Can a “marriage of convenience” bring down Najib?

Photo: Muhyiddin Yassin/Facebook
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By Holly Reeves

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is eyeing a general election. But the opposition parties that would face him are too busy eyeing each other to ever truly be a challenge.

As talk grew of the need for a new coalition in opposition, former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin was sacked this week from the ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), along with Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. The Office of the Prime MInister has not commented on the reasons for these dismissals.

Mr Muhyiddin said he would be seeking advice on what happens next, adding that it is still not too late to form a new platform, even though Mr Najib may decide to call for an early election before it is due in 2018.

“I have ideas, both of us have experience as well – it’s not a hopeless situation,” said Mr Muhyiddin. “It’s not about us. It’s about what we and many others can work together (to do) to provide a way forward that is viable and sustainable.”

Politics of convenience

However, the issues behind creating such a united opposition are significant. As former Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim explained this week, “Getting as many non-Barisan Nasional (BN) political parties as possible to gang up for the purpose of winning an election (the usual method) is not my idea of a united opposition,” adding it was more a “politics of convenience” than anything else.

He said the opposition could only be described as “united” if they could agree on core issues and key principles that included the desire to keep Malaysia a true democracy. However, the current problem for the country is that opposition parties too often mistake competitors for enemies.

As the easy wins in recent by-elections for UMNO despite ongoing allegations of corruption show, the opposition currently consistently fractures its own vote. In both of the recent contests, former opposition allies were competing against each other, as well as ruling coalition BN candidates.

These three-opponent races ensure steady support for BN’s united front for the simple reason that at least the parties which make up BN publicly support each other and appear stronger. According to Ibrahim Suffian, head of independent polling organization Merdeka Center, “The only way for them [the opposition] to offer a meaningful challenge to BN is if they can recover their pragmatism and maturity to work as partners.”

A credible opposition?

The problem is that without a credible opposition there can be no progress or alternative to the Najib leadership. But getting the disparate and difficult Democratic Action Party (DAP), Amanah, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Parti Socialis Malaysia (PSM) to points of agreement that they can all campaign – and agree on – is no easy task.

Following the recent election results the Pakatan Harapan coalition extended an olive branch to PAS but has again been rebuffed. The previous alliance between the two groups fractured thanks to open conflicts between the Islamist party and former partner DAP over the hudud laws. PKR and DAP went on to form Pakatan Harapan with PAS offshoot, Amanah.

Imprisoned but influential opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has called for unity for the public good, saying, “Remember constantly that it is our moral duty to provide genuine alternative to the people. Put aside all differences, put aside internecine quarrels.” He adds, “The opposition must look at this electoral outcome with humility, and take a hard look at our weaknesses. This is no time for excuses or blame.”

No-contest for progress

But where does the blame lie?

People are fed up of all the bickering, one commentator said this week. For a coherent opposition to emerge there must be no-contest deals in competitive constituencies and the alternative parties of government must not be seen to constantly attack each other and weaken their ties.

From here on the opposition parties must assume that every step taken by Najib and his office has an impending election in mind. If they are too busy with infighting and attacking each other to prepare then they can never expect to bring the fall of Najib by the ballot box.

Instead, opposition partners must be seen as partners in a dialogue, working towards developing the country and recreating the no-conflict approach, which brought their surprise electoral success in 2013.

The fight now for the opposition should not be against each other, but against political stagnation that leaves Malaysia with no choice but a rotten one.