18 years later, opposing forces come together again, but this time to unseat a scandal-hit prime minister. What is the difference between these two major movements?
For Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong, it is the difference between one Anwar and a team of “Anwars”.
"(In today's situation) we might be looking for one Anwar, but eventually found a team of Anwars," he told Malaysiakini in an exclusive interview last week.
"When this team of Anwars lines up, it could become a great power."
The “team of Anwars” Liew refers to is the ‘Save Malaysia’ coalition, consisting of opposition MPs, civil society members and ironically – the man who sacked Anwar close to two decades ago, former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Mahathir’s presence as a galvanising force may make the charismatic 90-year-old seem like the leader of the pack - something many activists who lived through the Mahathir-led Reformasi crackdown find unpalatable.
But the DAP strategist insist the ‘Save Malaysia’ coalition is not dominated by a single entity. Mahatir, he said, is not the key leader.
Liew says although the ‘Save Malaysia’ coalition does not have a unifying leader like Anwar, its strength lies in the multiparty nature - all participants have potential to take charge.
“These people have certain influences," he said.
"All these years we have different people, but we haven't formed a strong team. These people have occupied different spaces, and they have their own followers."
Looking into the coalition - Mahathir at an advanced age, Anwar jailed, Muhyiddin lacking the lightning-rod charisma of a mover and shaker, Mukhriz a low profile player, Shafie hesitant to move - it seems that deficiencies plague them all, so they have to supplement each other, he said.
Muhyiddin for PM?
While the ‘Save Malaysia’ coalition likes to emphasise that it is seeking institutional reform, key to its formation is its common agenda against Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak
The key question then is, who will take over from Najib if the group’s wish to unseat him comes true?
DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang has repeatedly evaded this question, saying that it is better to take things one step at a time. Liew, is no different.
Asked more specifically if Muhyiddin is the most suitable candidate for PM, in the event of Najib’s ouster, he said it is too early to say.
"Every era has its own conditions. In 1998 it was a one-man war for Anwar, but in 2016 it is a war against one man. I don't think we should resort to conventions, thinking about what to do next."
"Things are changing, so I won't speak too soon on who would be the next PM. What if Anwar is released? We don't want to use the pattern of 1998 to predict the situation of 2016, because the space for change is huge," he said.
Even so, he believes Muhyiddin could be one person who could gain the confidence of 3.5 million Umno members, as well as the Malay middle class disenchanted by Anwar.
"I am not saying Muhyiddin is the best candidate, but if you're talking about impressing 3.5 million Umno members and those who can't be bought over by Najib, are they willing to listen to Muhyhiddin? Perhaps so.
“He could motivate some people, such as some Malay middle class whose supports Anwar has lost."
Where Mahathir fits
Those sceptical of Mahathir’s commitment to institutional reform are more likely to accuse the ex-PM of going on the anti-Najib path to clear the way for his son, Mukhriz, to rise in power.
But this analysis is half-baked, for Liew. Mahathir, he said, knows that both he and his so have lost power in Umno and the regime.
Indeed Mahathir quit the party again in protest, while his son was ousted as MB with a whimper of a fight.
But Mahathir’s power lies outside of Umno, as a “media person” who has irrefutable sway on public opinion as a means of external pressure on Umno.
"Why are people afraid of him (Mahathir)? After the signing of Citizen's Declaration, why are there overwhelming counter-propaganda to attack Mahathir? What leads Najib to slaughter? Why did a group of 148 pro-Najib Umno divisions come up?"
"This is because, Mahathir's influence is not in the regime. Instead, his influence lies within the ordinary citizens."
"His impacts on the discourse, such as in the case of Mongolian woman Altantuya (Shaaribuu) – nobody else is talking about it, but when Mahathir sensationalises it, it suddenly becomes an issue (again) for everyone."
Liew further delineates the picture of Najib in Umno vs anti-Najib forces among ordinary people.
"Our problem is this: structurally, all the people in government sectors and those hold Umno leading positions can be ‘bought over’. They all can be bought by Najib, using various resources.
"But, a lot of people out there (who are anti-Najib), they have a vote in hand, and that is a great influence.”
The post-Reformasi generation
He pointed out that if the current political situation remains unchanged until the next election, the restructuring of politics will be clear-cut: an election between grassroots and elites.
"These people who are against Najib within Umno, will they leave Umno eventually as the Najib issue drags on further? If they do, it will certainly restructure the political landscape."
"People out there who are younger than me, who didn't experience Reformasi, especially the Malays, will they join a new party? What kind of leaders will they support?"
"These are the movements of political realignment that we can foresee."
What happens between now and that foreseeable future?
Liew, who is DAP political education director said there are two ways Save Malaysia can try to topple Najib.
First, is by non-confidence vote against Najib through parliament, another is through elections, by riding the Malay "anti-Najib" wave.
The two crucial periods, are the mobilisation before Ramadan and Sarawak state election, he said.
Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month where political activities generally slows down is expected to fall in June, while the Sarawak state assembly must be called by the same month.
With a general ceasefire conventionally in place during Ramadan, Save Malaysia must launch the first round of attack soon and taking this message on a nationwide tour.
That way, he said, the “alternative discourse” can still survive the political lull period of Ramadan.
A strong campaign against Najib could also help the opposition in what he admits is an uphill battle in the Sarawak election.
‘Convincing Sarawak BN to dump Najib’
If the opposition can make the case that Najib is a burden to BN in Sarawak, then Sarawak BN may even look to switching loyalty, he optimistically said.
To prove Sarawak BN is unscathed by the Najib drama, he said, Sarawak BN Adenan Satem will seek to win at least four state seats held by DAP and two of the three held by PKR, he said.
"But, in the case that we manage to retain most of the seats, and win a few more Dayak seats, the opposition's seats increase to 20 from 15, then all Sarawak BN leaders, including Adenan, would have to rethink: where should the 25 parliamentarians go?
"If the cause of BN's loss is Najib and GST, then Sarawak BN may ask itself: which side should the 25 parliamentarians follow?" he asked.
The Sarawak parliamentary seats composition are as follows:
Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB): 14
Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS): 6
Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP): 4
Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP): 1
Pakatan Harapan -
The Sarawak state seat composition are as follows:
Pakatan Harapan and others -
The no-confidence vote route
Muhyiddin’s earlier admission that a no-confidence vote against Najib in Parliament is no easy feat is unsurprising.
Liew breaks down the numbers.
A simple majority is 112. If all Pakatan Harapan MPs team up with PAS MPs, that would only make 80.
If 40 BN parliamentarians,including 25 BN MPs from Sarawak, back the anti-Najib forces, this would make 120 parliamentarian – a success, he said.
But how can the Save Malaysia group convince 20 BN MPs to switch camps?
"This comes back to a fundamental question: Will BN at one point regard Najib as a burden and baggage, finally accept political realignment?”
It is “extremely” difficult, he said, but not impossible.
If this fails, another way is to fight Najib through elections.
"Umno has 88 parliamentary seats nationally: 14 in Sabah, 1 in Labuan, 73 in the peninsular. Among the 73 seats in the peninsular, Umno will be the opposition if (we) manage to grab 30 to 35 of them.
"We are not aiming to turn around all Malay votes, but 15 to 20 percent of them […] We are not expecting Umno to be collapsed totally, we hope Umno loses its marginal seats and this would be enough," he said.
Happily, Muhyiddin in happier times during the 2014 Umno general assembly posited that 44 Umno “grey” seats could turn black if only two percent of voters swung away from BN.
But still Umno number two, Muhyiddin is completely sidelined in the party with party veep and now deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi performing his party duties.
And with Zahid in sprearheading the Umno election machine, it could very well be a completely different story, Liew said. - mk
UMNO takdak teloq...
Lim Guan Eng Tak Salah...
Komen bekas imam Masjid Arau, tentang isu Lim Guan Eng:
Kalau LGE beli banglo tu secara salah guna kuasa, rasuah, tidak ikut peraturan atau merampas hak orang lain, sila ambil tindakan undang-undang.
Tapi kalau nak ambil tindakan kerana banglo tu lebih mahal berbanding rumah presiden parti Pas, itu nak pakai undang-undang mana?
LGE tiru Umar bin Abdul Aziz dalam perkara yang dia boleh tiru. Sama macam presiden parti Pas tiru Nabi dalam perkara yang dia mampu tiru. Bukan semua orang mampu tiru idola mereka dalam semua perkara.
LGE tu kafir. Biasalah orang sepertinya sukakan nikmat dunia. Takkan nak paksa dia hidup macam presiden parti Pas yang muslim.
Jika dia mampu jadi ketua negeri yang baik dan amanah, itu sudah bagus berbanding ketua negeri beragama Islam yang baham balak dan baham tanah.
Aku bela LGE? Kalau dia betul, apa salahnya aku bela sebab dia manusia macam aku juga. - f/b Zolkharnain Abidin Al-Abyadhi
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