Politics of convenience vs politics of conscience

As the anniversary of the nation’s (or more correctly, Malaya’s) independence draws closer, I can’t help but think of our founding fathers and the politicians of those days.

The problems and issues today’s politicians face are nothing compared with that handled by Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tan Cheng Lock and VT Sambanthan. They also pale in comparison with the trials and tribulations of the Tunku’s generation of politicians such as Razak Hussein, Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and HS Lee, and others such as Tan Siew Sin, Khir Johari and Hussein Onn.

Some of these leaders were very capable and some averagely capable, but there were no duds in these Cabinets.

They were men of principle. As far as I know they were all very honest and decent men. For instance, I haven’t heard of any of them retiring rich because of their involvement in politics. In fact some of them, like the Tunku and Sambanthan, actually sold their own properties to fund their parties and help their constituents.

And we should not forget the stalwarts of the opposition in the 50s and 60s such as “Mr Opposition” Tan Chee Khoon and the Seenivasagam brothers – SP and DR.

And then there was Onn Jaafar, the Umno president who quit the party he co-founded because Umno had become too Malay-minded and had rejected his idea of opening up the party to all Malayans. He wanted to unite the Malays, Chinese and Indians – not just the Malays. If he had but compromised and stayed, he would almost certainly have been the first prime minister of the country. But Onn was no ordinary man.

What set them apart – whether they were in government or in opposition – was their commitment to build a great nation. In this endeavour, there was no place for self-interest. Even though most of them had the interests of their own communities at heart, they wanted this experiment called Malaya to work. So, they strove to rise above their own racial interests to forge a multiracial, multicultural nation that would offer equal opportunities to all citizens; one that would stand tall in the assembly of nations.

When the leaders of Umno, MCA and MIC came together as the Alliance, they did so with a vision of a great, independent Malaya. Later, when Razak expanded the coalition and called it the Barisan Nasional (BN), his aim was to bring about greater unity of purpose to serve all Malaysians.

Certainly those leaders wanted power, but they knew, as Spider-Man’s uncle Ben put it, that “with great power comes great responsibility.” In exercising their responsibilities, they took into consideration all the citizens of Malaya. And they did not make use of the law or government agencies to hold on to power. They were leaders.

I’d like to call these the coalitions of conscience. I’m not talking about the BN of today, I’m talking about the BN of Razak and Hussein Onn.

What we have had in recent years, however, are coalitions of convenience.

Leaders of political parties today desire power and all that comes with it, and they’ll team up with anyone who can help them get that power. So what if they bend principles here and there, or discard them, along the way?

When Dr Mahathir Mohamad teamed up with PKR and the DAP, two parties he had previously excoriated endlessly, was he really doing it to build a better Malaysia?

Events that unfolded later – such as dithering over passing the post of prime minister to PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim and the video and audio clips of talks within his then party PPBM – tell a different story. He wanted to get back into power and he wanted Najib Razak ousted as prime minister. The reforms promised by Pakatan Harapan were not consequential to him, otherwise he would have rushed to implement them within the two years he was prime minister following the May 9, 2018 general election.

Why did Anwar and the DAP, and a young Amanah, team up with arch enemy Mahathir? Because it was convenient to do so as they knew the veteran was capable of pulling a rabbit out of the hat.

And now that PPBM president Muhyiddin Yassin has taken over PPBM completely, Mahathir has formed a new party called Pejuang. As much as I admire the tenacity of the old warrior, I have to ask who he is fighting for.

Can anyone sincerely argue that the Warisan-led coalition and the parties aligned with Umno-PN in Sabah are not after power but just want to serve the people?

PPBM under Muhyiddin now says it wants to allow non-Malays to hold positions in the party. It is a decision based on convenience – it needs to attract non-Malay MPs, especially those aligned to former PKR deputy president Azmin Ali. Every single MP matters for PPBM to hold on to power and for Muhyiddin to remain prime minister. The decision would also have been made with an eye to the Sept 26 Sabah state election where non-Muslim votes will matter.

Umno had earlier teamed up with PAS to form Muafakat Nasional (MN) because it felt that on its own it might never regain power and PAS knew that on its own it would forever remain an opposition party at the national level in multireligious Malaysia.

Their pact remains a marriage of convenience aimed at attracting Malay-Muslim votes.

When Muhyiddin, who took PPBM out of PH and caused the collapse of the Mahathir-led government, offered Umno and PAS a chance to form the government, they grabbed it. Umno had earlier sacked Muhyiddin but they made up as it was mutually beneficial. Like Umno, PAS is using the power that comes with incumbency to strengthen the party’s standing among Malay-Muslim voters.

Not satisfied with that, PAS now wants to also team up with Muhyiddin’s coalition Perikatan Nasional (PN). It wants both sides of the bread buttered. Muhyiddin, after all, is prime minister.

Then, we have this unique situation of PPBM – which heads PN – agreeing to join MN. Again, the idea is to attract the ummah, as Barisan Nasional secretary-general Annuar Musa has confirmed.

Nobody, it seems, trusts anybody. They want all bases covered.

The political situation is so fragile, you just don’t know which MP is going to cross over to which party when. All we are sure is that Sabah’s chronic disease of party hopping has spread to the peninsula in waves.

Politics has never been as convoluted as it is today.

But even through the fog of political manoeuvring, even chicanery, one thing is crystal clear: These are coalitions of convenience not coalitions of conscience.

 

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