COMMENT | At long last, we come across criticism of Pakatan Harapan supremo Dr Mahathir Mohamad from within the coalition's inner sanctum.
Until Federal Territory Minister Khalid Samad uncorked yesterday a mild reproof of the Prime Minister on Twitter, broadsides aimed at the statements and stances of Mahathir emanated exclusively from the ruling coalition's outliers.
Mahathir's deportment has been increasingly wayward from the standpoint of Harapan's reformist and egalitarian agenda of change.
In certain instances, like his attendance earlier this month at the Malay Dignity Congress (MDC), it represented a betrayal of the multiracialism of Harapan - perhaps worse, a regression to the ethnocentrism of Umno.
Mahathir's departures of recent months have begged chastisement, if not from cabinet then at least from other sections of the top leadership cohort of Harapan.
But demurrals from denizens of cabinet and cohort have been conspicuous by its absence, leading Harapan supporters to suspect that the compromising and corruptive consequences of power have begun to afflict top leaders of the coalition. This quiescence has gone down badly with Harapan supporters.
Palpable discontent, not only at the slow pace of institutional reform but at the recent waywardness of the coalition's point man, has led to frustrated mutterings that Harapan is doomed to being a one-term government.
Derision at how power has seemingly deviated cabinet appointees to mute acceptance of the Prime Minister's amnesia about the egalitarian aspirations and reformist agenda of Harapan has led to calls for the emergence of a third-force for political reform.
Harapan is increasingly regarded as washed-up.
Calls for a third-force movement for change, distinct from the PAS-Umno led opposition which is a tawdry makeover of Umno's race and religious hegemony that brought defeat at GE14, were heard as early as 2008, shortly after the then Pakatan Rakyat had denied BN its traditional supermajority.
At that time, the high hopes for political and economic reform on the part of the reformasi generation that began its push for change 10 years prior, was intolerant of even the slightest deviation from the ideal by the then newfangled Pakatan Rakyat governments in Penang and Selangor, and not to mention Kedah.
No surprise now that after 17 months of a disappointing run of checkered governance by Pakatan Harapan, such calls for a third-force have recurred.
These calls will gain renewed urgency from public disquiet over the Harapan top leadership's quiescence, especially over the waywardness of its supremo.
The cumulative disappointment of the high hopes that attended the coalition's inauguration in office 17 months ago, has revolved around the folly of having expected a former authoritarian to lead the Harapan quest for reform.
Now, in hindsight, that expectation looks like the optimism of a dolphin's upward leaps, its defiance of gravity always ending up where it began – in the water.
It's not that Harapan supporters, disappointed at an under-delivering and quiescent Harapan leadership, have not taken note of the rumble of dissent from the coalition's outliers.
But darts at Mahathir from the blowguns of a Ramkarpal Singh, P Ramasamy, Charles Santiago and Ronnie Lui , all federal or state legislators from DAP, and those from an obvious hatchet-man like Abdullah Sany, an MP from PKR, while constituting criticism of the numero uno from within the coalition, are barbs that do not convey as much frisson as would be the case if they have stemmed from the inner ranks.
Sniper fire from coalition underlings is not on the order of a bazooka from within the praetorian guard.
No one would equate the reproof that Khalid Samad aimed at Mahathir's defence of his attendance at the Malay Dignity Congress (MDC) to heavy artillery.
It was a gentle reproof of the PM's puzzlement over criticism of his presence at the MDC, its chastisement the more telling for its gentility.
Khalid argued on Twitter that people can assemble and discourse based on race and religion. Nothing wrong with that, said Khalid, as long as it is for collective improvement and progress.
But when such gatherings issue in racist and sectarian bilge, the bigots have to be called out rather than coddled with euphemisms.
The MDC has exacerbated race relations in the country.
Mahathir's presence at the event and facile justifications for it and his papering over its distressing aspects suggest that the Harapan supremo has lost his way.
If nothing else, Khalid's strictures on Mahathir's loss of the Harapan essence shows that at least one of the coalition's leaders has not lost the capacity for critical scrutiny and the courage to vent it.
Harapan supporters must be glad of little mercies.
TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.