BN leaders now find themselves with the nightmarish proposition of a united opposition front with a common logo instead of four disparate parties, each with its own logo, writes Anil Netto.
This was the moment Mahathir announced that Pakatan Harapan would use the PKR logo as its common symbol for the coming general election (see video above). The jubilant response of the large crowd at Pasir Gudang last night said everything.
So, remarkably, Mahathir and PKR have come full circle. The biggest irony is that PKR’s ‘eye’ logo itself was born out of the black eye inflicted on Anwar Ibrahim by the then inspector general of police under the Mahathir administration. Who would have imagined back then that both Mahathir and Anwar would one day be re-united under that logo?
That both sides were willing to put the past behind them lies as much to the desire among many Malaysians for a united front to take on the BN at the federal level.
The other irony is that the move towards a common logo was hastened by the Registrar of Societies’ high-handed decision to disband Bersatu at this critical juncture – a move which has now backfired spectacularly. The decision enraged many Malaysians and the jubilation we witnessed in Pasir Gudang last night was a reflection of that outrage now turned on its head into high expectations. BN leaders now find themselves with the nightmarish proposition of a united opposition front with a common logo instead of four disparate parties, each with its own logo – and they could rue the day Bersatu was dissolved.
So Bersatu has been dissolved, Parliament is dissolved – and now Pakatan Harapan has found a common logo.
The opposition parties would probably need over 60% of the popular vote if they are to capture Putrajaya now that the electoral boundaries have been redrawn and have become so skewed. In the last general election, they won 51% of the popular vote.
In the past, some were wary about that the opposition might end up like a ‘BN Lite’, with so many ex-BN types in its ranks. But then again, if the opposition parties are to make that leap from 51% of the popular vote to around 60%, they would need to capture the imagination of many BN supporters. Perhaps, inevitably, one of the ways of doing that would be to first win over many former Umno-BN leaders – and this the opposition parties have done by aligning themselves with Bersatu and its ex-Umno leaders, for better or for worse, and no one more crucial than Mahathir himself.
If we look at Indonesia and the Philippines after Suharto and Marcos, even after their disgraced authoritarian leaders left the scene, old ‘reformed’ establishment figures were very much part of the new administrations. So there was a period of transition with these ‘reformed’ establishment figures in the new leadership line-ups. (The Philippines, unfortunately, has now gone backwards in terms of human rights while Reformasi is an ongoing process in Indonesia.)
Mahathir, on the other hand, has reinvented himself. From the Mahafiraun arch-villain caricature of the Reformasi years, the former premier has transformed himself into an affectionate, even playful, grandfatherly statesman-like figure reaching out to many reform-minded Malaysians, who in turn have reciprocated by pinning their hopes for change on him. He has not lost much of his trademark sarcasm, but this time, much to the amusement of his supporters, directed at the Najib administration.
In a sense, Mahathir also has a chance at redemption, by making up for his shabby treatment of the late Tunku Abdul Rahman and other opposition figures, a few of them still around today. The then 87-year-old Tunku himself had led an opposition front in the 1990 general election, against the BN administration led by a younger Mahathir, then 65 (almost the same age as the 64-year-old Najib today), whom the independence leader accused of having turned Malaysia into a police state. History does have a way of repeating itself, doesn’t it – this time hopefully with a different twist at the end.
Reformasi won’t end if and when Pakatan finally wins power. It will require eternal vigilance and continued struggle. The hope is that the establishment figures now in Pakatan won’t compromise the Reformasi agenda of far-reaching institutional reforms and an end to corruption, cronyism and nepotism in all its many forms. This we have to continue to watch out for as we work ceaselessly for meaningful change.