Is Harapan Falling Into Umno S Trap Again
Perak has a history of being vulnerable to outside excursions. From the 16th century, its rich tin deposits incurred invasions from Acehnese and the Dutch. This created deep animosity between the sultans and the tradespeople, but the invaders were always willing to compromise because the profits were irresistible.
In 2009, the Perak state government power-tussle unleashed one of the most memorable constitutional crises in recent memory. Back then, party-hopping was unusual and unexpected. The Sultan of Perak refused the then-menteri besar’s request for a dissolution of the State Assembly, and when the state assemblypersons were barred from entering the state building, they held the session under a tree – the Democracy tree. The upshot of affirming that the sultan could determine the loss of confidence using “extraneous sources” have ripple effects today.
Earlier this year, the Perak state government was also single-handedly changed by the now-ousted menteri besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu – extending the effects of the federal coup led by the current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in February.
Umno's show of strength to Bersatu
The latest coup has its complexities. The undisputed fact is that Umno wants a change in the menteri besar, as they were not satisfied with Faizal’s performance. The culminating event being his appointment of a political secretary without prior consultation with Umno. Thus, they moved an emergency motion to declare that Faizal has lost the confidence of the assembly.
Since then, there have been numerous accounts and suggestions on what this event has symbolised and where it could go.
One popular account was that this was a betrayal by Umno against Bersatu. Its Johor assemblyperson Osman Sapian, also a former menteri besar of Johor, has suggested that his party can now take revenge on Umno’s menteri besar in Johor, Hasni Mohammad.
It is plausible that Bersatu leaders are dissatisfied with Umno’s showing of strength – a real insecurity that Bersatu has to live with. Though Bersatu holds the most significant political largesse at the federal level, it remains vulnerable to Umno at every turn due to the latter’s elder statesmen stature.
Umno’s plan was straightforward. It wants to replace Bersatu MB Faizal, with its own. The only challenge is that it still requires the support of Bersatu to retain the old government coalition of Perikatan Nasional. But of course, it is harder to obtain support from the party they have just betrayed. A series of retaliations ensued.
That is why Umno is experimenting on a partnership with Harapan.
There are only two outcomes, and my argument is that both outcomes are disadvantageous to Harapan.
First outcome: Umno does not eventually form a government with Harapan
The first outcome is more likely of the two. When most people hear about Umno’s
suggestion to pair up with Harapan parties, the reaction is one of shock and dismay. The more observant analysts surmise that Umno was simply using Harapan as bait to strengthen their bargaining position with Bersatu and PAS.
In other words, by showing that Umno could partner with Harapan – a greater possibility than Bersatu and PAS pairing with Harapan at this juncture – Bersatu and PAS would become more desperate and run back to Umno. The similar scenario was seen at the federal level, where Najib Razak-Zahid Hamidi’s Umno showed that it was open to working with Anwar as prime minister. And this subsequently compelled Muhyiddin to make more concessions to Umno’s demands.
This strategy is effective for two reasons. One, Umno is more flexible in partnerships than Bersatu and PAS are. While all parties have huge dissonance with Harapan’s stated principles, Bersatu and PAS have greater animosity and incoherence with the personalities of Harapan than Umno. It is also true that it would be far more costly for Bersatu and PAS to be sent back to the opposition than for Umno to form a government with Harapan.
Two, Harapan’s leaders would most likely jump on the opportunity of being back to power. The traditional assumption is that any leader who has tasted the sweet chorus of power would dream of getting their fix again – like an addiction. Almost without an interlude, Harapan leaders of Perak jumped on even a slither of this opportunity. Umno president Zahid Hamidi simply said that he would consider working with any party, and Harapan leaders immediately said yes.
In the event Umno does not form a government with Harapan, it would have already revealed Harapan leaders’ hunger for power – not dissimilar to that of Perikatan Nasional. The proclamation that this effort was to prevent government instability or to create a multiracial government rings hollow once we truly appreciate a politician’s obsession with power.
Second outcome: Umno eventually forms government with Harapan
Even under the less-likely outcome of Umno taking the risk of forming the Perak government with Harapan, it would still be disadvantageous to Harapan.
If Umno chooses this option, it would be less out of desperation and more out of strategy. Umno’s current plan is to stay at Bersatu’s toes so that they could maximally extract concessions from Bersatu to the point of destroying them. Forming a government with their sworn enemy at the state level would be useful to show Muhyiddin that Umno could leave anytime, and Bersatu is at Umno’s mercy.
Harapan would suffer in at least two ways. One, Harapan would suffer in the process of working with Umno at the state level. By revealing its intention of wanting to return to power, Harapan has far lesser bargaining strength with Umno now. In the past, Harapan has also shown greater levels of submissions and concessions when they were in power. This is evident when they worked with the veteran Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the federal level.
Any Harapan leader who is fixated on getting the exco position that will secure a higher salary, allowances and perks is less likely to do anything to jeopardise his/her position again. The expected behaviour is submission.
The second way that Harapan will suffer is electorally. Although Umno may seem open to partnering with Harapan to form the state government, this relationship is unlikely to extend to the general election. Umno understands that it is the party that everyone wants to win the election, but getting into a war with DAP as an ally would seem too far a stretch for its supporters.
Of all methods of justifications, the one that will work the best is that DAP is merely a tool for Umno to ride out the wave; and in terms of policies, Umno will always take charge. This would appear more palatable with its voters. Chances are, the voters would buy into this because Umno does command a greater seat number than DAP and it was Umno that opened the door for DAP to enter.
In any case, partnership with a party that is intent on dumping you at the end of the road hardly seems like a trusting partnership.
More importantly, Harapan is likely to suffer more electorally than Umno. A team of DAP-Umno is not a dream team – it is political hypocrisy. The closest thing to sworn enemies in politics is found in these two parties. The modern adage of “one plus one does not equal two” applies similarly here. This means that a Umno-DAP partnership does not necessarily translate to winning all Malay and non-Malay votes because the partnership would drive out supporters who could not stand the partnership of sworn enemies.
And in this partnership, my hunch is that Harapan would suffer more compared to Umno, albeit Umno’s casualty numbers would not be small.
Is Perak worth this high-risk activity? We mustn’t forget, the state was always vulnerable to outside excursions; this time, the wrath of its people.
JAMES CHAI is a legal consultant and researcher working for Invoke, among others. He also blogs at jameschai.com.my. You may reach him 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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