Relationships of convenience in Malaysian politics

Relationships of convenience in Malaysian politics
By Zan Azlee

I remember the first time I met Lim Kit Siang. I was a young journalist and I had been invited to a friend’s book launch. Lim was there as the guest of honour and also to launch the book. The book was about issues in the digital age and was written by my friend and fellow journalist Oon Yeoh.

I was having a drink when suddenly I found myself face-to-face with the leader of the opposition. I didn’t know what to say so I nodded at him and asked him a question.

“Hi! So do you know much about IT?” I smiled sheepishly.

Lim smiled back politely and walked away. It was only a couple of days later that I found out that aside from being the leader of the opposition, he also played the role of shadow minister for IT and technology. I felt like a complete idiot.

I also remember the first time I met Dr Mahathir Mohamad. I was a young journalist and Mahathir was still the prime minister. We were in Parliament and he had just finished a press conference. I ran up to him and asked for a photograph, which he was kind enough to oblige.

I was young so I took a picture with him, smiling and holding up a big peace sign with my fingers. The prime minister was amused at my actions and he smiled. Even members of his security detail who were behind me laughed, and so did everyone around.

At that time, both leaders were from two different political sides and you would have believed that they were absolutely sworn enemies forever. Heck, Mahathir had even given the orders to arrest Lim and other politicians and activists in Ops Lalang, way back in 1987.

Present-day politics

Fast forward 15 years later and we see interesting times. These two sworn enemies are now like the best of friends. They are now fighting on the same side against the incumbent BN government. Lim Kit Siang is still a very prominent leader in DAP and Mahathir is now the chairperson of Bersatu.

Recently, the two leaders were at a town hall session with youths, where they fielded questions from the participants. The subjects they talked about ranged from Ops Lalang, nepotism and also about their relationship as sworn enemies.

Ops Lalang saw Lim Kit Siang detained under the ISA, upon Mahathir’s orders. Nepotism is something both leaders are accused of practising, for we can see how both their children are in politics, with successful careers.

As for their thoughts on being sworn enemies, both mentioned that throughout their entire career, they had never attacked each personally. Instead, they knew and understood that they were both working in a professional capacity.

In fact, Lim said he did not hold a grudge against Mahathir for putting him in detention. He understood Mahathir had acted on information and intelligence that was provided to him by the authorities.

On that matter, Mahathir said that if he were to do it all over again, he would make the same decision because that was the information provided and he made it on the basis of the best information he had at that time,

This is how Lim Kit Siang and Mahathir Mohamad have managed to justify their pact today, after being political enemies for decades. And because the issue is viewed with scepticism, the duo had the town hall to address it, among others.

In politics, a relationship of convenience can sometimes happen where parties create pacts in order to gain the most of what they can, based on each other’s strengths.

That is exactly the situation in Malaysia.

BN is a pact that was formed when political parties needed to get as many votes from the majority races in the country, back in the 1950s and 1960s. This has continued until today, even though they are now forced to stay in a one-sided pact because they have no other choice.

Even Pakatan Harapan is a pact formed out of convenience.

We saw how loose it was, just by looking at the tiff PAS had with DAP and other component parties in the coalition. As we all know, Pas is no longer in Pakatan Harapan.

Last week, we witnessed Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor paying a visit to former deputy prime minister and current de facto leader of the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, in hospital, convalescing after his shoulder operation. Anwar is currently serving time in jail for sodomy.

Many Malaysians are viewing this visit with cynicism and scepticism. Rightfully so, because so many Malaysians also have the perception that Anwar’s conviction is politically motivated by the government.

It is funny how politics works.

It can be a very noble cause in wanting to serve the country and the people, but it can also sometimes be a power struggle by those who want to grab power.

And no matter what the intentions, there is always a means to an end.

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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