June 28, 2022

Like drowning duckweeds

5 min read

Pakatan Harapan’s loss in the Tanjung Piai by-election showed that Malaysians’ voter literacy has improved, but there is still a lot of intrigue left in the country’s political drama to befuddle us.

POLITICAL analyst Professor Shamsul Amri Baharuddin likens Pakatan Harapan to duckweeds. (They are small aquatic plants that float free on still water.)

He got the idea from a Malay proverb, “biduk lalu, kiambang bertaut” (when the boat passes, the duckweeds reconnect).

“Duckweed or kiambang is a good analogy for Pakatan as the coalition has no roots. Like the duckweed, Pakatan is not rooted on the ground, it is floating on the surface. If you look at the content of Pakatan, it is made of floating entities which were rooted elsewhere, ” said Shamsul Amri.

He explained that Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia is Umno 3.0, Amanah is a PAS splinter party and PKR started as a combination of Umno, PRM and NGOs. Only DAP, he said, has deep roots.

After the Tanjung Piai parliamentary by-election, Prof Shamsul Amri noted that Pakatan could be seen as a floating entity.

“To float, you need water. What happens when water is reduced? The water (an analogy for the people’s support) was slowly receding in the Cameron Highlands parliamentary by-election and the Semenyih and Rantau state by-elections, and it went down drastically in Tanjung Piai, ” he said.

Pakatan lost the three by-elections to Barisan Nasional.

In Tanjung Piai, Barisan’s Datuk Wee Jeck Seng of MCA trounced the Pakatan candidate Karmaine Sardini of Bersatu by a 15,086-vote majority. In GE14, Wee, the two-term Tanjung Piai MP, failed to retain his seat, losing to Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik of Bersatu by 524 votes.

The political analyst said a by-election did not indicate a general pattern as a by-election was a by-election. But with the thumping 15.086 majority Barisan won in Tanjung Piai, the result suggests that there was a general dissatisfaction against Pakatan.

The dissatisfaction came from Umno and PAS supporters who perceived DAP dominating Pakatan and the Chinese who were fed up with DAP for not fulfilling many promises such as the recognition of UEC (Unified Examination Certificate), he said.

“It was a big storm coming from three biduk (Malay PAS supporters, Malay Umno supporters and Chinese DAP supporters) and this was the real desperate consequences of the last 555 days of Pakatan rule.”

In the late morning after the Tanjung Piai shocking landslide win, Shamsul Amri WhatsApp-ed me to share his political thoughts. The by-election was a turning point in the history of Malaysia’s political literacy, he said.

The veteran political observer was sleepless in Seremban as the result demonstrated that Malaysia has come to a level of political literacy that he has never seen.

“The voters can switch quickly as they understand the political game. They understand who is with them and who is against them. They have put their hope in one (Pakatan in GE14). When it was not fulfilled, they go for the other (Barisan), ” he said.

“They are not fickle-minded. They are clear in what they want. That is a great achievement. The voters have become dominant political actors. The politicians have to take the voters seriously.”

Shamsul Amri continued: “That is the first narrative in the rakyat level. The second narrative is about leadership at the elite level.”

The elite issue of Bersatu chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad versus PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim remains in the back of the mind of the people on the ground. “But not as immediate as the issue of the rising cost of living, UEC and the abolishment of highway toll, ” he said.

“The rakyat is caught in this elite struggle. They are cognizant of the leadership problem at the elite level. The Chinese, through DAP, support Anwar to be the next PM. That is why Anwar is always talking about ‘dasar untuk rakyat tidak mengira kaum’ (policy for the people regardless of race). His lingo is non-ethnic. It has too, ” he said.

“For Malays, some of them want Mahathir to continue as Prime Minister. PAS, for sure, wants Mahathir to continue.”

Shamsul Amri said the perception was Dr Mahathir was doing his best to renegade his promise to pass the baton to Anwar.

“There is a lot of intrigue between the two. Mahathir has created a ‘now you see, now you don’t” atmosphere on the power transition. It’s like magic. As for Anwar, he said be patience and Mahathir was a good man who will honour his promise and we need to give him time, ” he said.

“What does it mean? There are two meanings which people can interpret. Does it mean: give time to Mahathir to give up power or give Anwar time to push out Mahathir?”

If Dr Mahathir doesn’t want to relinquish power to Anwar, how does he do it? Shamsul Amri postulate that the Prime Minister can form a new coalition government with Umno and PAS, without DAP and “whoever including frogs jumping from other ponds”.

The other option for Dr Mahathir is to dissolve Parliament, he said.

“This can be done. Just say Mahathir suggests a constitutional change in Parliament and loses the vote to pass it through, he can say I’ve have lost, and I need a new mandate. There’s nothing impossible in this country. We have seen it before, ” he said.

The political analyst said Anwar could create a new coalition which would include DAP and whoever else.

“The next month or less, we will see this intrigue. Democracy in Malaysia is alive, kicking and exciting. It is casino politics played at the highest level. Casino because lots of money will be involved, ” he said.

The duckweed will be shifting again, Shamsul Amri predicted.

“But how can Sabah and Sarawak stop it? It is not enough to get support from MPs from Peninsular Malaysia. Both Mahathir and Anwar do not have enough numbers. They need at least ten MPs each from these states.”

Sabah and Sarawak MPs, especially from Gabungan Parti Sarawak and Parti Warisan Sabah, are the trump card. They are the biduk that can split the duckweeds.