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Listening to Pakatan Harapan leaders go on and on about the importance of the MOU[1] they signed with Ismail Sabri’s administration is akin to watching a drowning man desperately clutching at straws.

The MOU signed last September was hailed as a breakthrough achievement for the nation. One opposition leader waxed eloquent about how it would transform parliamentary democracy in Malaysia and usher in a new era of responsible and accountable government. It was also hailed as putting the interests of the nation ahead of party politics as the nation was confronted with a deadly pandemic.

In truth, it was nothing more than an expediency, a mutually beneficial arrangement to avoid a general election which neither side was ready to face. 

Ismail Sabri, the accidental prime minister, was in a vulnerable position. Isolated within his own party, he faced mounting pressure to call for early elections. The court cluster, in particularly, was anxious to quickly return to power in the hope of forestalling the serious criminal charges against them. Ismail Sabri needed allies to strengthen his position. In exchange for support, he was willing to make several concessions including an anti-hopping bill (which has yet to see the light of day).

Pakatan Harapan was desperate too. The collapse of their administration due to the treachery of Dr Mahathir, Muhyiddin Yassin and Azmin Ali took the wind out of their sails. It left them demoralized, rudderless and struggling to regain control of the political narrative. Early elections would have wiped them (as it later did in Melaka and Johor).

But things have changed dramatically now. The UMNO supreme council decision to unite behind Ismail Sabri is a game changer. Ismail Sabri no longer needs the MOU with PH to shore up his position. Early elections are part of the deal he made with the court cluster and he will not let the MOU stand in the way of his own ambition. UMNO is now resurgent and confident of victory.

Pakatan Harapan, however, remains in a sorry state. Party leaders appear to have lost all confidence in defeating UMNO. They are divided. They have no clear, compelling and captivating message. Gloom has set in. Its base is so demoralized that many might not even bother to vote.

Leadership, or the lack of it, is a major handicap. The coalition’s putative leader, Anwar Ibrahim, hasn’t demonstrated the kind of leadership that will be needed to inspire voters and ensure a high turnout. He waffles on key issues and chases after mirages. He says, for example, that he is not in any “big tent” discussions (with non-BN parties like PPBM, PAS and Pejuang) but in the same breath says he won’t close the door to them either.[2] Everybody knows he wants to be prime minister but he says naming the PH candidate for PM is not a priority.[3] Does he think voters are stupid? 

And then there’s that bizarre claim he keeps making about once having had a “strong, formidable and convincing majority”[4]. No one really believes or cares about that; the more he talks about it, the more delusional he sounds. 

What we need is a leader who will quickly transform Pakatan Harapan into a strong, formidable and convincing coalition. It’s an uphill task, of course, but not impossible. There’s still a large reservoir of Malaysians ready to do battle for ‘reformasi’, who still see Pakatan Harapan as the repository of their hopes and aspirations for a better Malaysia.

So, here’s my plea to the PKR president: if you insist on staying, at least fight the good fight. Quell the doubts. Unite the factions within PH. Sound a clarion call to the nation. Reignite hope for a better Malaysia.  Be that man who once inspired a whole nation to fight for justice and reform. Time is running out for you, for Pakatan Harapan and for Malaysia.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | Wednesday, 20th April 2022

[1] See [1] PH open to MoU extension beyond July 31, says Anwar [FMT, 18 April 2022]; [2] Govt-Pakatan MoU in force until Parliament dissolved, not July 31, says PKR’s Fahmi, but Umno’s Isham begs to differ [Malay Mail, 17 April 2022]; [3] Not impossible for MoU to be extended, says PKR leader [FMT, 15 April 2022]

[2] Anwar: Not in ‘big tent’ discussion, but won’t stop Harapan negotiations | Malaysiakini | 18 April 2022

[3] Not a priority for PH to name PM candidate, says Anwar | FMT | 18 April 2022.

[4] ‘Formidable’ majority shelved over my conditions on judicial intervention: Anwar | The Vibes |19 April 2022