Opposition parties in Malaysia have a very small margin of error. One mistake can be catastrophic, especially when they’re up against the well-funded BN machinery which has the backing of the state media and institutions.
When the playing field is uneven, moral courage and bravery are needed to challenge the injustice.
If Anwar Ibrahim were out of prison, Pakatan Harapan’s candidate for prime minister would be fairly obvious. Unfortunately, Najib Razak has successfully eliminated the obvious pick for the main opposition coalition.
The imprisonment of Anwar Ibrahim was meant to put the opposition in disarray. Pakatan Harapan should not dance to Najib’s tune; instead, they should do the unexpected.
Three reasons why naming a prime ministerial candidate now is critical, despite the imprisonment of Anwar Ibrahim:
1. It will signal to the rakyat that Pakatan Harapan is the government-in-waiting
Najib Razak’s team has consistently labelled Pakatan Harapan as a fractured coalition, or a “coalition of convenience”.
It’s easy to prove this as Pakatan Harapan up until today, can’t come up with a prime ministerial candidate, what more a shadow cabinet. These are two essential ingredients to show the people that the coalition is serious in portraying itself as a viable and stable alternative.
The absence of these two ingredients scream of the unpreparedness of the opposition coalition. It also reveals a deep mistrust among opposition parties.
It is as if we don’t trust one another to lead the nation. Even worse, it is as if lack a credible leader to lead us to victory.
“If the opposition coalition can’t unite pre-election, what makes you think that they can unite post-election?” says Muhammad Amar, a first-time voter in Muar.
Amar has a legitimate concern which needs to be addressed. Post-election power struggles can be nasty. It’s best that we resolve that first than deal with it when it’s too late.
The naming of a prime ministerial candidate shows that the opposition is serious in capturing Putrajaya.
It shows that component parties are willing to put differences aside to unite as one collective force. It shows that this election will be the mother of all elections, and not just a transitional election while waiting for Anwar Ibrahim to be released from prison.
Uncertainty breeds apathy. Apathy always sides with the ruling government, as the rakyat would rather go for “the devil they know”, than make the leap of faith.
When you are up against a coalition which has never lost a general election since independence, you had better provide a clear and stable alternative for the rakyat to support.
2. It will dispel myths
Uncertainty in Malaysia opens up the floodgates for racial conspiracies. It gives more room for Najib’s team to portray Pakatan Harapan as a DAP-led coalition.
That’s when stories of Lim Kit Siang taking up the premiership become more and more believable.
Uncertainty opens up large room for imagination. This argument becomes more convincing when one can argue that post-election negotiation benefits the party with the most seats (which at the moment is DAP), thus putting DAP in a strong bargaining position.
“If it’s not Lim Kit Siang, then it must be a DAP puppet,” says one of the makcik I met in Tanjung Piai.
We need to address this. This is not just an urban issue but a serious national issue which Pakatan Harapan must answer.
The Malay populace in particular are resistant to change when there’s too much uncertainty. Every day the UMNO machinery feeds the rakyat with fake news purporting that the opposition will dismantle MARA, Felda and all state support to the Malays.
Naming a strong Malay candidate now will definitely help Pakatan Harapan in fighting this misconception. With the visceral presence of the candidate, fake news become weaker.
3. It will draw a “X vs Y” comparison which favours Pakatan Harapan
While we know that Najib’s popularity is at a record low, the absence of a comparison draws the attention of the people to different issues which UMNO as a party might handle better as a collective.
Pakatan Harapan should use this opportunity to draw an “easy win comparison”. This is similar to Selangor, where MB Azmin Ali is way ahead of Noh Omar, thus making it difficult even for UMNO supporters to return power back to UMNO with Noh Omar at its helm.
I do acknowledge that voters should vote based on issues and manifestos, not on the leader per se. However, issues can easily get dragged through the mud and become entangled in complications, wheras a leader is visceral and easily understood by all.
We need to take this opportunity to attack UMNO where it hurts them the most. Do not let the reverse happen.
We are at a unique juncture where for the first time in history, the main opposition coalition might win over Putrajaya. However, if uncertainty becomes the issue that determines the general election, we can kiss this dream goodbye.
Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman is Chief of Armada PPBM. Articles written is strictly the writer’s personal opinion and it does not represent the views of Malaysian Access.