Does Pakatan Harapan deserve another chance?

By Sebastian Loh

So, this is what Pakatan Harapan politicians have been saying: “Give us a chance for five years. If you don’t like what we’ve done, then vote us out in the next election.”

It’s a simple, predictable, and deceptively attractive proposition. But the fact is, we have given them a chance. And for the last 10 years, we’ve seen a clown show of endless infighting, ridiculous U-turns, and accumulating excuses.

Is there any more reason to continue down this path? Pakatan leaders have always avoided talking about the past (They regularly chant, “The past is the past. But change is a must.”) because they simply cannot defend their abysmal record. And they stubbornly keep at their incompetence because many of us are determined to reward them.

Just look at the latest spat within PKR between the warring Azmin Ali and Rafizi Ramli camps. It got so bad that Bersih patron saint Ambiga Sreenevasan had to tweet, “When the rakyat is doing everything in their power to overcome obstacles to ensure they can vote and to help in the elections, this nonsense in PKR is unforgivable.”

Unforgivable, eh? I’m willing to bet good money that she’ll be campaigning for Pakatan wholeheartedly anyway (in fact, she is). Just September last year, she blasted PKR for “allowing their internal squabbles to drag them down.” And I can’t count how many times she and other pro-Pakatan activists have criticized Pakatan before that. Has anything changed? Has Pakatan wised up?

The funny thing is, for Ambiga and many others like her, nothing is unforgivable when it comes to Pakatan. But everything – however minor or insignificant – is unforgivable when it comes to BN. If that’s the case, why bother even speaking out against Pakatan now and then? What are you trying to prove?

#UndiRosak advocates are mocked for being too idealistic. BN voters are derided as stupid. But what’s particularly pragmatic, realistic, or even intelligent about voting for a rickety coalition that keeps making the same mistakes and keeps falling apart?

Remember the Kajang Move which plunged the richest state in the country into a protracted and embarrassing political crisis? Remember Pakatan Rakyat’s all-too-predictable collapse over the hudud issue? How is any of this a model for good governance? How is any of this a credible resume for a shot at federal power? And I haven’t even gotten into all the other episodes of fighting within and between Pakatan parties.

Of course, the cruelest and most nauseating insult of all is Pakatan’s embrace of Mahathir and his party. Now, I have three huge problems with this:

Firstly, if there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics (as I’m constantly and repeatedly reminded by Pakatan supporters), why should you expect Mahathir and Pribumi to be your permanent friends? It’s like no one learnt any lessons from that ill-conceived alliance with PAS, or (more relevantly) Mahathir’s prolific career in U-turns.

Secondly, back to the whole ‘give us a chance’ thing… we (as in, this country) have already given Mahathir 22 years and five chances (five elections). And what has he given us but a legacy of scandals, cronyism, and repression? The things the opposition used to say about him weren’t wrong. To no one’s surprise, BN won an insane number of seats in the 2004 general election, the year after Mahathir stepped down – people were relieved, even ecstatic.

Thirdly, Pakatan has been engaging in a bit of disingenuous, two-faced messaging. To the Malays, they say, ‘Vote for us because Mahathir will be in charge.’ To the non-Malays, they say, ‘Don’t worry about Mahathir. We will keep him in check and he won’t be around as PM for long.’ So, which is it? They both can’t be true. No one quite knows how this bizarre, contradictory power arrangement will work – unsurprisingly, that’s the same reason the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat careened off the cliff.

See, I have the same problem with the American ‘geniuses’ behind the Iraq War and our Pakatan politicians: They both want regime change, but they want to figure out the details later. When has that ever brought a happy ending?

And as I’ve written before, I challenge Ambiga and friends to name one example in human history where working with a former dictator (like Mahathir) led to positive results within a country – more democracy, more accountability, more prosperity. Just one. Baiklah. I’ll be generous and allow for examples that go back all the way to the early days of the Athenian democracy and the Roman Republic. Ada tak? Who are the crazy, obstinate idealists now?

Everyone wants change. I want change too. I completely understand. But not like this. If we want real, meaningful, and non-disastrous change, then we need to change the opposition first. That means having the courage to set ourselves apart from the angry mobs on social media. That means having the courage to tell Pakatan politicians we won’t be taken for granted or be taken for another ride. That means doing something different – making sure we have a real choice, and not a chronically dysfunctional opposition.

Let no one tell you otherwise: GE14 is a much-needed and much-belated referendum on Pakatan. On 10 years of failure and disappointment. On 10 years of broken promises, betrayals, and flip-flopping.

They say, if you don’t vote, don’t complain. I say, if you keep voting for Pakatan, don’t be shocked that they turn out to be as incompetent and as unprincipled as you know them to be. And in the end, try as you might, you can’t blame Najib or BN for that.

Sebastian Loh is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.