Back to square one after the reform victory of 2018

The year 2020, when Malaysia should have become a united, developed nation this year according to Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Vision 2020, has instead featured a political crisis amidst a global epidemic.

The crisis resulted in the fracture of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, the end of their two-year rule, the rise of Perikatan Nasional – a neo-Barisan Nasional movement of sorts – and finally the appointment of a new prime minister.

There are a number of reasons for this.

First, weaknesses within the PH government manifested itself in the lack of political unity within the party. The dissension within the coalition in the early days of their administration was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

Second, had Mahathir handed over the administration to Anwar as promised, or at least set a fixed date, the crisis would not have occurred. Instead he left the nation in limbo, presenting an image of wanting to stay on in power.

Third, the question of weak leadership and poor decision-making among certain ministers: an example would have to be the former education minister Maszlee Malik, who made a number of illogical decisions that were uncalled for.

The opposition was smart enough to capitalise on these weaknesses.

Umno and PAS, having forgotten their years of bitter rivalry and back-biting, capitalised on the racial fissures that were growing and formed an alliance, the Muafakat Nasional, based on the idea of Malay supremacy.

They weaved a narrative based on the premise that the Malays were coming under threat by the non-Malays, particularly the Chinese based DAP party. The rising number of non-Malays in high positions were, in their opinion, undermining the Malay agenda and rights. This seemed to be an attractive idea that seemed to arouse the Malays at the right spot.

The appointment of Muhyiddin Yassin came as a shock to many. He seems to have been the silent actor who emerged victorious from the political impasse.

Having buried the hatchet with old foes in the blink of an eye, he withdrew PPBM from the Pakatan Harapan government at the most strategic of times and formed an alliance with Umno and PAS, the very people he himself labelled as “perompak” (thief). I guess the notion that nothing is permanent in politics is true.

What does all this mean for Malaysians? Is this the Malaysia Baru that thousands of Malaysians voted for on May 9, 2018? I don’t think so.

Instead of an impartial, democratic, “Bersih” government, we are back to square one.

The very same corrupt politicians who were voted out are now back, motivated by an unhealthy ethno-religious political basis that has Malay superiority at its core, more than anything else and one that is far from even thinking of the idea of racial unity.

The idea of voters’ rights and democracy was snatched away from the people. The current government is clearly not a representative of the people, having been “elected” in a “backdoor” sense by those in power, almost purely by the means of political ship jumping by politicians that demonstrated the highest levels of political treachery and absolutely no political dignity.

The real faces of the politicians in Malaysia came to the fore, those who were prepared to switch allegiances by the minute for their own personal interests and political survival.

It appears that certain Umno politicians were desperate to get out of their trials in the courts.

As a result of the crisis, the spectre of corruption and race politics has risen again.

Apart from the myriad problems Malaysia faces, the biggest underlying challenge is that of racial unity and harmony.

The latest developments point towards a bleak future in this regard. It is the first time there has been no representation from non-Malay parties in the core government.

The sadder fact is that Barisan Nasional’s non-Malay parties, MCA and MIC, have not even engaged in any measures of reform after the 2018 general election. They have largely been irrelevant parties tagging along on the sidelines, who do not seem to be at the least interested with the problems faced by their respective communities.

The current turn of events points toward a growing political culture where race and religion have been distorted and manipulated for political leverage.

As I was watched the live video stream of the installation of the 8th prime minister, I was highly disconcerted by some of the accompanying comments, which were utterly racialist and divisive.

To add to that, the comments of PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang a couple of weeks ago on the idea of Muafakat Nasional was openly racialist, stating that the political power of the Malay-Muslims were threatened by the PH government and that Malays must dominate the government to ensure superiority.

This is clearly a statement that is binary in worldview, promotes an “us-vs-them” thinking and one that chucks unity into the garbage can. With leaders like these aligned to the new government, I guess unity and democracy will always remain a distant fantasy conjured up by politicians from time to time to create a false sense of security.

Rueben Ananthan Dass is a graduate in defence and strategic studies.

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