Anil Netto looks back at a day of high-stakes drama, which has left Malaysians in suspense.
When Anwar Ibrahim made his move at noon, many Malaysians were sceptical about whether he really had the numbers for a “formidable majority” to bring down Muhyiddin Yassin’s government.
After all, in 2008, Anwar tried to take over the federal government by enticing MPs to switch camps, but the move fell flat. This time around, he had been quiet for some months now, prompting many to write him off.
But it looks as if the “world’s longest prime minister-in-waiting” is on firmer ground now. He claims he has a solid majority – which doesn’t include the defectors – though it falls short of a two-thirds majority, ie 148 seats. When asked by journalists whether his slate of MPs includes former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar responded with an emphatic no.
Learning from the mistakes of the 2018 Pakatan Harapan experience, when many Malays felt uneasy about Umno losing power, Anwar took pains to reassure the Malay-Muslim ground their interests would be protected, while stressing his team would be inclusive and uphold diversity.
When Zahid Hamidi issued a statement later this afternoon, confirming that many Umno and other BN MPs were backing Anwar, the writing was on the wall for Muhyiddin. The numbers game appeared to be tilting decisively in Anwar’s favour – and the Umno president was not standing in the way.
But the statement by Zahid, who is facing a string of corruption charges, also left many wondering if some kind of compromise had been reached with Umno power brokers. Anwar needs to clarify this.
When Muhyiddin went ahead with his press conference at 2.30pm, he focused mainly on the economy and more handouts for the middle class and the lower-income group, with one eye on the Sabah election. The PM did take a passing potshot at certain politicians causing instability. But, mostly, he looked pale and sounded low key, any semblance of fighting spirit conspicuously absent. He later insisted he remains the “legal prime minister” while Anwar has to prove his majority.
Apart from the Umno MPs, Anwar may have collected Sarawak MPs as well. A PKR contact closely following events told me the dissatisfaction in Sarawak was mainly due to unhappiness over attempts by Umno and Bersatu to make major inroads into the state ahead of the Sarawak election, expected to be held soon. That may not have gone down well with a clutch of Sarawak power brokers who have come to expect a free hand in running the state.
These Sarawak MPs can also see how Sabahans – and people across the nation – are responding to Warisan Plus. They perhaps see no reason why they should play second fiddle to Umno and Bersatu in the Federation of Malaysia – in which Sabah and Sarawak are supposed to be equal partners with the Peninsula.
Anwar’s announcement could also give Warisan Plus a last-minute boost ahead of the state election, and a victory there would set a refreshing tone for more inclusive politics across the nation.
With many observers expecting Shafie to cruise to a thumping win in the Sabah election, even in Malay-Muslim areas, this was perhaps a cue for Sarawak’s MPs. If Shafie Apdal and his Warisan win big, it would show up Gabungan Parti Sarawak, which has propped up the Umno-Pas-Bersatu pact, with little to show for it.
Sarawak politicians were reportedly already unhappy with the lack of concessions by Muhyiddin’s government for greater recognition of the role of the state in the federation and Putrajaya’s failure to live up to the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement.
But we should also recognise the rampant corruption in both Sabah and Sarawak, the extensive logging, the mega-dams and the displacement of natives from their traditional land. All these issues must be resolved.
Whatever the outcome, the nation badly needs a strong and independent Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief and a robust leader of the Department of the Environment – and that’s just for starters.
If Anwar does have the numbers, we could see a greater role among the Sarawak and Sabah MPs at the federal level, perhaps even a deputy prime minister’s post.
As for Azmin Ali, a chief architect of the “Sheraton Move”, he might be left eating his words, his ambition soon in tatters. The same goes for the other defectors, who brought down the democratically elected PH government through the back door, just six months ago.
Pas, for its part, might make better use of its time and energy focusing on its twin problems in Kelantan: poor water quality and occasional flash floods, apart from the lack of economic dynamism in the state. Its brand of narrow religious politics is ill-suited for a multicultural, multi-religous nation.
Enough of the backdoor politics and elite politicking after this. Let’s get down to work to rebuild a nation we can be proud of once the dust has settled.
More than that, we must work hard to build a more inclusive nation that harnesses the undoubted talents, energy and hard work that Malaysians and guest workers have in abundance to revive the nation. Always remember that what unites us is far greater than what divides us.