2:56pm 19/04/2021
An old question still being asked
By:Mohsin Abdullah

Why did the Pakatan Harapan government fall? This has been much asked and talked about “for ages”, so to speak, that I would expect it to be termed “old news” by now.

Obviously that’s not the case.

Apparently many are still talking about it. Bersatu information chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan is one of them.

In a recent exclusive interview with FMT, he spoke about it, at length.

In a nutshell, Saiful summarized the cause of Pakatan Harapan’s fall as its failure to put the Malays first.

Based on that, I can’t help but wonder if Pakatan Harapan was already seen in the Malay rural heartland even before GE14 as a coalition which would give prominence to Malay interests?

As such, if that was the reason for Safiul’s defeat for the Pendang parliamentary seat because he was perceived as not being Malay enough? Remember, he contested the seat as Bersatu candidate representing Pakatan Harapan. And Pendang, a constituency in Kedah, is rural and overwhelmingly Malay.

Saiful had quit PAS to join Bersatu. He became PAS lifelong member in 1997, but before leaving the party he was critical of PAS for what he said was the party’s conservative ideology.

PAS, as we know, has always “put” Islam and Malay first. That’s what PAS is claiming anyway.

Saiful carved his name as head of IDEAS, an independent policy think tank he co-founded. And he was once regarded as a “moderate Malay academic with a progressive voice”. 

Back to his take that Pakatan Harapan fell because it did not put Malay first, I wonder also if “Malayness” was the reason for him to ditch PAS to join Bersatu led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who is famously known to have said he is Malay first.

Thus, during the infamous Sheraton Move, he showed his preference for Muhyiddin over then Bersatu chairman Tun Mahathir Mohamad. H is now one of the prime movers in Perikatan Nasional.

Anyway, I am not about to debate if he is right or wrong in giving the reason for what he said led to Pakatan Harapan’s fall 22 months after winning GE14.

In the interview with FMT, Saiful alleged that Pakatan Harapan had refused to discuss matters of race and religion, failed to strengthen bumiputra, Malay and Muslim agenda and was concerned on prioritizing other matters instead.

“So, Malay-Muslims who are the majority were insecure. They felt that their political powers were being eroded despite the fact that the Federal Constitution guaranteed such matters,” he was quoted saying to the news portal. And that, according to Saiful, created an “unstable government”.

Again, if I may ask, why were the Malays feeling insecure that their political powers were being eroded when, as Saiful himself admitted, such matters were guaranteed by the federal Constitution?

Allow me to bring in excerpts of an article I wrote for The Edge back in May 2019.

Here are among the things I wrote: Ever since Barisan Nasional lost power in the 14th general election, there has been more race and religious rhetoric.

Umno has formed an alliance with PAS and they are exploiting the bangsa and agama theme to the hilt… Such methods are the easiest for gaining support. Already the Umno-PAS pact has three by-elections under its belt and there is no denying that issues of race and religion had played big part in its wins.

Obviously and sadly, there are those among us and a good number of Malays at that who are lapping up all the rhetoric.

The Mahathir administration has been accused by Umno, PAS and self-proclaimed defenders of Islam and Malay interests aligned to the Umno-PAS pact of being under Chinese DAP’s thumb. Thus, they claim the government is too weak to defend Islam and the Malay race.

It has even been accused of being anti-Islam and that it is a government without a Malay soul.

Take the protest against the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Alleging that Islam and Malays as well as the Malay rulers were under threat, the protesters held demonstrations, spreading unease.”

The tragic death of firefighter Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim during riots at a Hindu temple in Selangor in November 2018 also became a racial and religious issue with the Pakatan Harapan government accused of bowing down to non-Muslim groups.

There were many more issues.

Then prime minister Mahathir acknowledged the problem faced, saying: “If Pakatan losses support of the Malays, we will lose the election. If Pakatan losses support from the Chinese, we will also lose. Even the Indians play a big role in ensuring that Pakatan will stay as the government. So we have to be very careful.”

So, what did Mahathir do to appease the Malay-Muslim community without putting down the Chinese, Indians and other communities and vice versa? Well, for one it backtracked on the the ratification of ICERD and Rome Statue. And there were other U-turns.

But, the non-Malays, in particular the Chinese, were not happy, viewing the government as giving in to demands of hardliners and extremists.

Remember Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s remarks that liberal groups be wary of spooking the Malays? That didn’t go down well among the idealists and the so-called Bangsar Bubble folks.

As frustrations mount, non-Malays who had voted Pakatan Harapan to power in GE14 had wanted “to teach the coalition a lesson”.

Surely we can recall the Tanjung Piai by-election. No elaboration needed.

In short, to use the overused phrase, Pakatan Harapan was caught between a rock and hard place. However, it cannot be denied there were blunders they made. And they shot themselves in the foot a number of times, like Mahathir’s comments in not fulfilling their election manifesto and over promising on reforms and what not.

That contributed to their downfall although the final nail in the coffin was the Sheraton Move which many people still believe Mahathir had a role in.

A friend commented that Pakatan Harapan failed because of infighting among the Malays. He is not totally wrong, I would say.

If I may add, the fall was about political power and control. Don’t drag race and religion into it.

(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)


Mohsin Abdullah
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