Dennis Ignatius: UMNO rules, OK!

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Ending up with an UMNO-dominated government disguised as a unity government.

There’re a lot of questions right now about the whole issue of whether or not Najib should get a pardon. Many insist that it won’t happen because several conditions have not yet been met. But try telling that to UMNO whose leaders seem determined to push it through.

Indeed, they appear to have made it a non-negotiable issue, even threatening to reconsider being part of the unity government if they don’t get their way. Hence the bellicose response to Amanah information chief Khalid Samad’s remarks that a pardon for Najib would not go down well with Pakatan Harapan (PH) supporters.

But instead of standing up to UMNO’s bullying tactics, Amanah leaders including Khalid quickly and shamelessly capitulated. If Amanah cannot stand up to UMNO on such an important issue, it most certainly will not on other issues of concern to Malaysians.

And this comes after Zahid (and Anwar) successfully convinced the DAP that in order to appease Malay nationalists, the party must play only a minor role in government (despite being the second largest party in parliament) and keep its mouth shut.

DAP sympathisers complain in private that the DAP is really in a weak position, unable to articulate its true views without inviting strong reactions. If that’s true, then what is the DAP’s role in the government?

As for PKR, it is hard to know what they stand for anymore. On quite a few issues, they are now closer to UMNO than to their PH colleagues.  All talk about reformasi is gone. Rafizi Ramli – PKR’s ideas man – has lapsed into silence; some say he has been effectively marginalized by Anwar.

Having marginalized the DAP, silenced Amanah and co-opted PKR, Zahid now wields power out of all proportion to his actual parliamentary strength. PH parties are so terrified of losing power that Zahid has only to grumble and they will rush to appease him. Not bad for a party that was all but thrashed in the last election.

In the meantime, the government seems to be preparing the public for the possibility of Najib’s pardon. After insisting for weeks that the issue of a pardon for Najib should be left to the King to decide, Anwar is now saying that the government will consider the pardon on “a compassionate basis, professionally and without prejudice.” Perhaps that’s why Khalid decided to risk speaking out.

Anwar’s supporters, of course, never tire of reminding us that it is not always possible to pursue the PH agenda because the current administration is a coalition government. There has to be give and take, they say. But no one seems to have explained that to UMNO. UMNO thinks nothing, for example, of exploiting for political mileage even the meagre RM15.7 million given to Chinese independent schools (announced by Anthony Loke) but gets upset when others question UMNO.

At the end of the day, UMNO’s main objective is not the success of the unity government per se but regaining power. Don’t for one moment believe that Zahid has given up his ambition to be prime minister. To UMNO, the unity government is just a temporary arrangement born out of political expediency and self-preservation, nothing more. Ideologically, they are miles apart from PH.

UMNO now has key cabinet positions along with a huge budget to enable the party to strengthen its support in the Malay heartland including the crucial FELDA constituencies. Zahid has also been busy putting his men in GLCs, statutory bodies and government positions; the appointment of Reezal Merican as chairman of Matrade is the latest in a long string of questionable appointments.

It is axiomatic that the stronger UMNO gets, the weaker PH becomes. Until PH is willing to collectively stand up to UMNO and call Zahid’s bluff, UMNO will continue to bully the unity government and dominate the government’s agenda.

When the unity government was formed, Malaysians hoped it would lead to a period of political stability so that the focus could be on the many pressing issues facing the nation. PH supporters were even asked to set aside their personal distaste of UMNO for the sake of the nation. What no one expected was that we would end up with an UMNO-dominated government disguised as a unity government. – Dennis Ignatius