NOTE: Because this article discusses an alternate historical timeline in Malaysian politics, the words ‘Government’ and ‘Opposition’ are sometimes interchanged. In order to avoid confusion, we’ve colour-coded the words: Orange for Pakatan Rakyat, and Blue for Barisan Nasional. Also, these are THEORIES only, so don’t flame us yeah?
For us Malaysians, the teh tarik glass is always half empty. One of our favourite pastimes, alongside complaining (our national sport!), lepaking, and watching mat sallehs kicking a ball into a net, is imagining how things might have turned out better if we had made different decisions in life. We often ask ourselves questions like:
- “What if I had asked for that lenglui’s number?”
- “What if I had taken amma’s advice and studied medicine?”
- “What if I had answered C instead of A?” (some of us are still haunted by this one to this day)
But recently, with our gomen facing uncertain times, perhaps one of the biggest and most important questions of all that Malaysians like to ask ourselves is:
“What if Pakatan Rakyat had won GE13 instead of BN?!”
Of course, Pakatan Rakyat doesn’t exist anymore, but sometimes it’s nice to just take a trip down imagination lane and think of the possibilities. We speak to Dr. Gordon Cavanaugh of the Ontario College of Teachers, who taught in a local Malaysian university for 6 years. With his background in Canadian and European History, alongside his thorough understanding of Malaysian politics, we decided to approach him to give us his informed opinion, which he graciously did!
So what would Malaysia look like had the Opposition won GE13? With the help of Dr. Cavanaugh, these are some of the possible scenarios that we came up with:
1. Everything would be nice… for a while.
“Imagine the minefield they’d have to go through, and the disappointment in no immediate good results.” – Dr. Cavanaugh
One thing that many people often forget about politics, is that change requires time. Whenever a new government gets elected, people often make the mistake of expecting total transformation within a short period of time. The weight of expectation may prove too much for PR, and while there might be smooth sailing at the beginning, things would soon get messy for them.
“There is no way that party could have done well at its first crack at government. At the end of one year, it probably would have looked no different from BN. A coalition government cannot come in as the first new party in 60 years and really shape things up.” – Dr. Cavanaugh
As an example, Dr. Cavanaugh cited Canada’s $15 billion arms contract with Saudi Arabia, which, although brokered by the previous Conservative government, is still being seen out by newly-elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (yes, the lengzai one) despite pressure being mounted on him to stop it. Heck, even the former government is criticising the deal!
“A lot of people said “Hey Trudeau, stop that deal”, and he said, “It’s out of my hands”. But who is he to step into a lucrative deal with an ally nation and say “We don’t trust you with this equipment”? Remember the teachings of Machiavelli: politics is for those with a steel gut, you can’t be wishy-washy.” – Dr. Cavanaugh
No matter which part of the world it is, whenever a new party takes over, change is hardly ever immediate. Sometimes they get even more set back when their decisions backfire. So, had PR won GE13, perhaps there may have been a brief honeymoon period, but if current political trends are any indicator, it probably also wouldn’t have lasted.
2. MH370 and MH17 would have been handled differently (but not necessarily better)
‘Good moves’ have unintended consequences.” – Dr. Cavanaugh
Our gomen took a lot of flak after MH370 went missing, facing accusations of incompetence and lack of transparency, but in this situation, would PR have done a better job at handling, well, their own PR?
Dr. Cavanaugh says no. According to him, PR’s gomen would have handled the issue with more transparency, but this would have backfired anyway, since the plane was never found. To elaborate, he recounts a story from his teaching days in Malaysia:
“As a teacher, I try to be transparent. But particularly during my first semester of teaching in Malaysia, my students were very disturbed by it. If I didn’t know something, I would say “I don’t know” because it was the truth. Then some would go to the office and complain that they have a teacher who doesn’t know something! So it’s not just about the Opposition trying to do things better, but how the population would react.” – Dr. Cavanaugh
He goes on to mention Malaysia’s religious conservatives and their views on air disasters:
“Take an honest look at things beyond the government’s control: the other plane (MH17) still gets shot down over Ukraine. Using the example of the new ‘halal’ airline, Islamic hardliners would blame the secular government for the troubles.” – Dr. Cavanaugh
So, the moral of the story is that sometimes the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth isn’t always the way to go (as Edward Snowden found out). Oh well. It doesn’t matter if you’re BN or PR, it seems there are just some battles you can’t win!
3. The young liberals would face a rough time from the conservative Opposition
CHUUUP! If you’re not sure exactly what the differences are between a conservative and a liberal, this might help you. It’s in an American context, but most of it can also be applied to Malaysia.
The good thing about politics in Malaysia is that we are having more and more youngsters here who are willing to take on roles of high responsibility. Inspired by fellow young politicians such as Hannah Yeoh, Nurul Izzah Anwar, Dyana Sofya, as well as public speakers such as Syed Saddiq, we are seeing an unprecedented rise in young political interest in this country.
With that being said, anyone who’s looking into entering Malaysian politics at a young age better be ready for a proper ragging. Yes, much like in high school, where the seniors bully the juniors into giving them their nasi lemak money, expect the otai-otai politik (i.e. the conservatives/BN) to give the newbies a rough ride. After all, the otai-otai have been doing it a lot longer than they have, and their conservative policies have only been strengthened in recent times.
Dr. Cavanaugh says that youth in high places will inevitably face heavy criticism simply because they’re “young and therefore don’t know what they’re doing”. South Korea decided to play this card with Kim Jong Eun in response to the North’s announcement of a successful testing of a hydrogen bomb. Not even the hensem Canadian PM Justin Trudeau (who’s 44 years old) is going to be exempt from it, according to Dr. Cavanaugh:
“Trudeau is going to have a rough year. He is going to make mistakes, and will be criticised for being a ‘kid’. But it’s how he reacts to the criticism that will define his role as PM. He is who Canada needs right now; a breath of fresh air, but it could all go off the rails if he makes too many mistakes.” – Dr. Cavanaugh
In a Malaysian context, our young liberals haven’t exactly escaped scot-free either, even as Opposition politicians. Dyana Sofya got tangled up in no less than three scandals in three years, while Nurul Izzah even got arrested for sedition. And this is just them being part of the Opposition, so imagine how bad things would be if they were part of the ruling government.
So, in politics, regardless of your age, expect to face the same treatment as everyone else. Unless you’re a woman, in which case, it might be worse. *dodges gunfire from radical feminists*
4. Anwar might not become PM
“Anwar’s scandals would not have gone away with victory. There could be a PM in jail!” – Dr. Cavanaugh
One would assume that if the Opposition had won GE13, Anwar would have gotten his Mandela moment, and he would be nice and well sipping his teh tarik from the comfort of the Prime Minister’s office in Putrajaya.
But don’t forget that with or without the election victory, he would still have those sodomy charges to deal with. In this alternate timeline, the charges continue to pursue him, despite his winning the election and becoming Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister.
Of course, now one has to consider if:
- PR would even have put Anwar up as Prime Minister, since there was a chance that he would have to go to jail, or
- Anwar would have become Prime Minister, and if he had been found guilty, would have become the first Malaysian PM to go to jail.
However, there’s a counter-argument that Pakatan might get the judicial to drop the charges altogether. This is not forgetting that in real life, Anwar had to sit out 5 (!) whole years of Malaysian politics after his release in 2004 before he was finally allowed back in, as per the Federal Constitution.
Of course, whether he actually did it or not would be another discussion altogether. 🙂
5. Bersih will hold rallies against… Pakatan???!
Hey, haven’t we seen these guys somewhere before?
Okayla, from far they may look like Minions but really, they aren’t. Bersih’s very purpose, according to their official website, is to:
“… push for a thorough reform of the electoral process in Malaysia… to continue its crusade for clean and fair elections independent of any political party. Our aim will be to effectively monitor both sides of the political divide.”
Which means that despite the original Bersih being founded by the Opposition, the current incarnation (Bersih 2.0) is independent of both PR and BN. Therefore, not Minions.
The point made here is that if they were so critical of the BN gomen’s handling of GE13 and their alleged manipulation of the system, then they should definitely be just as critical towards PR’s gomen in their affairs.
“It’s been said that Bersih was ‘hijacked’ by the Opposition. So how does the PR handle a Bersih who is critical of the new government? A democracy must be critical of the government in order to enact change.” – Dr. Cavanaugh
Bersih’s members do indeed include leaders from the former Pakatan Rakyat. Since this is the case, how would their roles change once they assume power? One possible scenario is that perhaps Bersih would adopt a ‘check-and-balance’ system where the BN Opposition would be allowed membership. Either way, Bersih would have to live up to its original purpose and be impartial, no matter who its founders are.
6. BN would come back stronger
“People probably would have been so disappointed that Malaysia was not a paradise in 2018; BN would have been voted back in.” – Dr. Cavanaugh
This one might surprise some of you. After working so hard to remove a gomen that dug itself in for almost 60 years, we’re just going to vote them back in?
Apparently yes, says Dr. Cavanaugh. According to him, not everyone would be happy with the policies of PR. In fact, he says that the people would be so unhappy that a third political party might be formed to challenge BN and PR.
“The neo-liberal policies of the Opposition (as laid out in their New Economic Agenda) would prove to only serve the interests of the urban middle and upper class. A third party might be formed, possibly left-wing (following the trend of similar movements in Southeast Asia). Also, BN would reorganise and likely retake power in GE14.” – Dr. Cavanaugh
The idea of a formation of a third party in our country isn’t really that far-fetched, since we already have a ‘third party’ which was formed from previous leaders of PAS, called Parti Amanah Negara (National Trust Party), which advocates Political Islam.
Although third parties hardly ever win any elections, they are an important part of democratic expression. Just ask US Presidential candidates Deez Nuts and Limberbutt McCubbins (who just so happens to be a cat).
As for the question of BN being voted back into power, this is one way that could happen: since they were in charge for so long, losing an election for the first time would shock them into reorganising. BN would use the agenda of PR’s failed policies to rally the people (especially the lower classes) to their side once more, and tadaaa! BN’s back in business!
Bottom line: The kangkung is always greener on the other side!
In a nutshell, simply voting a gomen out of power is not going to turn Malaysia into a utopia overnight. As mentioned earlier, change takes time, and, especially after taking over from BN (a coalition old enough to be their datuk), PR would face a massive challenge to introduce new policies vastly different from those we have been used to for almost six decades. Every political ideology has its pros and cons; whether you’re a liberal, conservative, socialist, or even communist, you can equally do as much good as you can do harm.
Furthermore, losing an election would definitely present a fresh challenge for BN. Being in power for too long can result in complacency, so it would be a good thing for another party to change the game and keep them on their toes. The main thing is that everyone, regardless of political affiliation, should be doing their part to continue pushing the country forward, and not back.
Finally, when we asked Dr. Cavanaugh if Malaysia would be more democratic under PR’s leadership, he gave a very Malaysian answer:
“Personally, I don’t think Malaysia would be ‘better off’ – but it would be a ‘better democracy’, because at least another party won. That’s the point: it’s a move forward. No one will ever be truly ‘happier’, but the more one can complain without fear… that’s democracy!” – Dr. Cavanaugh
Canadians. Not so unlike us after all, eh?