Reality gate-crashing the party

In a recent conversation I had with a friend we both agreed that PH would lose Semenyih. For him, it is the poor performance of the PH government and he lamented that as a once critic of the BN government, he is now a critic of the PH government.

Pressed for details, the few matters he raised were to me a consequence of poor politics on the part of PH ministers.

It would take a colossal failure on the part of PH to match BN, I think. But PH ministers need to sit down and work out how they should respond to outside pressure as the government of the day. To me they have been wholly unprepared and have been manipulated to allowing themselves to be judged, accused by those who are massive failures themselves. They have been poor at managing expectations and have been cornered into defensive responses. And thus have conceded the narrative that they have a) not fulfilled their promises (nobody now elaborates what promises are are at issue), and b) the ministers are incompetent (again, no details but it sure does not help when a key PH leader like Kadir Jasin raises the issue).

For me though, the reality is that UMNO is formidable because they have a well-oiled election machinery and the benefit of being a part of the Malay experience of nation building. I believe it would take a massive national rejection of UMNO (such as GE14) for Malays to reject the party. It would be like rejecting a member of the family. It would be naive to think now that the Malays have voted against UMNO they have abandoned it totally.

I believe that once time has distanced the trauma of the betrayal by UMNO, and once that betrayal becomes an accepted part of the reality of Malaysian history, Malays are going to need pretty good reasons to once again reject UMNO, that friendly malay face that has been looking after their interests throughout the history of the nation.

It was my mother who clued me onto this: she told me, when the rejection of MCA was a very hot issue many years ago, that she separates the party from the individual leaders. The party had looked after the Chinese well since independence and she is not going to abandon MCA just because of some poor leaders now. That perspective never occurred to me.

And so it seems to me that for PH to win over the Malays, the appeal must not be to reject UMNO for their past sins — that is history. It must be that PH is worthy of being given a chance.

For what it is worth, coming from an armchair observer, I think that PH can never beat UMNO by trying to be UMNO to the Malays. And the “supposed” rivalry between Anwar and Mahathir, PKR and PPBM, negates any attempt to sell PH as a party Malays can trust with their future. The new Malay have problems with PPBM while the old Malay have problems with PKR. And PPBM is calling the shots now but PKR will call the shots in a year’s time. They have a perfect opportunity to show how new Malay can work together with old Malay for the sake of the nation but instead they have demonstrated that this does not work at all.

This Anwar-Mahathir-Rafizi-Azmin spat is destructive beyond personal interests. But, it seems, personal interests takes precedence as people grab for power they can easily lose in a few years time. PH lets this narrative run at its peril as the Malay vote is vital.

As for the other group of interested parties, those who are not politicians but are concerned about nation building, whom I term loosely as “civil society”, the Semenyih results hopefully would be a reality check.

The PH government is a fledgling government, having taken the reins of power for the first time, unexpectedly, now having to deal with a civil service that has an entrenched culture and (for some) entrenched self interest, and having to deal with a country that, economically, has been in the doldrums for some time, sapped by the internal bleeding of corruption, now facing the headwinds of the spat between US and China.

No government, and especially not a fledgling and inexperienced one like this, can deliver a “new Malaysia” in 1 year. Yet the incessant demands, criticism and judgement at every turn has been unrestrained. This is a government that has not been given space, let alone encouragement, to do well. The things they have done right — appointing a more representative cabinet, appointing respected and capable individuals to key positions in government, taking steps to introduce institutional reforms, and now taking steps to deal with the economy — have been either glossed over or criticised. Instead their missteps are not allowed to be forgiven.

The idea of shaping the current narrative has been mentioned in many places but mostly in terms that this is the responsibility of PH. The truth is that the way people perceive the developments in Malaysia is influenced by all parties but especially by “third parties”, those that are perceived as neutral and therefore able to deliver a more fair assessment. But to me, “third parties”, and here I include the media as well, have been irresponsibly amplifying not only the negatives, but also lies and innuendos, while ignoring the substance of what this government is attempting to do, and casting aside the fact that there are many different constituencies with different values and interests.

The point I wish to make is simple: give PH space to do their best. It would be in Malaysia’s best interests to have a viable alternative politically because that is how we can find middle ground. We need PH to succeed and we must understand how much the odds are stacked against them. Semenyih is case in point.

Recently I was reminded of Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. I’m sure the results of GE14 is the good work of God and I have hope that this government will survive in spite of all our attempts to undermine it, by the grace of God. But surely if we experience the return of UMNO via their chosen path of “defending race and religion”, it mustn’t be that we are getting the government we deserve because of what we have done (or not done) when we have a choice.

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