How DAP lost principles, votes, and friends by choosing Mahathir

The bigger picture is power. The moral claim by PH+ to get back to power is that the people have voted for a PH government, and therefore they must get it back from Muhyiddin by all means. We understand this. The only question is at what cost?

By choosing the same arrangement as before – Mahathir as PM – DAP is willing to pay the price of principles, votes, and friendship for power.

Discarding principles: Choosing to work with the man who almost destroyed PH

DAP has appealed to its supporters to back Mahathir before GE14. This was difficult as Mahathir has constantly vilified and scapegoated DAP supporters for the ills of his past administrations. But there was a larger enemy of Najib and his government that DAP supporters were willing to vote out to ‘save Malaysia’.

The reason why the same could not be done now – the moral claim weakened – is because Mahathir was seen as being instrumental in bringing down PH.

Although claiming no ‘direct’ involvement in the Sheraton Move, Mahathir’s actions in delaying (or refusing) to pass the baton to Anwar since 2019, as well as his desire to create a Malay-centric coalition, has paved the way for the destruction of PH.

The twin objectives that Mahathir had always wanted to achieve was to marginalise Anwar and to remove DAP elements from his government. His legacy of being a Malay defender cannot be cemented if he was not the leader of the largest Malay coalition and Anwar becomes prime minister.

After losing prime ministership to Muhyiddin, Mahathir revealed, rather soberingly, that the country cannot accept Anwar as prime minister because he was “too liberal”. Mahathir feared that once Anwar becomes prime minister, he will share political power with the non-Malays for his closeness to DAP and that the Malays will fear their positions will be threatened.

This narrative was consistent with Mahathir’s actions to drive a wedge in PKR by using Azmin Ali to weaken Anwar politically. Mahathir elevated Azmin to the Minister of Economic Affairs post (seen as more powerful than the Minister of Finance) and to the board of Khazanah. These had enabled Azmin to expand his support within PKR to prevent Anwar from being prime minister.

Further, Mahathir’s recruitment of former UMNO politicians into Bersatu, as well as his openness to working with UMNO and PAS, allowed hardliners within his party to work towards a Malay-centric coalition at the background.

Although it may be acceptable to say that Mahathir had no ‘direct’ involvement in Sheraton Move, he certainly had prepared the early steps that led to PH’s downfall. All the pieces moved with his knowledge, and he was not a helpless victim of others’ doing.

The only thing that Mahathir would have done differently from Muhyiddin was not to include the tainted leaders of Najib and Zahid Hamidi, and to make sure that he was the prime minister instead. The other pieces would have been the same.

Displaying insincerity in passing the prime ministership to Anwar – a core element in accepting Mahathir into PH back in 2017 – and obvious attempts to wreck the PH coalition, PH supporters had enough. By choosing to not only work with Mahathir but by placing him once again at the highest helm of power, DAP has chosen to discard the principles of the struggle, the core tenet of PH’s reason for being.

One of DAP’s biggest burdens throughout 22 months of governing was to show that they are different from MCA. They had to show that they were not submissive to the prime minister, and they were not willing to compromise on matters of principles.

By making a clear decision to choose the man who nearly wrecked the coalition as its highest leader once again, it is no surprise that their moral claim to power has severely dampened. But it is not just the hyper-pragmatism that bothers its supporters; it is also something deeply ideological.

Discarding votes: Ideological break from being the defenders of the non-Malays

Choosing Mahathir once again has signified a clear ideological break for DAP – their claim as the conscience of a multiracial and progressive Malaysia would now be affected.

Despite successful persuasion for its non-Malay voters to trust Mahathir for GE14, DAP’s supporters were left disappointed. While there were more extremist DAP supporters who were expecting the near-impossible of equal rights, most simply expected some progress in an egalitarian society. At the very least, no return to the UMNO days where the non-Malays were publicly marginalised and threatened.

However, the event of Malay Dignity Congress left a bitter taste in the tongue of non-Malays. Organised by Zainal Kling, the event emphasised how Malay rights were under threat and that the citizenship of non-Malays may be suspended should they not follow the ‘social contract’.

The thing that bothered DAP supporters was not the event itself, but who attended the event. Its attendees included top leaders from Bersatu. Mahathir delivered the keynote address – a clear indication of his ideological preference.

This is when our memory revisits us. Mahathir was after all a champion of the ideology of Malay supremacy, read out from his book The Malay Dilemma, and this has never sat well with many non-Malay supporters of DAP. The promise of keeping Mahathir’s ideology at bay with PH’s improved accountability mechanism pre-GE14 did not work.

DAP was not able to do what MCA has failed to do. The past 22 months was also remembered as one of the most racially and religiously polarising times in recent history. Choosing Mahathir is a tactical choice with an ideological current. This does not sit well with voters who sees a multiracial option in Anwar.

Discarding friendship: In and out of jail for 20 years for 2 years of power

You do not expect true friendship in politics. When interests change, you should expect those who once stood by you also to leave you. But there was something different in the leaders of DAP, PKR, and Amanah.

The unusual thing about the leaders of the 3 parties is that all of them suffered when they were in the opposition for decades. Lim Kit Siang and the late Karpal Singh paid personal sacrifices for speaking their mind; Lim Guan Eng and Mat Sabu shared prison cells when they were unfairly persecuted under Mahathir’s administration; Anwar spent 10 gruelling years in prison and 20 years vilified by the media.

Common suffering and personal sacrifices would have created a unique camaraderie that people in Bersatu did not have. Mahathir was prime minister for 22 years, and most of its leaders were part of the government as ministers or deputy ministers before.

You would expect that the leaders of DAP, PKR, and Amanah to stick together as they had during the difficult times in the opposition. But this time, they had chosen to go their separate ways. DAP’s decision to announce their support for Mahathir as prime minister for the second time is a demarcation of their new politics.

They are choosing one past over the other. The friendship, comradeship, and kinship are now being replaced by something thinner, more frivolous, more mundane: power.

And we slowly extinguish the light we have lit on a Harapan torch, one May of 2018.

(Revised version published here).


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