisan in Sabah. While Bersatu was created in the image of Umno, its top leaders were determined to purge any elements of corruption right from the beginning.
Thus, close to 57 percent of the earliest members of Bersatu were under the age of 35, with Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman being a mere 23-year-old debater from the International Islamic University of Malaysia.
Pride and honour
In his speech at Bersatu's second anniversary celebrations yesterday, party chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad warned time and again that Malays and Malaysians will never be turned into a nation of "brazen" thieves and beggars. Malays, in particular, could once again shine as beacons of light in the Nusantara.
Instead of stealing from the country, as had been the alleged practice of Umno and BN, Bersatu was adamant that such practices be banned.
Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin said in his pre-recorded video speech at the event that the power accorded to the party after the 14th general election was a "test" from God, to see if it can become stronger and better than the rest.
To the degree that Bersatu could become functional at all in the early days of its formation, it came from the donations and help of party faithful. While some helped with funds, especially when the patriotic credentials of Bersatu were made clear, the party also grew in stature as a no-nonsense party.
Even PAS, that tried to court Bersatu with all forms of electoral pacts or promises, were the first to be chased away. Instead of using political Islam to gain the sympathies of Malays and Muslims, the rank and file of Bersatu all agreed not to insult the intelligence of the people by manipulating Islam one bit.
Bersatu did not or never want wanted to be a merchant trader of Islam like PAS, who clearly uses religion as political opium to turn followers into addicts. Bersatu called a spade a spade. This gave rise to the assertion that some key members of PAS were only green on the outside but Umno red on the inside. Who can ever forget the five tembikai!
Today we see the closet relationship between PAS and Umno out in the open, as witnessed Seri Setia by-election.
'United we stand'
There were others – including non-Malays – who backed Bersatu with their quiet determination that the kleptocracy of Najib had to end. As things stood, without the toils and tears of many, Bersatu would not merely have been banned on the eve of GE14, but would have been rendered inert and stillborn.
More importantly, Bersatu did not emerge from any iron triangle of special interest, which is why the party in its early stages saw no crossovers to Umno. Even to this day, Bersatu insists that Umno leaders who were allegedly on the take must not be in the party. The rule of law would take hold to deal with all of them.
To be sure, no one in Umno gave Bersatu a sliver of a chance to be a true representative of the Malays and Islam, indeed, Malaysia. But having been elected into office, Putrajaya is now a beacon of hope throughout Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak.
In this sense, the Malay adage of "Bersatu teguh, bercerai roboh" is most apt. United we stand. Divided we fall. Harapan will not allow the band of thieves formed of Umno and PAS to have the chance to steal from Malaysia ever again. That is our iron promise. Nor will Harapan allow such seedy practices to perpetuate in the country's administrative system.
No doubt the journey forward is going to be tough, made worse by the extreme excesses of the past administration that Bersatu and Harapan have inherited. The discovery is a continuous process. Such is the depth of corruption, malfeasance and abuse of power.
From day one after forming the goverment, Harapan had no time to even breathe, no time for any form of honeymoon. The expectations from the people after enduring decades of plunder and theft of the previous administration are simply monumental. Challenges are also monumental, given the inherited liabilities.
However, no stones will left unturned by Bersatu and Harapan in marching towards fulfilling the promises made through its manifesto. It may take a little longer than what it was thought originally, but it will be fulfilled.
Meanwhile, happy anniversary, Bersatu!
RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Bersatu. He also heads its policy and strategy bureau.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.