How Will This Political Poker Game End
So the season of political musical chairs and spouse swapping is back, and once again, the national obsession is all about "The Numbers".
Saudara Anwar Ibrahim kept his cards close to his chest even though the police allegedly tried to make him reveal the radioactive kryptonite contained in "The List". Did he really have a royal flush? Maybe three aces? Or was it just a poker bluff?
Of course, one has to ask what business did law enforcers have to dabble into political matters? Unless they have been hopelessly politicised due to Mahathirism?
Nonetheless, Anwar held fast to his secret, for so lethal are its death rays to “the bad guys” that its leader would supposedly stop at nothing to cast mind-changing spells upon those in The List. The possible political “hypnosis” include offers of more “ghanimah” (war loot) of GLC posts or, heaven forbid, Swiss, ahem, "chocolate"?
Or why not throw in something more halal such as yet another special envoy to the Middle East with ministerial status? After all, the faithful must surely fear the holy authority of a mullah in a Vellfire, since his fatwas can conjure visions of hellfire?
Demo-crazy numbers game
Darn, we had just finished the frenzied fun of that 72 digit game called "Sabahan Demo-crazy" when 17 (11 + 6) + 14 + 7 = 38 and 23 + 6 + 2 + 1 = 32. Frenzied calculations ensued: would it be 38 minus 7 if PBS woke up to its “true calling” of “Sabah for Sabahans”? Or had PBS found its real “spiritual home” amidst what it had previously called “exploitative” parties from Malaya”?
It’s no surprise that when leaders were so intensely focused on what really mattered to them (the Sabahan numbers game and the jackpot of the chief minister’s post) that they neglected to think about what really mattered to us, the rakyat (i.e.: containing Covid-19). All of us suffering from the second round of a conditional movement control order should remember that.
Now we are thrown into the 112 digit game. Everyone must have memorised The Numbers of MPs by now, so I don’t even need to tell you which side has 39 + 42 + 11 = 92. The plot twist, as revealed by Khalid Samad of Amanah, is that it may well be 92 + 30 = 122, with the 30 coming from Umno, supposedly tanpa syarat (without conditions) to support Anwar as prime minister.
What numbers game are we playing? Da Ma Cai 1 + 3D? Magnum 4D Mbox kasi pau? Or perhaps Power Toto Jackpot?
And so, we now descend into phase two of the gamble, namely the rambunctious, riff-raff, pasar malam haggling over prices, among those who had sworn that their only noble cause was to “serve the people” and oh no, never, never - they swear - were they ever “greedy for power” or “crazy about positions”.
One Umno leader has laid bare the demands for more ripe and juicy ministers’ posts, including that of deputy PM. In response to these, Emperor Palpatine (or one of the Sith Lords) reportedly asked Umno to put their craven cravings into writing. Oh no, not so fast, you’re not pulling that trick on us, said Selangor Umno leader Isham Jalil. Why don’t you make us an offer first?
Hey, doesn’t all this sound exactly like pasar malam deal-making? Haven’t we heard that “No, I won’t declare the price I want”, you go first and then “I see how” routine? And then there will probably be the fake “walk away” to another stall.
This will then predictably lead to frantic calls from the first stall, making a last gasp, jaw dropping offer? Which, in this case, may sound like, “Come back, come back, lai, lai, lai, don’t buy from that stall! Ok la, I chin chai sell, give you DPM and Miti posts la…”
Into this tawdry and vulgar game, the so-called “good guys” get embroiled. The question now is: how many of the 30 Umno crossovers (or double-crossers) can be sanitised from the virus of money politics? What will it take? One week of religious recitations? A bath of holy water? Or bleach?
Khalid Samad believes that these 30 are still toxic, but they may yet be useful. Yes, they claim to support Anwar, probably not from any sincere desire for reform, but as part of their real goal to destroy Bersatu (which survives mainly by its power to give out goodies). And once that is done, Khalid thinks the 30 renegades will probably create some excuse to fight with DAP over “defending the Malays” and then leave the marriage of convenience with Pakatan Harapan.
Enemy of my enemy?
Will all this drama be bad for Harapan? How can “our side” make use of these 30 ronin (freelance samurai without a master)? Is the “enemy of my enemy” actually my friend? At least, in the short term?
The best historical analogy I can think of is that of Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists and his conflict in the 1930s with both the Chinese communists and Japan. When asked why he was wasting precious resources fighting fellow Chinese when the Japanese imperialists were threatening China, Chiang famously said, “The Japanese are a disease of the skin. The communists are a disease of the heart.”
Similarly, the mortal danger to Umno now is Bersatu as it threatens to become the dominant “patron and protector” of the Malays, thus cannibalising Umno’s core market share. In contrast, Harapan, like the Japanese, are a secondary threat, which can be dealt with later.
In real history, Chiang was forced to form a “united front” of both Chinese nationalists and communists to fight Japan, and this allowed Mao Zedong’s people to recover and regain strength from their weak and precarious situation after the Long March.
After the surrender of Japan, there was a four-year civil war where the communists, which had grassroots support, eventually defeated Chiang Kai-Shek’s super-corrupt and incompetent nationalists, even though they had more weapons, money and American support.
So, if the 30 ronin from Umno were to be accepted by Harapan, will the presumed downfall of Bersatu lead to the eventual triumph of “genuine reforms” and the “people’s agenda”? Which side of history will Anwar end up on?
But wait, there is yet another obstacle in this poker game. There is a guy holding a Joker who seems to have “artfully dodged” the question of who owns the house, by hiding behind some small housekeeping rules, to deny the new owners their rights.
“Hey, at least, let us show our title deed plus the sales and purchase agreement. We’ve bought over this house you know?” demanded one side.
But The Joker says, “No, I am the all-powerful Housekeeper following rule XYZ-abracadabra-3658. So I have total control to switch off the lights so that nobody can see anything. I don’t care, even if you have the title deed and are the rightful owners. If you want to switch on the lights, I have to get permission from the old owners who hired me.”
It is both sad and funny that Malaysian democracy is now reduced to a game, a political gamble, indeed a farce, involving The Numbers, The List and The Joker. Only time will tell how the cards fall.
ANDREW SIA is a veteran journalist who likes teh tarik khau kurang manis. You are welcome to give him ideas to brew at [email protected]
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.
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