Questions On Malaysia’s Transition Of Power – OpEd


Recently a Washington-based online news portal reached out to me on the issue of the transition of power in Malaysia. I gave the editor some answers. I think the rakyat has more.

Q: Do you think the deal between Mahathir and Anwar is over?

One must understand what a “political promise” means and to draw the answers from Sun Tzu and Machiavellian perspectives, and most importantly from the history of the relationship between Mahathir and Anwar. 

Add the idea that there are no permanent enemies nor allies in politics. Add family dynamics and the evolution of political dynasties in Malaysian politics. And of course, wealth, power, privilege to go along with this complex issue – whether the deal is over, or whether there was even a “deal” at all, should the old regime be overthrown, gently. What do you get? 

Q: There is a copy of an open letter to Tun Dr Mahathir and PH leadership on a clear transition package for reforms and stability. What is your comment on the open letter?

The letter is a normal letter, what an NGO aspires for, whether it is from Bersih or ABIM or any civil society group. It carries some weight and makes voters think about what happened to the promises made and whether there ought to be a revolt against the unfulfillment of such promises. Political promise in this sense. 

We have become spectators of this great Malaysian political end-game, or if you may, Game of Thrones, Power Hunger Games. There are supporters and opposers to the choice of “PM in-waiting,” and there is cyberspace and the social media to produce and reproduce and make viral this and that support for this and that future prime minister.

The question nobody can answer, except Mahathir himself is: who does he want to install as his successor? And the question for Anwar is: will he be the chosen one, knowing the genealogy of power struggle since the early 1980s, what is the nature of “mistrust” that has been developed since way back then, especially after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1998. 

We are in a world of the “Butterfly Effect” and organized chaos where things are predictable, yet in a mess. We do not have the culture of political certitude of power transition or balance of power, such as in the US, for example, where a process is in place: terms for the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary “rule”, how presidential candidates are chosen, primaries, debates and hearings, all these. 

In Malaysia, everything is a mystery. Of whims and fancies and sustaining of political dynasties. It has not been a healthy democracy.

Q: There is a news report by the New Straits Times on Azmin asking for Mahathir to stay – Your comment, please.

Reading the New Straits Times report, one thing comes to my mind. Politics can be a mindless game of using, abusing people, and pure utilitarianism as an art.

Only Mahathir and God know where Azmin stands in this whole complex scheme of things. His career might be over, or he will be revived. 

Today it is the issue of khat and Jawi in schools. Tomorrow maybe about the rise of Malay Neo-Nazi punk rock groups as a major national concern. Behind these distractions lie the story of political manipulations and party revolutions. And the Ringgit’s downward movement while we read about our trillion Ringgit debt and a new car project.

Political strategy has become a complex science in itself. One speaks of the “deep state” these days as an aspect of the complexity. There are manoeuvres in the dark we do not know. There are deals, counter-deals, double-deals we the “rakyat-spectators” will never know. There are real news and fake news produced to manage and manipulate public perceptions, and of course there are videos to kill a political figure, question one’s moral standing and ability to lead Malaysia. 

In the meantime, precious time for nation-building is wasted. Daily we are fed with stories of squabbles, implosions, political carpet-bombings, sudden ambush.

The reality is: Mahathir is really old and Anwar is getting older, and the nation is not patient any more in waiting to see the promises honoured.

Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman is an academician, educator, international columnist, and author of nine books He holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in international education development and Master's degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies, communication, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Columbia University chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here. His latest book, a memoir, is published by Penguin Books is available here.

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