On May 7, a mighty confident Najib Razak, the then Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman, declared that the 14th general election on May 9 would decide the destiny of Malaysia.
He was right, of course, but not in the way he had anticipated. Najib, the then prime minister, never imagined that it would also decide his fate and the destinies of Umno, the backbone of BN, and BN itself.
Najib is out of a job, Umno is traumatised and BN is in tatters.
Najib is expected to be hauled up before the courts over 1MDB-related charges, and Umno is uncertain if it will be deregistered following the filing of a challenge by 16 members regarding the legality of the party as Umno has not held its elections since 2013. BN, in the court of public opinion, might as well be dead.
Nobody saw it coming, least of all BN leaders. The 13-member BN is now left with only four members – Umno, MCA, MIC and Gerakan – with MyPPP neither here nor there.
Razak Hussein formed BN in 1973 by expanding the then-Alliance Party which comprised Umno, MCA and MIC. The first to come aboard were Gerakan and PPP, and soon other parties, including several from Sabah and Sarawak, followed suit.
What the father built, the son appears to have destroyed.
Perhaps it might be a good idea to change the name Barisan Nasional, as without representation from Sarawak and Sabah, the word national sits a little awkwardly.
All four component parties from Sarawak, long seen as “fixed deposits” of the coalition, have quit en bloc to form a new coalition called Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS). GPS has 19 parliamentary seats and is expected to cooperate with the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH).
Sabah local parties which were part of the coalition have left, too.
BN, which on May 9 won 79 seats, now possesses only 57.
Of the remaining parties, Umno won 47 seats, Sabah Umno won seven, MIC won two and MCA one.
The question now is whether BN will survive as the bulk of its partners have deserted the coalition and there have been spats between some of the remaining partners.
Former MCA vice-president Gan Ping Sieu has floated the idea that the party should quit BN. MCA suffered a devastating defeat, winning only one parliamentary seat and two state seats.
MCA deputy president Wee Ka Siong, the only MCA parliamentary candidate to win, managed to get the goat of Umno information chief Annuar Musa when he said MCA would never again take the blame for Umno’s faults.
Annuar butted back, saying Umno should no longer carry its “long-paralysed” ally so as to save itself from further defeat.
Umno and Gerakan also engaged in a war of words when Gerakan Youth deputy leader Andy Yong suggested that BN component parties hold a meeting to decide whether to expel Umno, instead of quitting the coalition.
Umno’s wildcard Nazri Aziz sarcastically agreed that such a meeting be held, adding that BN was “gone” anyway. He said Umno wanted to go it alone in the peninsula and that Gerakan “is finished and if they want BN they can take it”.
Given the current situation in the country, where a better-informed electorate wants more than just stability and is fed up with the old race-baiting tactics of some parties, can Umno or MCA or Gerakan or MIC stand alone?
With its numbers, perhaps Umno can go it alone. But given the multiracial character of the nation, it is unlikely to win power. An Umno that goes it alone could result in national tragedy, as it will likely play the race and religion card even more to secure wins in Malay-majority areas.
There may come a time when we have a fully Malay race-based party and a Malay-religious based party, PAS, or they could team up. If that happens, the country’s social fabric will be even more sorely tested, perhaps even ravaged.
MCA may become more vociferous in championing the Chinese in order to outdo DAP. MIC, too, will likely appeal to the emotions of the Indian community to stay relevant. That is likely to raise racial temperatures, and prove calamitous.
Gerakan, which claims to be multiracial, although the bulk of its members are Chinese, may find some support but not enough to give it power or even a win. It is likely that Gerakan will, like MyPPP, exist in one of those netherworlds that comics creators dream up – neither alive nor dead.
But if they stick together, they will remain relevant and prove the old maxim right: united we stand, divided we fall. Except that they will have to do the proverbial soul-searching and work out a better arrangement among themselves so that all voices are heard, decisions are arrived at after proper discussion and voters are placed ahead of the needs of the party or its leaders.
BN can be a powerful opposition as some of its leaders have been in government and know how things work. They will be better able to spot any deviations, abuse of power or misuse of funds.
I’m suddenly reminded of an old TV series that I used to enjoy called “It Takes a Thief”. I wonder if anyone else remembers that Robert Wagner-starrer? The show was about the US government using a thief to catch thieves.
But I digress.
If BN does a good job of keeping PH in check and proves that it has learned its lesson, then the electorate may give it a chance in the next general election or the one after that.
This, of course, will depend on two factors. One, Umno has to step down from its high-and-mighty pedestal and retract its support for Malay hardliners. It must not bully its smaller partners, because they do represent a sizeable portion of the population.
It has to change its strategy so that in helping the Malays, it also helps poor and deserving Malaysians of other ethnicities. It cannot be greedy. And it has to completely discard money politics.
The second factor is the performance of PH. If the ruling coalition fails to perform, or splits up due to internal squabbles – both of which are not unlikely – and if BN shows it is ready to serve the public and not dictate to it, as it has been doing in recent years, voters will put it back in power.
This is because we now have a better informed and more politically conscious population. In the years to come, the number of such voters – who want economic prosperity, political stability, social justice, good governance, corruption-free administration, greater freedom, and the rights of all citizens respected – will only increase.
Especially since connections are just a WhatsApp message away and YouTube brings events – including political speeches and the actions of politicians – to wherever we are at whatever time we like.
A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT.
The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.