UNITY won the day. To the delight of millions across the country, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong stepped up to use his discretion wisely and steer the nation out of the political quagmire and toward unity and inclusivity.
Daulat Tuanku (Hail to His Majesty)!
Millions of people across the country have yearned for unity and many have cried out in silence in prose and poetry, gaining traction and support. Malaysian voters might believe that their efforts to vote had no effect on the country’s democracy. They were understandably enraged because the votes they cast appeared to have lost power and were not duly acknowledged as another power struggle emerged in the hours following the election.
And I would add mine as another voice to the millions in waiting.
Breaking the deadlock
But His Majesty broke the deadlock. The ordinary people came together and rose to great heights of euphoria to celebrate His Majesty’s care and concern for the people of all races and religions. The long and agonising wait is over, with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim making a triumphant entrance.
I make no apologies for saying that, while most political winners spoke of national unity and stability in the immediate aftermath of the 15th general election (GE15) results, the reality on the ground told a different story. At the crack of dawn and in the dead of night, they were busy plotting moves and wheeling and dealing to amass enough numbers to form an alliance and strengthen their power base.
Millions of people were left on the sidelines to watch a series of dramas with ambiguous titles and perplexing plots playing out. Power plotters and actors could have done more to advance their cause if they had been more sensitive to ordinary people’s hopes and expectations, and even better, listened to their concerns and anxiety before acting hastily.
The purported alliances cobbled together by Perikatan Nasional (PN) to form a government drew much fanfare at the outset, but Umno, which they had hoped would respond positively to give the group the two-thirds majority, instead gave a snub, leaving PN and company in limbo.
Parallel with 2020 crisis
We can draw parallels between the current gridlock and the 2020 political crisis, when the King had to similarly facilitate the process of selecting the country’s next prime minister. In the crisis known as the ‘Sheraton Move’, a number of members of Parliament (MPs) defected from the ruling PH coalition, which had come to power in the 14th general election in 2018.
The political ego reared its ugly head in all of the game plans in the post-GE15 power struggle. Unity, inclusivity, and compromise were not words in their vocabulary. They had to be summoned to the Palace to learn a lesson and to heed the King’s advice. The lesson learnt at the Istana must put to death the pride and ego of political leaders.
Time now to reset the course in a humble mode. It’s also time to forgive and accept your adversaries into your political embrace.
Stop singing your own and your party’s greatness in a style that borders on feudalistic patronage, but let the millions watch and judge you over the next five years.
The political landscape is rapidly changing, and new dynamics are emerging to create a new yet evolving narrative that caters to a more mature citizenry.
Power of collectiveness
In light of the changing political landscape that is set to characterise Malaysian politics in the coming years, party leaders must be receptive and responsive to the rising sense and power of ‘collectiveness’ on matters of social and economic interest and religious belonging. The old narrative, in which the leader could lord over his political domain and no one dared to dissent and raise objection to the ‘master’ even on matters of truth, would not be able to withstand the political wind of change, which has included the rise of a growing number of young and educated voters.
In a culturally diverse state like Sarawak, where Christians make up 64 per cent of the population, Muslims 24 per cent, and Buddhists and Taoists 12 per cent, steering the course of inclusivity means steering away from racial or religious extremism, which can threaten to tear apart the social fabric of unity and harmony.
‘Collectivity’ and inclusivity are central features and definers of Anwar Ibrahim-led government. These are to be expressed and articulated across the power hierarchy in government representation, policies, appointments, and decision-making processes.
There would be no marginalisation of ethnic, regional, or religious groups.
It is a difficult balancing act that Anwar Ibrahim must carry out and commit to for the next five years. He is appealing to Malaysians of all faiths and races to join him as partners in rebuilding Malaysia and restoring its glory. While it may be difficult for some established leaders to let go of their pride and ego, allowing the latter to get the better of them (leaders) in critical moments may be distasteful and result in them being rebuked by the ordinary people.
The recent turmoil that led to PN’s defeat in the race for premiership is an open book on power strategy, humility, receptivity and inclusivity for leaders who have strayed or misstepped.
How difficult is it to assemble an administration that goes beyond egocentric grievances and party chatter for key portfolios? In the realpolitik tremors of two weeks of campaigning, the timeless lessons moved unsteadily and intermittently between exaggeration, hyperbole, and promissory notes. But these were not cleverly mastered to the political actors’ gain.
The reconciliation process is a first step toward the formation of an inclusive unity government that seeks a shared destiny based on the desires of the people represented by the parties. It is the first and most important building block in putting the government and the country on a common path to economic and social recovery and stability.
Malaysians must now reconcile, accept, and work together to rebuild mutual respect and trust. The decision by Anthony Loke, secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and a long-time adversary of GPS, to come to Kuching and apologise on behalf of his party to GPS chairman, Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, for words and actions in the past that might have hurt GPS and Sarawakians, was both magnanimous and commendable.
Both Loke and Abang Johari were hailed as gentlemen politicians for their gracious gestures of apologising and accepting the apology. The old wounds must not be allowed to reopen, even in difficult times, once they have been closed and sealed by the power of forgiveness and repentance.
Loke’s gesture was also graciously shared with GPS by DAP chairman Lim Guan Eng in a Facebook post.
A unity government is a young, fragile concept that may initially lack the necessary foundations and policy anchorage. It is Malaysia’s first experience of having a complex unity government. A political observer cannot be blamed for describing the situation as ‘an elite compromise between various political elite segments’.
On the surface, it appears to be a power-sharing arrangement dominated by an increasing closeness between the two distinct party structures and functionaries of PH and BN.
The more cynical ones may view it as an opportunity for PH to extend its sphere of influence and enhance its dominion.
In politics, anything can happen over time. But for now, unity remains the keyword that unites the political powers and people across racial and religious divides in the pursuit of a shared destiny.
* Toman Mamora (PhD Nottingham, UK) is a communication and research consultant. He comments on contemporary social and political issues and seeks to raise public opinion on subjects of societal value.