With Bersatu in Sabah, Shafie needs to up his game


COMMENT | There is no denying that no one is on par with Dr Mahathir Mohamad as a political tactician. He is the shrewdest ‘lord and master’ of them all.

Added to the power he now wields as prime minister and paramount leader of Pakatan Harapan, Mahathir is almost invincible. What he says goes, and what he wants, he gets. Almost all of it, anyway.

There is also the element of reverence for him as an elderly statesperson. The few in Harapan who dare to speak up against Mahathir likely pepper their lingo with decorum when they do, and rightfully so.

I don’t blame them really. Even as a writer, I am careful with my choice of words when I feel it necessary to criticise the 93-year-old prime minister. Even if we do not agree with Mahathir, we have to treat those older than us with due respect, prime minister or not.

With that out of the way, let me be frank. Mahathir’s reasons (read: ‘excuses’) for insisting that Bersatu establishes its presence in Sabah do not hold any water for me. Let me repeat what I think of them in one word – childish!

‘Supporting’ Shafie

Bersatu’s entry into the state is to support Mohd Shafie Apdal and his Parti Warisan Sabah, according to Mahathir.

What? Harapan is the federal government. Warisan is a Harapan ally.

Putrajaya is already in the perfect situation to help the Sabah chief minister and his party with just the press of a button. There is no necessity for Bersatu to be physically present in Sabah to do that.

Image result for taib mahmud

Umno never came to Sarawak. Wasn’t it able to help Abdul Taib Mahmud and his Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu without a presence in the state in the past? Was it the convenient “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” arrangement between Mahathir and Taib that worked so well previously?

Or was it because Taib had become so powerful that even he was considered ‘untouchable’ by Mahathir? This would mean that Shafie is considered a weakling – and that nobody can compare with Taib!

Divide and rule?

Mahathir’s second reason was that ex-Sabah Umno leaders do not want to join Warisan, but Bersatu.

As the big boss, Mahathir could have easily directed the Umno turncoats to join Warisan if the intention was genuinely to help Shafie and his government.

I can bet my bottom dollar that these defectors – seen as opportunistic politicians without much backbone – would not dare disobey Mahathir’s directive.

Perhaps Umno supreme council member Tajuddin Abdul Rahman is not way off when he claimed that Bersatu’s entry into Sabah is aimed at weakening Shafie’s grip on power.

So, is Mahathir, known for his “divide and rule” strategy, as claimed by Tajuddin, still up to his old mischief? I sincerely hope not, but then, you never know. He has already dishonoured Bersatu’s pre-GE14 pact with Warisan not to enter Sabah.

It’s well and good that Mahathir is aware that not everyone is happy with his decision. Perhaps he should know that people are also agitated by him going back on his word and that Warisan leaders are fuming.

Let’s stop pretending. Leaders of other Harapan parties are more than just unhappy. They are angry. Sabah DAP and PKR leaders have voiced their displeasure at Bersatu’s move. One even called Mahathir’s decision “disrespectful.”

Even DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng wanted the matter to be discussed at the Harapan presidential council. But that would be too little too late; I doubt Mahathir would change his mind.

Game of Thrones

As I see it, it’s now up to Shafie and Warisan to up their game with Bersatu. I hope he has the gumption to play the ‘Game of Thrones’ with Putrajaya.

That is what I would do if I were Shafie.

Yes, Bersatu has to be accepted because every party has the legal right to establish its presence anywhere it likes. However, that doesn’t mean that the new Bersatu leaders in Sabah have to be accepted into the government which Shafie heads.

As the chief minister, Shafie is in charge. He is all-powerful in the state. The powers he wields are immense.

Shafie is also no greenhorn politician. He is an experienced old hand, having been an Umno vice-president and federal minister. He was at the top in the previous BN regime for many years until his sacking from the cabinet in 2015.

Politics is the art of the impossible. Manoeuvring is part of the ebb and flow of political life. True motives are never stated. Players will try to give logical explanations for everything they do. This is something Mahathir is most adept at.

Shafie has to up his game with Mahathir and Bersatu. He has only 15 months left in office – if the Harapan agreement is anything to go by – and if there is to be a backlash against Shafie and his coalition partners in Sabah, so be it.

The chief minister should let the new Bersatu lawmakers continue to be part of the opposition in Sabah. Bersatu can be the opposition at the state level, but part of the government at the federal level.

There has been a precedent. Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) was in the opposition in Sarawak from 1987 to 1994, but with BN at the federal level.

This was the arrangement made by Mahathir when he wanted to retain PBDS president Leo Moggie (photo) in the cabinet after the infamous Ming Court revolt against Taib failed.

If that was possible then, why is it impossible now? Shafie could also tell Mahathir that the new Bersatu leaders in Sabah have to undergo a trial period to prove themselves worthy first.

Just emulate Mahathir on the conditions he initially set for ex-Umno lawmakers he has now accepted into Bersatu. And let the trial period last forever.

Also give the ‘noble’ reason that you want the opposition in Sabah to be strong to keep an eye on your government. Isn’t that the perfect excuse in disguise?

Shafie has to go one up by simply playing Mahathir’s old, predictable game.

Let the games in the Land Below the Wind begin!

– Malaysiakini

FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at sirsiah@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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