MAY 8 — The past 18 months have seen a lot of discussions regarding the 13th general election (GE13), where actions and policies of both political sides are being scrutinised and projected so as to understand the possible consequences to the electorate should either side come into power. From political scandals such as the NFCorp to real policies such as PTPTN and the introduction of a minimum wage, all these events have linked both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat in their quest to win GE13.
With the prime minister’s approval rating strong at 69 per cent as of February complemented by the reforms (albeit some half-baked) which will definitely have an effect on the electorate in the centre of the spectrum, most discussions have moved on from who will win GE13 to how many seats Barisan will lose assuming they still will retain Putrajaya. Pakatan looks good in retaining its control in their states, and though controlling Putrajaya is far-fetched, denying Barisan its two-third majority can be seen as a victory for them as well.
However, what interests me more is what happens beyond GE13. The next four or five years following GE13, in the build-up to GE14, will be an interesting time, way more than the already is now in all possible areas. I will focus mostly on politics for this article.
Barisan Nasional (Umno)
Winning GE13 provides a fresh mandate to Barisan Nasional but that is not all there is to it. They can win with a bigger majority or a smaller one, and this is also a key factor to consider.
A bigger majority win is good for the reformists in the party but not necessarily good for the party and the nation. A bigger majority will give Najib Razak more room to manoeuvre the nation in whatever direction he wants to. His high approval rating will be credited as the main reason of this win, and this will give him even more room to manoeuvre within his party to make the necessary transformation. He has freer hands in choosing his Cabinet, greater support in announcing new progressive policies and more power to push through the difficult yet necessary reforms for the country.
It will all depend on who he really is, what he really wants, and what is he really made up of.
Najib will have a difficult task, to reform the country as well as his party. As Umno is known to become disillusioned when holding too much power for too long, a big win in GE13 for Barisan and Umno might undo all the strategies to reform the party and lose the trust it was gaining from the electorate and party supporters before GE13. A rollercoaster ride like this is fatal for any political party and if the GE14 results mirror GE12, Barisan might face a much harder fall, and it is doubtful as to whether they can ever rise again.
It will be the most important five years of Najib’s political career.
A different scenario it is if BN wins with a smaller majority than 2008. Reformists within the party will have a hard time convincing the party to stick with their reform agenda as the party will see it as losing strategy. The next Umno general assembly will be interesting to observe, to see if Najib can retain his post and continue reforming the party and the country. If he fails, a sad destiny awaits the party and the nation, as the hardliners in the party might regain power and undo all the ongoing reform Malaysia badly needs.
And that might spell either the end of Barisan which will definitely lose the votes from the centre of the field, or worse, a divided Malaysia if Barisan can still win with staunch hardline promises.
The result of GE13 will also be significant to the future direction of Pakatan Rakyat. If the DAP maintains their performance now and it is translated to a significant success in GE13, it will be hard for the pact to not give the DAP a more prominent role to play.
Questions will be asked about the DAP’s role in the federal government if Pakatan wins in the future, and though politically hard in a mainly Malay electorate, it will be unimaginable for the pact to not officially announce that the DAP deserves at least a deputy prime minister post.
Moving on to Pakatan’s top leadership, they have an even bigger question to answer before GE14. Should they retain Anwar Ibrahim as their potential prime minister of Malaysia? Speaking to my peers of various political alignments, we found that though we may disagree on which party can better lead Malaysia, most agree that Anwar carries too much baggage to keep on leading the opposition coalition. Most of my Barisan-aligned peers are also willing to reconsider their voting choice if Pakatan can find another leader to replace Anwar. Someone who is fresh-faced with a clean track record and without the political baggage that weighs Anwar down will definitely do the trick.
The five years after GE13 is the best window for Pakatan to strengthen their coalition internally and appear more organised externally. Besides, if they can show to the electorate that they have other leaders who can replace Anwar, the next five years can be used to groom the next potential prime minister who can lead a proper shadow Cabinet to challenge Najib’s, and not just rely on their shadow committee.
By solving the kinks in their top leadership, Pakatan can focus on good governance in the states they will control after GE13. After all, if they can show that they can keep being consistent in managing these states for two terms, for example, Selangor and Penang, no one will ever doubt again that their achievements are because of the long-term plans put in place by their predecessors, but instead wholly due to their own efforts. Most importantly, this will show that Pakatan has the capacity to effectively lead and control Putrajaya, not for the short term while BN learns from their mistakes, but as a considerable alternative.
Elections are won by two things. One, by making sure your supporters do not stay at home and two, by influencing the undecided. Even if the federal governing party after GE13 is quite an obvious result, the real fight is GE14.
If the reforms are put in place while our political culture keeps on maturing, the electorate will have five years of real opportunity to cross-examine their potential political party of choice for GE14. Given the sudden popularity of debates and forums, as well as a rise in influence of civil society, I dare say we will truly be able to have the chance to fairly consider all our possible representatives in government.
It will definitely be very interesting times ahead.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.