Having spent two full days in Port Dickson, I feel compelled to urge all Malaysians, not just the Port Dickson voters, to come forward with more energy and enthusiasm in support of Anwar Ibrahim. Let’s create the buzz and excitement which is now sadly lacking in support of PKR, the party that allowed its symbol to be used for the epic victory on May 9.
Let’s not treat Anwar as an opposition figure like we did over the last 20 years. He is now an integral part of Pakatan Harapan (PH), the party that the people voted in to replace the kleptocrats. Many in Port Dickson and elsewhere are still asking inane questions such as why Anwar engineered this by-election, why he is in a hurry. Why can’t Nurul Izzah Anwar vacate her seat for her father, and so on. There are also those who keep asking: Is Anwar suitable to be prime minister, what is his vision for the country, etc.
These are legitimate questions but if we are seriously looking for answers, we should have asked them before May 9. We should not have portrayed to the people during the election campaign that Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar are working together for the good of the country. We should not have agreed to the winning formula that Anwar succeed Mahathir as prime minister.
Once we agree on a deal, we have to honour it. No more questions asked. There is no need to question the timing of Anwar’s entry into Parliament and which seat he should be contesting. If he is not good enough to be the next prime minister, then why the need to accost him in the corridors of courtrooms to invite him to topple Najib Razak? There must be honour, even in politics.
Why is the subject of a government of national unity being talked about non-stop by Umno and PAS? It’s because Anwar does not feel wanted in the PH government. Umno and PAS are therefore trying their luck to lure Anwar away from PH. In light of this, it makes sense for parties in PH to assure PKR that its position in the coalition is safe, and that its leader, Anwar, will succeed Mahathir as prime minister on a specified date.
This assurance must not be just verbal. Verbal assurances mean nothing in politics. Instead, it must take the form of action by Mahathir and all the leaders of PPBM, Amanah and DAP.
There are three things they can do very quickly.
The prime minister, after a few days’ rest from his successful trip to New York and London, needs to go to Port Dickson. Although the prime minister does not usually campaign in a by-election, this is no ordinary election. This one gives the certificate of eligibility to his successor. We must not give the impression that there has been a change of mind about Anwar becoming the next prime minister. The people are tired of political gamesmanship and they just want a smooth transition of power. A few reassuring words from the prime minister in Port Dickson that the leadership of PH is solidly behind Anwar will go a long way towards ensuring victory for Anwar and sending the message to Malaysians that their leaders want to focus on the more difficult issue of governance, and nothing else.
Some say that Anwar is an “Islamist” and will abandon democracy and secular principles, while others say he was a right-wing Umno flag-bearer before his dismissal many years ago. I don’t want to get involved in such arguments. All I know is that Anwar and PH today are much, much better than PAS and Umno; and I know that unless we drive him out, Anwar would rather stay with other reformists in PH. His own party, PKR, is a party of diverse racial and religious groups which will guide Anwar towards policies that unite the people.
The second thing PH leaders can do very quickly is to give Anwar some latitude in the appointment of key personnel in corporations and government-linked companies. It’s probably too late now, but it needs to be said: this is how real partnerships work. If we do not want key decisions and appointments to be left to powerful oligarchs or a special selected group like the 4th floor boys or the famous “Kitchen Cabinet” under Najib’s rule, then we must also not allow some eminent persons to dictate how the country should be managed. Ministers must take charge and senior party leaders like Anwar consulted. We won the election because the people believed we were going to put an end to kleptocracy, but if “oligarchs” still make key decisions in the new Malaysia, then it’s just a matter of time before we are back to the old ways
The final thing to do is for PH leaders to set a date for Mahathir to step down. This date must be decided collectively. I suggest May 2020, which will give Mahathir enough time to put in place plans for the big picture. If Anwar agrees to this, nothing he says or does will be viewed with suspicion or interpreted as an attempt to accelerate his ascent to the top.
The country needs certainty and stability, and we must give the rakyat a smooth succession plan. The people are tired of the endless power-play, so let’s give politicking a rest. This is the message PH needs to bring to Port Dickson.
Zaid Ibrahim is a former law minister.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.