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A plague on both coalitions, we need a Third Force

COMMENT | The euphoria amongst Malaysians following May 2018 has now turned to despair and disgust after the political machinations that are afoot. 

On March 7, 2016, I warned the "Save Malaysia" campaign that putting the former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed as the head of the supposedly "reform movement" was bare-faced opportunism. Some have said it was like putting the fox in the hen house. The erstwhile "progressives" scoffed at my "idealism" using trite clichés including: "There are no permanent enemies in politics."

While those in the PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim/DAP camp are licking their wounds, what is transpiring now borders on extreme opportunism that former "progressives" could be part of a coalition with Umno and led by the same Mahathir, who I pointed out in 2016 had not shown a shred of remorse for his authoritarian rule from 1981 to 2003. 

After the record of the last two years of the Pakatan Harapan government, such politicians will be left out of hand if they even try to pretend to have a reform agenda.

I warned in 2016, that Mahathir’s main objective was to get rid of former premier Najib Abdul Razak and to ensure that his own economic and political agenda was implemented. This he has successfully done and will pursue even more firmly now he can dispense with all the pretence of reform promises made in GE14. 

Opportunism in its crudest form can be seen when politicians target an individual (namely, Najib) rather than the political regime, and political-economic system that oppresses, divides and exploits the people. As is now revealed to all, Mahathir’s “Save Malaysia” campaign in GE14 was mainly aimed at expelling Najib (below, right) whilst maintaining the same racist and exploitative rule.

Former PKR deputy president Azmin Ali and his crew can make all the politically correct noises about “reformasi” but they have lost credibility through the last two years of bickering and Azmin’s sex video file is now in the hands of Machiavelli who now has him wrapped around his little finger. 

Both factions in PKR have failed to show the people what they are fighting about and they have not even pretended to champion any concrete reforms except to pay lip service to “reformasi”. That is why the people have had enough of their interminable bickering.

Harapan was already morphing into BN 2.0

As events have unfolded, Harapan has become more and more like BN 2.0 especially with the assimilation of Umno MPs into Bersatu. Even Anwar was considering accepting the former BN minister Salleh Keruak into his party. 

The most revealing and distressing initiative of all was the so-called “Malay Dignity Congress” with its racist resolutions and which the prime minister patronised, and the continuation of the New Economic Policy in the new Shared Prosperity Vision. 

And as this short rule has ambled along, it has failed to meet manifesto promises and voter expectations in numerous ways. We have witnessed a number of the flip flops over the Harapan promise to abolish toxic institutions and laws, such as Sosma and other detention-without-trial laws in the country. Nor do their promises focus on the most urgent and comprehensive reforms that civil society has long argued are of high priority. 

On top of all that, we have seen a disturbing trend of autocratic decision making and policies symptomatic of the old Mahathir 1.0 era.

Malaysian politics now means never having to keep election promises

While the Harapan manifesto prohibits the PM from also taking on the finance portfolio, Mahathir has in the first 100 days succeeded in taking over the choicest companies, namely Khazanah, PNB and Petronas under his Prime Minister's Office. It is the return to the old Mahathirist autocracy. 

Was the cabinet consulted on the decision to start Proton 2, privatise Khazanah, Malaysia Incorporated and the revival of the failed F1 circuit? The appointment of Mahathir and Azmin to the board of Khazanah Nasional also goes against the Harapan manifesto promise of keeping politicians out of publicly-funded investments since it leads to poor accountability. 

Only by insisting that boards be comprised of professionals and on rigorous parliamentary checks and balances for bodies such as Khazanah can we ensure a high level of transparency and accountability.

The excuse of the government debt to delay local government elections which have been suspended in our country since 1965 is not acceptable. It is a simple matter of abolishing a provision under the Local Government Act 1976 and reviving the Local Government Election Act in order to introduce local government elections. 

It is equally absurd to tell Malaysian independent Chinese secondary school graduates that their UEC certificate can only be recognised in five years’ time. This is a serious breach of promise in the Harapan GE14 manifesto since more than 80 percent of Chinese voters voted for Harapan because of this promised reform.

Time to build a progressive Third Force

Reforms that do not challenge the neoliberal economic policies that were set in fast motion by Mahathir in the early 80s are not serious reforms. 

Income disparities will continue to widen while the environment, indigenous and working people will continue to bear the burden of so-called development. Najib merely made more extreme the structures created by Mahathir to entrench the powers of the Executive, emasculate the democratic institutions and provide the means for private enrichment of the elite in this country. 

Racist and racial discriminatory policies were also entrenched by Mahathir in the early 80s and further manipulated by Najib.

In hindsight, perhaps we had to go through the betrayal of the last two years of Harapan rule, the arrogant disregard for the promised reforms and the interminable bickering between the parties in the Harapan coalition. If we had not gone through this process, the people would not have experienced the opportunism and hollow reforms mouthed by these politicians all these years.

More than ten years ago, I raised the urgent need for a Third Force in Malaysian politics when it was clear that the Harapan "profits before people" and race/religion agenda was no different from that of BN’s. I said that we needed a Third Force if we are not to be disappointed with the return to BN rule in GE15 again. I was wrong – Mahathir didn’t need another general election, did he?

It is time for all who have hoped for real reforms in Malaysia to build a "Third Progressive Force" for a truly just, democratic and sustainable future that BN and Harapan have failed to provide. 

In light of the worst treachery in Malaysian politics we have yet seen, professed progressive politicians should leave both coalitions to help build the progressive Third Force. 

And if there are enough “good men and women” among them, they might actually succeed in scuppering Machiavelli’s plan by denying him the number he needs for a majority in the House… but that is just wishful thinking.


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KUA KIA SOONG is Suaram adviser.

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

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