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Mahathir and the grand coalition

Liew Chin Tong
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Recently, some quarters have accused Pakatan Harapan chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad of being the root of all problems that the coalition is facing. 

While he is no saint, it would not be accurate to label him as an obstacle to the reform agenda.

The historic decision for the former opposition parties to collaborate with Mahathir was done based on the following considerations.

First: The Mahathir swing factor

With former premier Najib Abdul Razak and PAS colluding to create three-cornered fights that would most likely benefit BN, it would have been impossible for Harapan to win federal power in GE14 without forming an alliance with Mahathir and Bersatu.

Back in March 2014, Najib had started to lure PAS into Umno’s fold. In February 2015, Anwar Ibrahim was imprisoned and shortly after that, former PAS president Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat died. 

In June that year, the PAS conservative wing called for a total rejection of progressives, and party members split after its muktamar (general assembly). 

Those remaining in PAS cooperated with Najib, whose scheme was mainly based on the presumption that those who voted against him would vote for PAS instead of Harapan, and after winning the elections, Umno and PAS would come together to form a ruling bloc. 

Najib thought he could still win big even though he was embroiled in probably one of the biggest corruption scandals in history.

It is undeniable that the change in government that happened on May 9 last year was catalysed by the dissatisfaction against Najib. 

However, it was the historic collaboration between Mahathir and Anwar, and Bersatu joining forces with the remaining Harapan component parties, swinging 15-20 percent of Malay votes in the west coast that finally allowed Harapan to overcome Najib’s ‘three-cornered’ strategy and wrest power from BN.

Second: The Mahathir-Anwar government

The decision for DAP, PKR and Amanah to form an alliance with Bersatu was only achieved after prolonged deliberations and negotiations. Significant milestones for the coalition include:

  • The existing Harapan component parties signed an MoU with Bersatu on Dec 13, 2016.
  • Mahathir and other Bersatu leaders joined the Harapan presidential council on March 27, 2017, signifying that Bersatu had officially become the fourth member of Harapan.
  • The momentous announcement of Mahathir as the chairperson, then PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as the president, and Anwar as the de facto leader of the coalition on July 24, 2017.
  • The naming of Mahathir as the prime minister-designate, Wan Azizah as his deputy and Anwar as the eighth prime minister on Jan 7, 2018.

Since Day 1, it was clear to Mahathir and the other Bersatu leaders that it would not be possible to topple Najib’s government without first becoming allies with Harapan.

The decision to join the coalition signified that Mahathir and Bersatu agreed that the new Harapan government is a Mahathir-Anwar government. 

Without either Mahathir/Bersatu or the tripartite Harapan coalition led by Anwar, Najib would continue to roam freely and cling on to power.

Mahathir understands that this is a Mahathir-Anwar government as much as Anwar understands that this is a Anwar-Mahathir government.

Thirdly: The historic collaboration between Bersatu and DAP

On March 4, 2016, DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang accepted Mahathir’s invitation to attend the meeting on Citizens’ Declaration (Deklarasi Rakyat) and this marked the start of a grand coalition between DAP and Mahathir.

A ‘grand coalition’ refers to a arrangement in which two unrelated or even opposing forces unite in the face of a mutual enemy or a common goal.

It is not easy for two previously opposing forces to come together and this process requires countless negotiations and discussions. 

A grand coalition like this will be able to surmount problems that used to seem unsolvable, as long as it maintains a mechanism of collaboration and engagement, and mutual respect.

The collaboration between DAP and Bersatu requires us to let go of mutual suspicion and admit that differences do exist between us. 

Having said that, armed with the ability to lead our respective supporters and to drive the direction of nation-building, we will be able to work hand-in-hand to create a whole new political landscape.

A clear understanding of the above points will allow us to progress towards achieving the dream of reforming Malaysia, one step at a time.


LIEW CHIN TONG is a DAP senator and deputy defence minister.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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