From P Ramasamy
There is no end to analyses as to why Pakatan Harapan (PH) lost in the recent Johor state elections as well as the polls in Melaka and Sarawak late last year.
The failure to make a comeback in these elections has been attributed to low voter turnout, too many competing parties, a lack of opposition coherence in formulating an agenda, and the strength of Barisan Nasional-Umno.
These reasons have a role in why PH lost the elections and why component parties Amanah and PKR had a disastrous performance.
Even the intact DAP lost some seats in all these elections.
PH reached its political height in the 2018 general election (GE14).
What was thought impossible was made possible by the capture of federal power by the opposition.
However, with Dr Mahathir Mohammed as the prime minister, the victory was a pyrrhic one. It was just a matter of time before it became a political disaster for PH, and a nightmare for the coalition as a whole until today.
Even though PH was in power for only 22 months, a heavy damage was inflicted on the coalition by its association with Mahathir.
Twenty-two months is not a long period, but it was enough to sink PH as a whole in the quagmire of politics.
During those 22 months, PH accommodated too much to the whims and fancies of Mahathir, who was never comfortable with his association with PH in the first place.
PH was used and manipulated to serve the short-term interest of Mahathir, that is the ouster of Najib Razak as prime minister.
The reform agenda that PH had articulated in its manifesto could not take off. Mahathir was the biggest stumbling block in the implementation of the manifesto.
It was an unmitigated blow experienced by PH, something that the coalition has never really recovered from and possibly the cause of its defeat in the three state elections.
Prior to the general election in 2018, PH gave so much hope and confidence to Malaysians to break out of the vicious cycle of the extremism of race and religion.
Mahathir single-handedly put a full stop to PH’s reform agenda.
His speech at the Malay identity conference was enough to suggest that he did not care about PH’s reform agenda.
The ouster of the PH government by the “Sheraton Move”, which to some extent was made possible by Mahathir, was a death blow to PH but more precisely its much talked about reform agenda.
Even after PH was ousted from power there was no attempt made to take stock of things, especially on the mistakes made. There was not even a feeble attempt to resuscitate the reform agenda.
For many opposition supporters, the catch-all phrase “reformasi” became shrouded in mystery and emptiness.
The focus seemed to be more on return to federal power, power-sharing or having some kind of agreement with the government in power.
The very government that ousted PH from power.
Was it surprising then that there was a move to have a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the government of prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin ostensibly to ensure the non-return of kleptocrats.
There was much opposition within the ranks of the opposition on the proposed move.
However, as soon as Muhyiddin was ousted, PH found no difficulty in signing the MoU with the new prime minister, Ismail Sabri Yaacob.
This MoU was predicated on the need to restore political stability by bringing about certain reforms.
For Ismail, it was not about reforms but to prolong his stay in power.
The most fundamental of the reforms was the need to pass the anti-hopping law.
The move to press with the reform agenda was narrowed down to the MoU with the PN government.
Reforms predicated on cooperation with the government in power were not something endearing to diehard opposition supporters.
For some, it was nothing but a betrayal on the mandate given to PH.
Rather than pursuing a full and major reform agenda expected of a serious-minded opposition, PH stuck with the limited agenda of reform by signing the MoU with the government.
It was, in other words, a shared reform agenda with the government in power, the very government that the opposition needs to oppose by presenting an alternative reform agenda.
Maybe there are some concrete things that could be achieved by this shared formula.
However, beyond this, PH seems to have lost the mission and vision that was so clear and loud before the 2018 election.
Due to the earlier reform agenda, PH could aspire for federal political power and could capture three state governments.
The powerful sting that PH had prior to the last general election is now lost.
PH is no more the powerful opposition that it was once. It remains a feeble and weak opposition force.
It would virtually take wonders to restore the once powerful opposition coalition to be a force to be reckoned with.
The coalition has not only lost the powerful mission to bring about changes but seems to depend on the government in power to bring about changes.
Cooperation with government
So, why has PH lost support?
The answer can be found in what PH was before and what happened after it became the government.
To put it briefly, the metamorphosis experienced by PH in putting forward a bold and unadulterated reform agenda to one of cooperation with the government in power is the cause of the underlying dissatisfaction or frustration.
This seems to be the entry point of BN-Umno to weaken the opposition or PH.
There must be a serious attempt made at introspection, to see where the coalition was before, where is it now, why it has lost its popular appeal, and why the BN is making a comeback to fill the vacuum despite its massive unmitigated misdeeds.
Maybe the faults are not so much in the BN (stars) but what the component parties of the PH have brought upon themselves.
Let us not do the same thing repeatedly expecting different results.
P Ramasamy is Penang deputy chief minister II.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.