Thursday, September 23, 2021

Perak crisis a lesson in averting unnecessary distractions

For better or worse, we now have a political equilibrium that hinges on the interplay of race and identity politics, hemmed in by decades of social conditioning.

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The Perak crisis is finally over. Saarani Mohamad is the new menteri besar, replacing Ahmad Faizal Azumu who last week lost a confidence vote in the state legislature.

There are important lessons we can draw from this episode. Firstly, Umno still needs Bersatu as much as Bersatu needs Umno. For now, despite the bad blood in the past between both parties, they are inseparable.

There is no clearer evidence of this than having Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi apologise over the botched coup masterminded by his party’s lawmakers in the Silver State. It is unprecedented for the president of the oldest and most influential party to swallow his pride in such a fashion.

This underscores the importance Umno places on ties with Bersatu. Why did Zahid eat humble pie? It’s because at the end of the day, race and identity politics still matter in Malaysia.

Umno could have co-opted Pakatan Harapan in forming the new Perak government. But it knows that doing so would be anathema for its grassroots. For decades on end, Umno had railed against DAP for being racist. Had Umno reached out to the Chinese-dominated party, it would have risked losing whatever credibility it had and a possible wipeout in the next general election.

Likewise, DAP’s overtures to Umno not just in Perak, but also in its bid to oust PM Muhyiddin Yassin through a no-confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat, did not go down well with its traditional bloc of supporters. It is one thing to topple the prime minister, but another to join forces with your sworn enemy (Umno) to do so, and later work together with those whom DAP leaders had labelled as “kleptocrat”, “corrupt” and “racist”.

At the end of the day, Perak is a reminder that it would be foolish to upset the political equilibrium today. The composition of the various legislatures such as the Dewan Rakyat and many state assemblies underscores this.

Take, for example, that the ppposition succeeds in its bid to unseat Muhyiddin through a no-confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat. Whatever played out in Perak over the past week could be replicated at the national level, with the opposition no better off, if not worse off.

There is no way opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim could cobble together the next government without backing from DAP’s 42 MPs and the renegades from Umno, including tainted leaders like Najib Razak and Zahid. In the end, it’s back to square one.

The only difference is that we can ill-afford a political crisis of such magnitude during this Covid-19 pandemic. God forbid that this leads to snap polls.

For better or worse, we now have a political equilibrium that hinges on the interplay of race and identity politics, hemmed in by decades of social conditioning. And for better or worse, Muhyiddin has the upper hand in this game due to the advantage of incumbency, despite Bersatu’s smaller legislative representation.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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