Terence Netto Published Updated
COMMENT | PKR MP for Selayang, William Leong, has penned a long diatribe against the proposal to make Dr Mahathir Mohamad Pakatan Harapan's prime minister-designate.
He warns that acceptance of this would invite Umno's racial politics into Harapan via the former PM's vehicle, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
Leong's argument badly misconstrues the point of the proposition to make Mahathir Harapan's head honcho.
It is to benefit from what he could bring to the table, which is the support of portions of Umno's dyed-in-the-wool battalions, voters otherwise thought to be impervious to the charms of Anwar Ibrahim.
Also, Leong commits the error of conflating acceptance of Mahathir as Harapan's numero uno with receptiveness to the politics of racialism which, he says, Bersatu as an Umno clone, is necessarily saddled with.
This, Leong cautions, would constitute a suicidal loss of essence by the reformasi movement, triggered nearly two decades ago by Anwar's travails.
Leong's article sifts the recent history of political reform movements in several countries to make his point that accepting Mahathir as the prime choice of Harapan invites the danger of subversion, even worse, a traducing of reformasi's ideals.
Instead of scouring so much history, Leong need only have examined one slice of it, closer to home, for a refutation of his point.
There is no possibility of enacting the Malaysian opposition's programme of political reform without exploitation of Umno's periodic convulsions that issue in the creation of a splinter party.
The Malaysian opposition gained ground from collaborating with Semangat 46 that split off from Umno when the parent party had one of its decanal ructions in the mid-1980s.
The opposition gained more ground from Umno's internal strife in the late 1990s which saw the sacking and public humiliation of Anwar, the cause celebre that spawned the reformasi movement and eventually led to that seminal event: denial of the ruling BN's traditional two-thirds parliamentary majority.
Now, late in the second decade of the 21st century, the opposition is set to make further strides, that is, as a result of another round of internecine strife in the Umno folds - in this instance, the creation of the splinter Bersatu.
Why is it that the Malaysian opposition can gain ground only when Umno convulses and splinters?
There is a deep undercurrent in Malaysian politics: deep-seated Malay apprehension over the loss of their primary position in the political life of the nation.
This apprehension has caused the Malays to be wards of the Umno deep-state.
This fear is not amenable to non-Malay demonstrations of earnestness in carrying out reforms that could also benefit the Malays, such as in opposition-ruled Penang.
At best, the Malays would bid a wary welcome to this earnestness, but they would still distrust Lim Guan Eng.
This Malay apprehension is only alleviable through the ministrations of influential leaders who have been ejected or fallen off the Umno deep-state.
No such Umno malcontent has the Malay vote-getting cachet of Mahathir.
Of him, it can't be said he would betray the Malays by being a dupe of DAP or anyone else.
It's elementary that he should be the Harapan PM-designate; Anwar's wife can be the deputy but Mahathir has to be No 1.
This is not political cynicism by DAP and Amanah who are said to be supportive of this proposition; rather this is realism vis-a-vis that is subliminal in Malaysian politics – Malay apprehension.
It is realism when one accepts that politics is not some creationist doctrine whereby a new dispensation can sweep away the past and remake society according to a rationalistic plan as if there was no such thing as history, no fears, no entrenched interests.
Rather politics is more nearly a pattern of creative responses to society's vast inertia (the Malaysian variant of this is Malay apprehension) and small margin for change.
Making Mahathir Pakatan's PM-designate would be Harapan's resourceful response to this critical moment in its evolution as Umno-BN's replacement.
Hedge him with a PKR deputy, corral him with a consensus-imperative presidential council, and saddle him with a near-replica of Buku Jingga as the Pakatan manifesto.
And then, it should help to bear in mind this bit from George Orwell 's novel 1984, substituting, of course, the word “used” for “sold”: "Under the spreading chestnut tree I sold you and you sold me."
TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.