Malaysia: Politics will be politics… always dirty, no matter the side

Malaysia: Politics will be politics… always dirty, no matter the side
By Zan Azlee

THE NEW opposition coalition in Malaysia, Pakatan Harapan, has finally revealed its leadership lineup.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is chairman, jailed former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim is de facto leader while his wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is coalition president.

When unveiling the lineup last week, Dr Mahathir inadvertently made a joke when he referred to Mohamad Sabu, the president of component party Amanah, as the president of Umno. Umno, short for the United Malays National Organisation, is the lynchpin party of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition… and Dr Mahathir’s former political platform.

The irony in politics can sometimes be pretty amusing; if you look at the new Pakatan Harapan leadership, you’ll see long-time sworn enemies now standing together as friends and partners. Case in point: Dr Mahathir and Anwar. Who could forget how in the 1990s, Dr Mahathir sacked Anwar who was then his deputy, and put him in jail for sodomy.

Anwar and his entire family moved on to form an entire political party to demand justice for him, and to fight Dr Mahathir and Umno. In fact, Dr Mahathir used to be the sworn enemy of many in Pakatan Harapan’s component parties, thanks to the hard-handed tactics of his administration during his rule as Umno president and prime minister.

But they’ve all joined forces now, united against a common enemy – current prime minister Najib Razak. This motley crew also includes personalities like Muhyiddin Yassin, former deputy prime minister, and Mukhriz Mahathir, Dr Mahathir’s son and former chief minister of Kedah state, both recent Umno members who were sacked by Najib.

The opposition has always been been about change and reform (their last slogan was ‘Ubah’, which means change in Malay), and about fresh and new faces taking over the government.

But that objective must have changed because the new leadership lineup is looking… well… pretty old.

It isn’t just about their ages (Dr Mahathir is 92-years-old this year) but also the fact that they are all veteran and senior leaders, many from the government. And yet somehow, the coalition’s younger generation members are supportive of this, claiming this is what they need to win the next general election.

Nurul Izzah Anwar, vice president of the People’s Justice Party (PKR) and Anwar’s daughter, claims they need old timers like Dr Mahathir to appeal to the rural Malay population because they aren’t able to access the media properly, no thanks to the weak state of the country’s democratic institutions. She says that they need to face reality and do what they need to do.

But this raises the question – who forms the majority of the Malaysian electorate?

Is it the older generation of voters who lived through most of Dr Mahathir’s 22-year rule?

Or is it the younger generation who have grown tired of old faces and aged leaders bringing nothing new to the table?

BN’s headline campaign is, as usual, characterised by this simplistic, yet oft-used threat that if the people (the Malays, especially) were to vote for the opposition, they’d lose their special Malay privileges and rights. It’s not a new threat; Dr Mahathir used the same tactic years ago when he painted the opposition, especially the Democratic Action Party (DAP), as racist devils bent on abolishing Malay privileges.

But Dr Mahathir has since changed his tune. He now admires the DAP for being a truly multicultural party, even claiming they’d work together with all races to ensure the rights of all, even the Malays, will be upheld.

What a complete turnaround. Maybe being in retirement has helped him see the light.

Mohamad Sabu (aka Mat Sabu) has sought to justify the opposition’s decision to team up with Dr Mahathir. He says the concept of “Malay supremacy” has been ingrained in the mindsets of the Malays and that he’s aware of Dr Mahathir’s role in perpetuating that.

As such, Mat Sabu thinks only the person responsible for creating that mentality can reverse it. That person, he believes, is none other than Dr Mahathir himself.

This, mind you, is despite the fact that Dr Mahathir’s latest political platform, another component of Pakatan Harapan, is, again, Malay-and-Bumiputera-based… just like Umno!

All this makes me wonder – what are our political leaders really up to?

Are they at all interested in progress, in improving our beloved nation? Or are they just caught up in this power play, this game of political music chairs?

I guess what they say about politics is true… that it is dirty business. I just hope that those in the game remember this – that they are playing with our country’s political future… that is, the futures and livelihoods of 31 million Malaysians.

Let’s just see how this will pan out.

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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