Commentary Politics

Another bad loss & Pakatan may not recover

Written by Aziz Hassan

November 20, 2019.

Recollections & Reflections

NINE by-elections since last year’s general elections but none had led to the kinds of reactions we have seen from the vanquished the way we have seen from the recent trouncing of the ruling Pakatan Harapan in Tanjung Piai.

Pakatan chairman Dr. Mahathir Mohamad even released a written statement, in which he admitted that the coalition had anticipated a defeat by about 2,000 votes but not the whopping 15,086 when Karmaine Sardini lost to the MCA’s Wee Jeck Seng, previously the MP there for two terms.

Most unbelievable and also unthinkable because when Wee lost in May last year to Pakatan’s Md. Farid Md. Rafik, it was only by 524 votes. And Farid received 21,255 votes or 47.29 per cent of the valid votes cast but this time Karmaine only got 10,380 votes or 26.74 per cent. That was how bad the blow was for Pakatan.

It is worth noting that in the earlier eight by-elections the results went very much the way of support that was always there for either of the contesting parties, like Sungai Kandis or previously Sri Andalas, and Seri Setia being with PKR since 2008, Balakong a DAP area also since 2008. The other state seats which went through a by-election after GE14 were Semenyih and Rantau, both solid long-term seats held by Alliance or the larger BN that followed. Similarly the parliamentary seats of Port Dickson, Cemeron Highlands and Sandakan.

But Tanjung Piai bucked the trend and in a bad way for Pakatan.

As expected, some Pakatan leaders have been doing their best to lift the spirits but if Tanjung Piai is followed by another dismal outing for Pakatan, it’s not knives that will be out but machetes.

Some in the crowd walked away when Mahathir was speaking; that was how strong the feeling was against Pakatan

The report from the ground during the campaigning period must have been so bad for Pakatan that Mahathir had to go there for a ceramah and to stay overnight in the area. Even during his days as Barisan Nasional chairman it was rare for Mahathir to be a part of a by-election campaign. What was not mentioned by the pro-Pakatan press was that some in the crowd walked away when Mahathir was speaking. An unprecedented development this.  Mind you Mahathir is also the prime minister and culturally, Malaysians are never known to do this to a PM.

Since Saturday’s result, there have all kinds of conclusions and speculations on social media, with the more extreme suggesting that a coup could be on the way and that the Pakatan presidential council which Mahathir chairs has decided on a gag order on him. There was even a suggestion that he had taken a quick flight out of the country, which was an indirect suggestion that he was truly in a lot of trouble from within his coalition.

There have been understandably calls for him to quit or for the Pakatan council to ask him to go or for the council itself to accept responsibility, although how this will eventually work out has not been spelt out.

But just like the dissenting voices on other issues previously, what we have been hearing so far is not a collective voice. A decent-sized group of dissenters in Pakatan speaking as one would be more effective in putting pressure on Mahathir. Alternatively a position taken by civil society groups but this so far is not forthcoming. Without a strong collective voice directed at him, Mahathir is likely to again swat off the dissenters like you’d to flies.

Anwar camp was quietly talking about being set on trying to take over from Mahathir by May

This looks like not a widely talked about gossip but there was however talk by the Anwar Ibrahim camp while in Tanjung Piai that if the result didn’t go Pakatan’s way, by hook or by crook their man would find a way to take over from Mahathir by May next year. They did not articulate how Anwar was going to do this, given that support for him from within his own PKR is not as firm as it was some years ago. A reporter who covered the by-election heard that apparently Anwar himself had talked about the same with some among the foreign press.

There was yet another most interesting comment before the by-election by a senior Pakatan leader and a video of what DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said when asked about Tanjung Piai was circulated on social media. The question could be barely heard but Lim clearly said “Tanjung Piai is (Pribumi) Bersatu, not DAP”. For good measure he said it twice. No wonder the critics have been saying that Pakatan is indeed a fractious coalition. Shouldn’t Lim be asked to explain himself by the Pakatan council since he appeared to insinuate that while his DAP was a part of Pakatan, the problems faced by the coalition in Tanjung Piai were something to be dealt with by Mahathir’s Pribumi Bersatu and that party alone.

Whatever the problems Pakatan says BN is going through, it must be said that Pakatan itself is far from perfect, with its failure to fulfil the promises in its GE14 manifesto agreed by most as its biggest liability. The ones on institutional reforms may be a primary concern among the middle-class but for those outside of the middle-class, it’s more about bread and butter and life’s daily challenges. With the economy being what it is and most likely will need a few more years to get better, the road ahead for Pakatan is indeed long and winding.

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About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.