Kuala Lumpur has been abuzz in recent weeks with the rollout of the latest opposition coalition’s leadership structure. Two (former) sworn enemies, Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim, have set aside their differences and come together. The former embracing the post of Chairman whilst the latter, who resides in prison, taking up the role of de facto leader.
The history amongst these two stalwarts of Malaysian politics is a saga in the making. Dr Mahathir was Mr Anwar’s ex-boss and jailed the latter after a dispute on the handling of certain economic issues during the Asian Financial Crisis, on allegations of sodomy and corruption. Anwar remained in jail
Anwar remained in jail until his release in 2004 and had since led the opposition to two very successful general elections in 2008 and 2013, impressively winning the popular vote – a first time ever for an opposition coalition in Malaysia. That said, an adverse court ruling, sent Anwar back to prison in 2014 on a second sodomy charge.
Dr Mahathir, meanwhile, retired in 2002 after spending 22 years as Premier. Having battled allegations of corruption his entire career and vilified by the opposition on numerous of occasions in Parliament and in the public domain, the trained medical doctor has remained a divisive figure in Malaysian politics.
According to Barry Wain, the former editor of the Asian Wall Street Journal, equivalent to $40bn at the prevailing exchange rate was lost during the Doctor’s reign. Nevertheless, he has since continued to dominate national headlines with the ousting of his handpicked successor, Abdullah Badawi in 2009, and his never-ending witch hunt over current Prime Minister, Najib Razak – another groomed successor of the nonagenarian.
The Other Guys
Anwar and Dr Mahathir’s latest alliance in the form of Pakatan Harapan (translated as coalition of hope), is a loosely held opposition coalition, a seemingly farce marriage of compromises and conveniences, that encompasses most of the main opposition parties, decked up with former big wigs from the leading national party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). The coalition is built upon a noticeable absence of core values other than the sole purpose to oust Najib.
It must be noted that the focus of all four parties in the coalition has very different ideologies. While it is commendable that opposition parties are attempting to do their part to maintain a check and balance in Malaysia’s parliament – akin to the Westminster style where its foundations lay – there is no visible, identified individual to attain the post of Prime Minister of the nation should they secure a mandate. Nevertheless, credit must also be given to the opposition-run state governments of Selangor and Penang for scoring well on the Auditor General’s report.
For the general public, this tryst is one seen before in the past, most notably in the 2008 and 2013 General Elections as previous coalitions with different names as Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact/Alliance) and as Barisan Alternatif (Alternative Front) in 1999. Globally, recent elections that have seen the likes of Bernie Sanders, Emmanuel Macron and Jeremy Corbyn galvanise their respective nations, have had their support base built upon youths.
The youth of these nations who have access to a plethora of information thanks to technology have made informed electoral choices that correspond to their beliefs and values. Malaysia’s latest opposition coalition sadly seems disconnected with the issues that face the youth and working class.
Malaysians today are a lot more informed about the misdeeds of the government of the day and of the past. There is a high degree of tomfoolery in believing that a group of men, some who have even helmed the country at the highest echelons, have converged for the sake of the nation to ‘Save Malaysia’.
Economic Impact In Electing A Clueless Opposition
The economic impact of electing an opposition coalition laced with uncertainty is greater than people can fathom. The international investing community has a great presence in Malaysia via foreign direct investments and the local capital markets.
Approximately a third of Malaysia’s sovereign debt and the local Bourse’s equity shareholdings are held by foreigners. Any indication of a tilt or shift towards uncertainty, as seen by the oil price crash in 2015, may adversely cause a chained reaction. Investors and multinational corporations, who are sensitive to political turmoil, could pull out of Malaysia, leaving it exposed with the potential to puncture the Malaysian Ringgit.
In the midst of tumultuous occurrences sweeping Muslim-majority countries globally, Malaysia remains the bastion of moderation. While it is noted that there are some vociferous elements in the country, it has remained largely a poster child for the Muslim world envious of its multicultural fabric.
A genuine reform can only take place in the shape of an apolitical civil movement, unlike those that have been hijacked by interested parties in the past, consisting of professionals, scholars, artists and teachers backed by a young team of leaders – similar to what transpired in the events leading up to Malaysia’s independence. Old wine of questionable quality in a new bottle with tattered labels will not cut it. Malaysia deserves better.