The Infinite Everything Tent which stands for Nothing

By Praba Ganesan

APRIL 21 — A complete what if!

It is a balmy October and Pakatan Kitar-Semula is a week into the general election campaign and all its leaders are on stage, taking turns to speak.

PKR, Bersatu, DAP, Warisan, Amanah, Muda and Gerak Independent. Their leaders resplendent in batik.

Some quick questions for this — for now — fictional scenario.

How does PKR President Anwar Ibrahim frame — peppered with idioms, metaphors and random quotes — the betrayal of the 2020 Sheraton Move which ended its short office term, while Muhyiddin Yassin and Azmin Ali are still on stage?

How will Muhyiddin wax lyrical about the success of its cooperation with Umno and PAS, till it was dumped by the former, and now it grovels to recent opponents in order to have an electoral chance to win? And, oh yeah, forsakes PAS in order to get into bed with Amanah and DAP. What was that, Malay unity before anything?

How will Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman justify his cooperation with the very old parties he nixed on grounds they were antiquated, inflexible and unfriendly to youthful aspirations? How will all the parties explain their reliance on Muda rather than their own youth wings for young votes?

Yes, your turn now, Shafie Apdal. Warisan expanded to West Malaysia to offer a more inclusive and multicultural unity message free of Malaya’s race toxicity. Does that not mean, to displace PKR, DAP and Amanah, along with Umno, Bersatu and Pejuang? How to then describe your partners here as the solution for Malaysia when your own ambition is built on them not being the solution?

Firstly, these contradictions and irregularities are only realised if these parties choose to get into bed together.

But the speculations along with the meetings held are unending. All in the name of toppling Barisan Nasional (BN) in the general election.

Synergy, is it?

Flag of various political parties are pictured in Larkin, Johor Baru March 9, 2022. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Flag of various political parties are pictured in Larkin, Johor Baru March 9, 2022. — Picture by Hari Anggara
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Set the contradictions and recent history aside for a moment.

Does politics degenerate into simplistic arithmetic?

The suggested premise by proponents reads as such: The more political parties in one coalition, the more votes collected.

Add up PKR, Bersatu, Amanah, DAP, Warisan, Gerak Independent and Muda’s vote bank and this is what the coalition receives.

Certainly not.

When old foes come together with the scars still fresh, many types of other problems related to votes emerge.

X number of traditional PKR voters will be incensed to have Bersatu in the same team. The party’s stability is jeopardised as the ex-PKR people in Bersatu inflame new feuds.

DAP would struggle to reason out how Bersatu is now a friend. If DAP can just forgive its mortal enemy, then perhaps DAP voters can walk over to MCA under BN this time around. In a situation where political parties choose to side with whoever for personal gain, then perhaps DAP’s traditional voters can look at their own interests under BN. Voters can be just as tactical as political parties.

How would DAP and PKR react when Warisan speaks about the need to be Sabah-centred in its home state campaign, spelling out why Malaya parties are unsuitable, and then campaign in the Semenanjung in the spirit of federalism and equality?

It is about the voters but when voters are confused about exactly how the various groups meld, there is a risk many votes will be spirited away to more familiar choices.

A big tent

The first-past-the-post (FPTP) rewards incumbency and divisive politics, both inherited and mastered by BN.

Therefore, it entices, for all those opposed to BN to come together— despite various degrees of despise they hold for each other — to defeat them.

However, despite the upsides, it is deeply problematic.

A coalition which campaigns together must stand for several principle issues or support particular pledges for the duration of the term they seek, otherwise it is purely opportunistic.

That is not what any coalition wants to sell to the Malaysian people today, at a time of great uncertainty.

The message: Hi, Malaysia. We are not clear why we are together but we figure we have a better chance to win together. Give us your support. It will be OK, OK?

The rakyat will not stand for this. BN may be an unequal coalition built on the supremacy of Umno and stability of government if Malay dominated. It is anachronistic but it is the only clear value proposition despite that proposition being reprehensible to Malaysia’s long-term prospects.

But when compared to Pakatan’s present leadership’s inclination of anything to win, then votes will slide away from it and to BN.

No-contest arrangement

Alternatively, these parties can agree on a no-contest agreement which is not tantamount to joining forces.

Take one striking relationship. DAP does not like Bersatu, and Bersatu does not like DAP.

But DAP would prefer to fight BN in Kluang without Bersatu interfering, and this can be reciprocated by DAP not weighing in in the Titiwangsa race which Bersatu prefers to face off BN alone.

PKR, Bersatu, DAP, Warisan, Amanah, Muda and Gerak Independent can find ways to ease their respective goals by compromise.

However, a no-contest arrangement does not mandate these parties to form a government together based on their respective election results. Bersatu, for instance, might choose to renegotiate a new government with BN despite contesting against each other in the general election.

Yes, this middle path can be beneficial without diluting the unique positions of the various parties.

Throwing ideology out with the bathwater

Repeats of the phrase big tent begin to grate.

While the term appears conciliatory and progressive, ultimately it has to be constructed on core principles not expediency. It can become regressive when without an anchor.

A tent defines what the group stands for and what is not part of the deal. It cannot be constructed purely on the need to win an election. Then all the problems which plague our parties and fluid nature of support inside Dewan Rakyat will repeat with the assistance of this tent with no definition.

No senior leader has offered ideas to form the nucleus of this coalition.

The ugly truth from this unruly development is that virtually all the parties in this quagmire have no ideology: PKR, Bersatu, DAP, Warisan, Amanah, Muda and Gerak Independent.

In this regard, they are no different from Umno, PAS and to be charitable, Gerakan.

This column was plagued by indecision outlining our collective predicament, in that the article does not connect the dots to a summary. It struck, belatedly, that the job to put the dots is for the political parties mentioned here. They are the political parties, they are the exponents in this competition for votes.

Perhaps they have to answer what they are for — other than they want all things good and oppose all things bad.

Otherwise, they continue to imagine this Infinite Everything Tent which stands for Nothing.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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