Time for a third force?

As disenchantment with Pakatan Harapan (PH) grows, the idea of a third force in Malaysian politics seems to be gaining credence. Though there are huge obstacles to the creation of a third force, it is an idea that is, at least, worth dreaming about.

More than ever there is a growing realisation that both coalitions, PH and Umno-PAS-BN – jaded, dysfunctional and dominated by yesterday’s leaders – are too wedded to race politics, too tied to failed economic policies, too unwilling to commit to real reform, too engrossed with their own egos and ambitions to truly build the nation of our dreams.

Indeed, a recent survey indicated that more than 17% of Malaysians are ready to support a third force. I suspect that these numbers will grow in the run-up to the next election unless there is a real change in direction in either of the coalitions.

As for Umno-PAS-BN, what is there to talk about? Their so-called “Muafakat Nasional” is nothing but a grand scheme to institutionalise racial and religious discrimination. How do we even take them seriously when they come up with outrageous ideas like banning non-Muslims (who are as much citizens of this country as they are) from holding high office? If they have their way, we’ll soon be another Taliban state.

They are also so politically and intellectually bankrupt that in 19 months, they have not said a single sensible thing concerning the many serious challenges we face as a nation. All they do is turn every issue into a racial or religious one.

A vote for them is a vote for more racism, more religious extremism and more corruption and abuse of power. Constituted as they are, with the leaders they now have, they can never hope to represent all Malaysians.

While no one is really surprised by the antics of Umno-PAS, the performance and incompetence of PH has shocked many. They came to power on a wave of support not seen before in our nation. For the first time in our history, the people felt a real bond of affinity for their government; almost everyone was rooting for them, praying for their success. Even now, most Malaysians desperately want them to succeed.

Their track record thus far, however, does not inspire confidence or give us much hope for optimism.

Nineteen months in office and they have done nothing of any significance to enhance national unity or introduce meaningful education reform. What is worse, they seem to have no clue about what to do. Their much-touted war on corruption has also stalled with only select Umno figures in the crosshairs while dozens of others appear protected by a political firewall.

Nineteen months in office and Malaysians are still being detained under draconian laws like Sosma while human rights activists are being hauled up for questioning at a rate that at times surpasses even that of the Umno-BN era.

Nineteen months in office and we are still no nearer to finding out the truth about what happened to Raymond Koh, Amri Che Mat and Teoh Beng Hock, among others. Nineteen months and they are still dithering over the IPCMC bill, unable to summon the courage of their earlier convictions to push it through.

At times, PH leaders seem trapped in a time warp, indulging in racist rhetoric and championing ideas and policies which by their own admission have failed. Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, for example, constantly harps on economic inequalities and blames everyone except himself, never mind that he is the principal architect of most of those policies, policies which cost the nation billions.

If after all that, Bumiputeras are still lagging behind, it’s time to admit that the goals are either unachievable or the policies are deeply flawed or both.

And yet, Cabinet seems too mesmerised by one man to change course. Their much-acclaimed Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, for example, is nothing more than a rebranding of the same old failed Umno-era policies.

They’ve missed a historic opportunity to engage the best economic minds, stakeholders and MPs to craft better policies to tackle a problem that has long vexed the nation. Instead of having the courage to move towards a needs-based system of economic empowerment that would genuinely help disadvantaged Bumiputeras without neglecting other deserving Malaysians, they have opted for policies and programmes that favour the rich at the expense of the poor.

The struggling B40 group is not going to find much comfort or relief from this government. Indeed, many PH ministers seem incapable of understanding the pain of the majority of Malaysians who are struggling to make ends meet; they are going to pay a huge price for their indifference.

And then there’s the serious infighting within the coalition. And it’s not just the already well-documented fratricidal war within PKR; ambitious upstarts with oversized egos within PPBM have also started jockeying to succeed Mahathir, pushing PPBM to the right in the process.

In the meantime, Mahathir, who ought to be a stabilising influence in PH, is set on undermining yet another potential successor. In Dubai recently, he reiterated his comment that he could not guarantee that his successor would be “the best person for the job” as if we’ve had a string of great prime ministers.

Whatever it is, the infighting has become a major distraction; it’s all about their own ambitions now rather than the people’s agenda.

At the end of the day, Malaysians have every reason to be disappointed and disillusioned. PH has lost its way, lost its passion for reform, lost its enthusiasm for real and meaningful change.

We did our part as citizens to effect change – we risked arrests on the streets to press for free and fair elections; we campaigned for PH and supported them with our time and finances and in the process, we helped overthrow a corrupt regime – but PH has not done its part, not kept faith with the people.

Truth be told, people are increasingly fed up with the incompetent, dishonest, puerile and small-minded leaders that history and circumstance have conspired to saddle us with.

And they are ready for change, ready for a new set of leaders who are willing to speak to their hopes, not exploit their fears, who are genuinely committed to building that free, democratic and inclusive nation that was enshrined in our constitution, that was reiterated in the Rukun Negara, that we have talked about for the last 62 years.

Perhaps, a new set of leaders – younger, more talented, untainted by corruption and ambition – might be just what we need to build a nation that will be home to all Malaysians, that seeks the prosperity of all, that prides itself on the bedrock Malay culture and tradition without detracting from the unique contribution of other cultures.

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