Pakatan’s stalemate… how to move forward

BY now, most political observers would have been aware of the situation. Anthony Loke’s interview with Malaysiakini has laid bare the options on the table and the crux of the issue for Pakatan Harapan Plus’ still conceptual plan of retaking the people’s mandate from Perikatan Nasional.

Anthony Loke

Current stalemate 

PH (90), Warisan (9+1), PSB (2), and Bersatu (5) with a total of 108 MPs have decided to band together, forming a so-called Pakatan Plus coalition, to retake Putrajaya.

Obviously, 108 is fewer than the required majority of 112 and also fewer than 114 purportedly supporting Muhyiddin Yassin’s PN.

The reverse coup requires a further six seats to obtain a majority and information gathered seems to suggest Gabungan Parti Sarawak (18 seats) will side with whoever else that can form a solid and stable federal government.

The now infamous (and ill-advised) #129 campaign started a few weeks ago includes GPS and certain MPs from Muhyiddin’s Bersatu.

That premature exuberance resulted in one MP from Bersatu crossing over to Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s side and one MP from PKR quitting the party to support Muhyiddin. Stalemate while PN continues to dismantle reforms instituted during PH’s brief 22 months in power.

Bersatu’s 5

PH Plus’ consensus on their prime minister’s candidate will determine the (1) number of crossover MPs, (2) PH Plus’ majority and (3) whether or not Putrajaya can be retaken without going through another general election.

The last part is important, because without a strong rejection (by the whole spectrum of political parties) for a snap election, the “nuclear option” will always be there for PN and Muhyiddin.

Unfortunately, for the past two weeks, PH Plus has reached a stalemate. Specifically, the option agreed by DAP, Amanah, Dr Mahathir’s Bersatu and Warisan+ is for a Dr Mahathir and Anwar partnership, a 1-2 combo last seen in 1998.

It appears that Dr Mahathir as PM will bring the desired six MP crossovers from PN and a further 18 seats from GPS, resulting in a stronger majority of 131.

PKR insists that at PH’s core, Anwar has the support of 91 MPs, which is more than 40 MPs of Dr Mahathir’s faction (which they rightfully pointed out, is not guaranteed). Understandably, the experience of not only 22 months of PH but also 22 years of fighting Dr Mahathir have resulted in a huge trust deficit.

It has now led to the present predicament, the fate of the nation hanging on the decision and compromise between two giants of our modern times. This short overview will examine the options and consequences of these options briefly.

Next PH+ prime minister: permutations

Based on reports and whispers on the grapevine (unsubstantiated), one can guess the following permutation for the post of prime minister under a PH+ government:

While it appears that Anwar has an advantage over Dr Mahathir in the above configuration, it is worth noting that both options cannot form the federal government based on the total number of MPs calculated (108).

This means that the permutations have to include potential ​defections from other parties currently in support of PN resulting in the below configuration:

In the above permutation, one can conclude that to cross the threshold of 112 majority, the configuration favours Dr Mahathir. If PKR throw their support (38) behind Dr Mahathir, a 132 majority can be achieved.

Meanwhile, the alternate (Dr Mahathir convincing his current faction and Warisan+) would yield a total of 106 MPs (Take note that PSB has two MPs, one of whom is Baru Bian).

Anwar’s supporters would argue that Dr Mahathir should work on convincing not just his current faction, but also the potential defectors to support Anwar as prime minister. A fair point, but unlikely to be successful even if executed.

We believe that the above permutations have been considered, which is why DAP – notably the party with the largest number of seats among all parties in Malaysia – though Loke has publicly agreed to the compromise of a Dr Mahathir-Anwar combo. The decision is now solely in the hands of PKR, or specifically Anwar.

Risk factors to determine best outcome 

It is important for the parties to consider the risk factors from their decisions with consequences affecting not just the present but future political landscape. The below table will examine the political outcome from different scenarios:

Admittedly, in scenario planning, a lot of guesswork has to be made. But the above scenarios come from observing history and personalities involved.

Joker in the pack 

Dr Mahathir could simply decide to form a new alliance, regardless of the position taken by Anwar and this new alliance could draw members from PKR itself.

It is worth noting that Dr Mahathir was given the chance to lead Muafakat Nasional, with Umno, Bersatu, Warisan, GPS and Azmin’s faction willing to be led by him.

It is now recorded in history that Dr Mahathir drew the line in the quest for prime ministership/power by rejecting the chance because it involves corrupt figures, particularly in Umno. This line remains and is an uncomfortable one for many within PN who are now crossing it.

There remains the possibility of PN (114) combining with Dr Mahathir’s faction (5) and Warisan+ (10) for a total of 129 seats to form the government without any crossover from PH.

Dr Mahathir even has the luxury of not including up to 10 individuals in the new coalition, safe in the knowledge even if these 10 realign with PH (unlikely due to the reason they are not in this new Dr Mahathir’s alliance) would only amount to 101 MPs.

This strategic flexibility, while difficult to execute, remains in play and is an option.

Conclusion 

PH remains the strongest, most cohesive coalition in the present political climate. Unfortunately, they appear to be stuck in the present configuration at 91 seats.

It is unlikely that this number will grow in the event of a snap or general election. Realistically speaking, parties like Amanah would crumble by the sheer weight of a Malay-Muslim coalition coming down hard on their seats.

DAP appears to be one with the least to lose either way, but they also have little to gain. PKR would be galvanised without constant infighting, but they also will lose out on the strong influence of Azmin in some of the states, potentially leading to further loss of seats.

The main objective should always be about moving forward the reform agenda and putting forth the needs of the many over the few. The main risk is that we will forever regress and the chance such as that in GE14 will never come up again.

It is unfortunate that Anwar and Dr Mahathir continue to dominate political discussions in 2020. The wish of many may be for a new story to unfold with new characters, but as it stands, we must throw our support behind the agenda, even if it involves both or only one of them.

In a game of high-stakes political poker, decision-makers must decide whether to go all in with just a pair on hand and the river card yet to be played or should they cut their losses to live and fight another round.

* Note: This piece is written based on limited knowledge, all assertions are speculative, the maths may be off. Any mistake and misrepresentation can be attributed as fantasy writing. Cheers. 

By Najmie Noordin – THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT

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