The clear result from the Tanjung Piai by-election is that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s position has become rather shaky and untenable because he has lost support not only among the non-Malays, especially the Chinese, but also among the Malays.
That the Chinese rejected the Pakatan Harapan (PH) candidate from Mahathir’s Bersatu is no great surprise (except for the vehemence with which they did as reflected by the large number of defections). The real surprise is the poor traction he got from the Malays themselves.
The figures show that Barisan Nasional (BN) won with 25,466 votes, a huge majority of over 15,000 compared to PH’s 10,380, dealing the worst by-election loss ever for a ruling party – a majority that could not have been achieved except with desertion of both Malay and Chinese voters from PH.
Dwindling support base
PH’s support base dwindled from 46% to 26% of votes, a swing of about 20%, while that of BN rose from 45% to some 66% for an increase by a similar margin. To put it another way, PH’s support was one out of four voters while BN’s support was two out of three votes – an unprecedented swing in support against the ruling party which must reflect the unhappiness with Mahathir.
That leaves Mahathir squarely between a rock and a hard place because of what should have been obvious all along to more astute observers – that Mahathir has no support base with the Malays, who prefer the Umno-PAS axis, nor with the DAP Chinese base, who opted to teach Bersatu a lesson for their abandonment of PH’s multi-racial stance.
Also, notably, the election result showed that the voting was not along racial lines, with the result reflecting a high degree of collective wisdom from the electorate. The Umno-PAS support base voted in a Chinese candidate to support BN while the Chinese voter base, which were previously anti-MCA and supported non-Chinese PH candidates, decided to snub Bersatu this time for their strong stance against non-Malays.
There are further vital implications: It is plain as day for all who want to see that PH’s only hope for GE15 is a multi-racial stance – the same way it won GE14. This way, if the coalition gets moderate support from the Malays (say 30%-40%) and solid support from the non-Malays (around 80%), it can still win easily.
And the only way they can do that is if Bersatu – the anomaly in PH being the only race-based (and might I add, racist) party in the coalition – is sidelined and shoved aside in favour of PKR and DAP, the two multi-racial parties which substantially won GE14 for PH.
Power sharing, not Ketuanan Melayu
In a country where the Malays form an estimated 55% of the population, according to the 2010 census figures, the only option which is fair and equitable is power sharing, not Ketuanan Melayu, which is what Mahathir has implicitly and explicitly promoted during his entire political career.
That means if Mahathir does not step down very soon in favour of Anwar Ibrahim and the reformasi, Umno-PAS will be back in power with all the consequences facing the nation and all of us. It will be the return of the kleptocrats and the destruction of the country – worse than what Ferdinand Marcos did to the Philippines, a situation from which we would never recover and one that we will deserve because we did not do enough to stop it.
All this is of no consequence if Mahathir decides to keep to his promised two-year deadline, reiterated multiple times, and go peaceably when the time comes instead of throwing uncertainty up in the air constantly by indicating he may want to stay on.
He should know by now that if he leads the PH coalition into the next elections, he won’t have a chance in hell of winning because broad Malay support will go to Umno-PAS while the non-Malays will reject him too, resulting in a near-certain BN victory which can have very dire consequences, not least for Mahathir.
Therefore, the only way for Mahathir to remain in there, consolidate his power and put another person in power who is not Anwar, is to strike a deal with Umno. And it looks like Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein, despite denials, is already doing this by organising a meeting of some 22 BN MPs and five from the Azmin Ali faction in PH.
But this plot, denied by a number of people but which most likely is being actively considered, will most likely fail because the Umno-PAS pact knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that it does not need Mahathir to win the elections.
Thus, this scheming to align with Mahathir will only put the power back in his hands, a person who now no longer has sufficient grassroots support from both the Malays and non-Malays. Umno and PAS are not going to allow Mahathir to become their leader again when they really do not have to.
Backlash if Mahathir does not step down
It is also in Mahathir’s interests that he steps down. Here’s why. If he were to stay on and pass on power to Azmin against all odds, there is probably more than an even chance that PH will lose power to Umno-PAS at GE15.
Imagine the consequences. If Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi, respectively the former and current president of Umno, had already been convicted by then, it is entirely possible they will get royal pardons.
And imagine the backlash that will take place. The vengeful swords will be aimed at Mahathir, his good friend Tun Daim Zainuddin, and possibly an array of other PH leaders. And remember, Mahathir has not placed any measures to limit the powers of the prime minister and put more power in the hands of the legislative and judiciary. But even that won’t help when power goes to a corrupt government bent on vengeance.
If Mahathir thinks he can engineer an alliance with Umno which will get him into power, imagine what will happen when GE15 comes around but there is a total and utter rejection of him and the parties he aligned with him.
The best option for Mahathir is to concede that his days of racially charged politics are over, move to a more moderate stance which most Malaysians will support, and start implementing the changes that the PH manifesto promised.
By now, Mahathir should know he has neither the will, temperament nor inclination to do that and quickly hand over power to the designated successor as promised at GE14, and allow Anwar a chance to recover lost ground and win GE15.
Like most Malaysians, I hate to see the consequences otherwise.