Following the PAS annual general meeting which had resolved to sever relationships between the party and DAP in 2015, the political development of the whole nation seems to have returned to the political scene in 1999.
The big turmoil of Malay politics in 1999 was not caused by the struggle between PAS and Umno, but because of Mahathir’s right-hand man Anwar was being removed from all official posts on September 2, 1998, and later expelled from the party on September 3 on the ground that Anwar was involved in unethical conduct.
According to the news at that time, had Anwar accepted the offer to become ambassador to foreign country (in July 1998), the contradiction between the two persons would then be subdued. But Anwar refused to compromise. Not long after he was expelled, Anwar had set off the first wave of political reform movement (Reformasi), the influence was momentous, and the emotion of Anwar’s supporters ran high.
Initially, Anwar held his first road show in Permatang Pauh on September 13, and put forward the “Permatang Pauh Declaration” vowed to fight against Mahathir until the end. In order to expand his influence, he moved over to the Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur on September 20, and the “Permatang Pauh Declaration” was converted to “Dataran Merdeka Declaration”, the supporters came from all over the country with an estimated number of more than 100,000.
Helped PAS to rise
May be due to Anwar’s super power and charm, he was arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) on the same day, and was charged in court on September 29, he was being accused of committing 10 criminal offences and no bail was allowed. He was then detained under criminal law instead of under the ISA. From then onwards, Anwar lost his freedom until September 2004. He spent altogether nearly six years in jail (from September 20, 1998 to August 2004).
After the arrest, he formed the Parti Keadilan Nasional through his wife Wan Azizah in 1999, in collaboration with PAS and DAP. Parti Rakyat Malaysia had once joined the alliance. The four-party alliance together formed the “Barisan Alternatif” where Anwar was the president, hoping to topple Mahathir in the general election.
However, the general election in November 1999 did not bring any surprise to Anwar, instead PAS had made used of the opportunity to rise. In that year, apart from retaining the Kelantan government, PAS had also recaptured Terengganu state. What is more, for the first time PAS had won 27 parliamentary seats, whereas PKR had only managed to win five parliamentary seats, and DAP had also merely won 10 parliamentary seats, considered as flop. For the first time, Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh were defeated in the parliamentary seat contested.
On the other hand, Anwar had indirectly helped PAS to win the election, the latter had garnered Malay votes by capitalized on Anwar’s imprisonment and the assault by the Inspector General of Police. PAS won some of the seats unintentionally while Umno was in a cold sweat. The situation implied that Malay votes had been divided into two different camps.
Requested Chinese societies to cancel the seven appeals (Suqiu)
Unfortunately, cracks appeared in the Barisan Alternatif as PAS insisted to embrace Islamic state ideology which was opposed by DAP, resulting in the latter withdrew from the Barisan Alternatif. Of course, Anwar had never been the winner, but his influence had created the rise of PAS. However, PAS had its own agenda and the party was not easily controlled by Anwar, more so when Anwar was in the jail and was unable to give order.
Today, due to differences in political ideology, PAS and PKR has cut ties.
On the other hand, Chinese community had also split into two camps, one of which was the Chinese organization led by the United Chinese School Committees’ Association (Dong Zong), it was supported by 2095 societies, they raised the Suqiu (the Malaysian Chinese Organizations’ Election Appeals), one of which was to demand for fair governance, to abolish the distinction between bumiputera and non-bumiputera, and also to abolish the quota system. But the major Chinese organizations such as the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Hua Zong), the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) and the Federal of Hawkers and Petty Traders Association Malaysia did not sign the petition as they had objected to the content of the appeals.
However, the oppositions’ Barisan Alternatif had taken the lead in supporting the appeals; while Barisan Nasional component parties like MCA, Gerakan and SUPP had no choice but to accept the existence of Suqiu.
As the general election was approaching, the government did not take any measure, but only after the election that the government had taken action by asking the Suqiu leaders to remove seven items among all the appeals.
Dong Zong president Quek Suan Hiang was forced to respond under pressure, he had agreed to shelve the Suqiu but would not withdraw.
The furor had subsequently evolved into racial confrontation. Umno Youth had threatened to take action against the Chinese assembly hall; while the Chinese community felt that since the general election was over and BN had scored a major victory, there was no need to pursue any further. As a prime minister, Mahathir was satisfied that Chinese electorate had ensured BN to maintain two-third majority in the Parliament by supporting the coalition, he was also grateful that the Chinese electorates knew where their loyalty belonged. If not for the support of the Chinese community, Mahathir would lose even more seats.
The reason why I raise this matter is because after much thoughts and reflections, Najib had finally opined that Chinese votes should not be discarded. Originally after 2015, Umno had agreed to cooperate with PAS and tacitly consented PAS to table the controversial RUU 355 in Parliament to enable the Shariah court to expand its powers to impose heavy penalties. Chinese based political parties had opposed strongly against the Bill, Umno was caught in a maze whether to discard Chinese votes and turn to Malay and Indian electorates, or to turn back for the Chinese votes so that it can garner all the votes.
Strive for Chinese support
From the actions taken by Najib recently, such as the approval of setting up new Chinese primary schools and strengthen the cooperation with China, all showing that BN is in need of Chinese votes. In this case, Umno has got limited options, it has to choose between cooperation with PAS to strive for Malay votes, or to maintain the original multiple team, let the Chinese feel that BN also needs their support.
Because of this, recently there are very few public discussions on the issue on Umno and PAS cooperation; it seems Umno is prepared to face three-cornered fights. Such arrangement will not displease PAS, at the same time not losing the arrangement of the Umno seats.
If Umno opted to strive for Chinese votes through BN, and also to sustain the natives’ votes in East Malaysia, then it is likely to repeat the results of the general election in 1999. Of course, if it remains status quo without making major changes, it will be better for BN.
On the opposition coalition, it has now entered the crucial stage of Mahathir leading the team. Besides not to expose Mahathir’s old scars, it should also support Mahathir in public opinion.
The trump card held by Pakatan Harapan today is Mahathir, if there are internal conflicts in which some supported Mahathir and the others not, then how is the coalition going to fight the battle? Hence, PH should adopt a more practical strategy to make adjustment according to the current situation, if not how will Mahathir lead the team?