By Raman Letchumanan

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--As the tempo for a Pakatan Harapan (PH) win rises, we have the associated intellectuals pleading with voters to exercise their democratic vote to seal the deal for the coalition. We even had one top legal mind articulating that constitutionally the party with the most MPs should be called to form the government the very next day.

Regrettably, all of them are only thinking of the next few days when Malaysia goes to the polls tomorrow (Nov 19) but not what follows thereafter and for the next five years. They are fixated on voting for parties – and their cherished leaders however tainted they are.

They seem to have forgotten what happened after GE14 when there were three changes of government and the turmoil that followed. And of course, they tell the voters to just ignore the baggage each leader in the party carries.

In short, vote for the party that is less evil compared to its opponent. But PH shines not based on its own merit but because of infighting among and within other parties. And this supposedly is what democracy and freedom of choice is.

Vote for individuals not parties

I have repeatedly advocated for this democratic choice – but by a strange turn of events – never realised such a choice will present itself in GE15. I never thought the stranglehold of party veterans on its members and voters would dissipate so soon.

UMNO until parliament dissolution was so united and strong that it forced (now caretaker) prime minister (PM) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob to call for early elections against all considered advice.

I even advised him to be careful – very, very careful and not dig his own grave. But his party president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who is facing multiple court charges was so sure that UMNO with its Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition will make a grand comeback after reigning for 60 over years.

So confident Zahid was that he sidelined several party ministers and veterans – an affront to Ismail Sabri – causing widespread internal dissension.

Some hopped to rival parties, mainly Perikatan Nasional (PN) led by former PM Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. Some campaigned half-heartedly while Khairy Jamaluddin was campaigning against UMNO, essentially calling it a party of corruption.

Seemingly he allied with Ismail Sabri but whose prospects of becoming PM for a second term has been washed away by the floods. Never before were BN diehard voters become so confused. Yes, it's BN vs BN.

Muhyiddin who is nursing his wounds after being booted out unceremoniously has stepped up a gear to mop up the disgruntled BN voters. Its PAS partner headed by Tan Sri Hadi Awang – forever dithering between BN and PN – finally seemed to be comforted by siding with PN. Together, they are chipping away Malay and rural voters.

Anwar’s weakness

PH was an underdog – and whose confidence in winning GE15 was so low – that they vehemently opposed early elections and refused to call concurrent voting in their three states. Suddenly PH, by default, is riding on a wave of anti-BN and anti-PN sentiments.

The end result is that veteran party leaders such as Zahid, Ismail Sabri, Muhyiddin, Hadi and a host of second and third echelon leaders are facing the prospect of being voted out in GE15.

The voters now realise that no leader is so sacrosanct that a vote for a party must be a vote for its leaders. Individuals and their record and capability are becoming supreme. The tainted leaders are the first to be thrown overboard.

PH is singing the tune that a vote for BN or PN is a vote for corrupts and traitors. But PH doesn’t have an enviable record either. Its reign was short-lived primarily because of its leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. He has a historical record of being greedy, selfish and arrogant with the sole aim of becoming PM.

In 1998, he challenged the then PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad which led to his incarceration. In February 2020, he demanded that Dr Mahathir keep his promise to make him PM which eventually led to the infamous “Sheraton Move”. Even then, his continuous self-inflicted blunders sunk him further as a useless leader.

Until the Parliament dissolution day, he was not seen as a PM hopeful, and even his own coalition parties were talking of ‘big tent’ approach. Anwar was Dr Mahathir’s right hand man in UMNO for 16 years but doubts arise whether he himself has reformed. We are simply voting for “more UMNO” or “less UMNO”.

Anwar’s deputy Rafizi Ramli seems to have fired up the voters, but he is one person who excels in digging up scandals yet has little to offer in terms of governing when in authority. He is nowhere near taking a holistic approach and offering solutions like what I have written on the littoral combat ships (LCS) scandal, the 5G roll-out and the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project.

Dr Mahathir himself meanwhile went from a hero in the 1980s to a zero now because of his own conniving ways.

The infighting among and within the Malay leaders – now divided among at least five parties – clearly shows the rallying calls for race, religion and supremacy is just a ruse to keep the Malay leaders in power, and to enrich themselves by leveraging the Malay masses.

The Malays remain in poverty despite 50 over years of New Economy Policy (NEP) where the share of wealth has hardly moved – from 15 percent initially to 17 percent now. The myth of ummah unity has indeed been shattered.

Vote for Malaysia’s future, not its past

A vote along party lines and its tainted and veteran leaders, some of whom I mentioned above, is indeed taking Malaysia back to its sordid past.

Even more alarming with these leaders around – in whatever party combination – will make GE15 a repeat of GE14. They have honed their skills in betrayal and backstabbing, and rousing the sentiments of the general populace.

These parties and their leaders have no vision or policy prescription to take Malaysia out of the rut it is in. Just look at all their election manifestos. It is just a list of handouts, subsidies, projects and activities; promising more money from even more borrowings while our debt has exceeded RM1 trillion.

I have justifiably warned as early as two years ago that Malaysia’s economy is terminally ill.

A party cannot be judged merely by what it puts out within two weeks of campaigning. It should be judged by what it has consistently done whether in government or opposition. Did PH question why B60 families which could be receiving RM1,000 for 22 months from the RM88 billion COVID-19 direct fiscal injection ended up getting peanuts?

Or why PH states like Selangor are destroying its pristine natural forests, causing more floods and natural disasters. This is despite PH having thrown brickbats at BN for converting natural forests into toxic waste dumps and to mine rare earth minerals.

Why did PH allow the speaker to subjugate Parliament to the dictates of the executive? Have they spoken up against the tyranny of double standards and harsh treatment of the public at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Why is Malaysia the only country in ASEAN that does not have a disaster management law, while incurring billions and causing misery to millions of people from floods and man-made disasters.

Why didn’t PH come up with a comprehensive shadow budget while blaming BN for using the draft Budget 2023 as its manifesto? How can PH claim they can rebuild the Malaysian economy when they didn’t even perform their parliamentary duty?

I do not mean issuing press statements, responding to media queries, shouting in parliament or the favourite pastime – mudslinging. Each issue as they arise should have demanded a policy or position paper from the opposition.

Political leaders claim they are indispensable and without them the country cannot be governed. That is a complete hogwash. It is the political leaders who ruin the country, taint and subjugate the civil service to serve the self-interest of politicians as they come and go. The civil service is best placed to govern the country if they are left on their own.

I have briefly highlighted these aspects to show that no one politician is indispensable. In fact, they are only a nuisance who will ruin the country as past experiences have shown.

As I have explained, the sentiment to throw out the once untouchable politicians has started among the existing veteran electorates. About five million new and young voters are coming on board with automatic registration and the lowering of voting age to 18. What matters most to youths and the general population are the economy, jobs and decent living.

I would only ask these new voters to tip the scale in favour of voting in qualified and decent individuals rather than voting blindly along party lines. The list of party leaders mentioned above at a minimum has to be retired.

Use your own judgement. Don’t follow mass party hysteria. A vote along party lines is a vote for impending disaster for Malaysia. Just choose your own favourite candidate.

*Raman Letchumanan is a former senior fellow at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, a former director at the Minister of Science, Technology and Environment, and a former head of environment/disaster management at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta.*