Former Malaysian Minister of Health Khairy Jamaluddin, who recently failed to win the seat of Sungai Buloh in the 2022 Malaysian General Election, has committed to supporting Anwar Ibrahim's unity government should he or his allies win control of UMNO.
Khairy said that he would not allow his work of bringing the country out of the pandemic to be undone by political instability, saying that stability was of paramount importance for Malaysia.
He then went even further, inviting Anthony Loke, Secretary General of Democratic Action Party (DAP), to discuss a longer term political pact between UMNO and PH, in order to bring about a centrist vision of Malaysia, and to oppose a monoethnic opposition bloc that had now arisen.
King of Malaysia (Politics)
Speaking as part of the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute's annual Regional Outlook Forum's “Political Outlook in Malaysia" panel on Jan. 10, Khairy gave a frank and deadpan assessment of the outcome of the Malaysian GE.
He first congratulated fellow panelist Loke on his appointment as Transport Minister, and then congratulated him cheekily for getting Zahid Hamidi as his boss.
Loke is the Secretary General of the DAP, the second largest single party in the Malaysian parliament and a major component of the governing Pakatan Harapan coalition.
PH and BN, the latter of which UMNO is the most prominent party, were political opponents during the recent GE15.
Zahid is President of UMNO, Khairy's party, and likely moved Khairy from his safe seat in Rembau to an PH stronghold in Sungai Buloh, which he eventually lost.
Khairy on the other hand, is himself a prominent UMNO politician, and is generally credited for successfully steering Malaysia through its pandemic response.
Khairy gave a brief summation of the post-election drama that saw the leader of the PH, Anwar, become Prime Minister; but which also saw, as Khairy acidly observed, Zahid become "crowned as king of Malaysia", before he quickly corrected himself by saying "Malaysian politics".
However, it saw the "decimation" of Barisan Nasional. There was no consolation for that, he said, not even being in government, nor the ministerial posts UMNO had received.
Stability and support
Khairy then said that countries in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, needed political stability.
Stability was the cachet that gave countries in Southeast asia premium for people to invest, to travel to, and to take long term positions.
But that stability was replaced by a situation where Malaysia has had more prime ministers in the last few years than some have had in 60.
Khairy then turned to Loke, saying
"I want to tell you and also categorically to Anthony. I want to see government stability. I want this government to last. I don't want there to be backroom machinations which will result in another change in government.
I didn't work my socks off to get the country out of the pandemic only to see it get beleaguered by continued instability. So I want to see this government last.
I want to make sure that there is stability in the country, even though I'm no longer a minister or even a member of parliament."
Khairy then assessed the post-election layout of Malaysia.
He said there was now a mono-ethnic opposition bloc of about 74 seats which no longer had any pretences about trying to bring together disparate ideologies, ethnicities, and demographic groups in coalition.
This bloc was made up of the Perikatan Nasional coalition, which two main parties were Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), and Bersatu, both being Malay-Muslim centric parties.
It should be noted that PN has other, nominally multi-ethnic component parties, such as Gerakan. However, none have been elected into parliament.
Explaining that preliminary assessment of election results indicated that PN had 54% of the Malay vote, with BN receiving 33%, and PH receiving about 11 to 20% of Malay votes.
PH, by contrast, received nearly 94% of Chinese votes, with BN receiving 5%, and PN receiving around 1%.
Khairy then said this would allow PN to "outflank" UMNO on the right because they were "in bed with these guys", indicating Loke and PH.
This meant that the challenge set for UMNO is to see if it could reclaim some of the Malay ground.
Earthquakes and aftershocks
Khairy pointed out two major upcoming events, what he called "aftershocks" to the earthquake of GE15.
These were upcoming state elections and UMNO's own party elections.
Saying that the state elections would see the rise of "the Malay opposition", with the northern states of Kedah, Terengganu, and Kelantan, in his assessment, being swept through by PAS.
This would also put the mainland portion of Penang and the state of Selangor in play, although he thought the state of Penang would be safe for PH due to the seats on the island.
In his view, PH and Anwar were taking active steps to ensure that the government did not lose more Malay support.
Anwar did this by reaching out to Muslim international leaders, as well as Malay-Muslim intellectuals and academics. Critically, Anwar has attempted to repair any rift with largely Malay-Muslim civil service.
This situation was helped by the DAP agreeing to play a less prominent role.
Khairy first said that the DAP has traditionally been portrayed as Anti-Malay, but then immediately rejected the notion, saying twice it was not true.
But acknowledging that it was the common view that had been "drummed into the Malay psyche", Khairy said it was helpful that the DAP had agreed to take fewer cabinet positions, and less prominent ones at that.
But then he moved on to the role of UMNO's party elections, which he described being UMNO's "Three R" election: reform, relevance, or "rest-in-peace".
Saying that there had been previous occasions where the party's had restricted leadership challenges, Khairy said he hoped that this would not be the case, and that this would be decided in the Annual General Meeting in the upcoming weeks.
But he also addressed concerns that a change in UMNO's leadership would result in instability, rejecting it comprehensively, saying:
"Anthony, I want to say this clearly, categorically, in front of people here, and I've deliberately chosen Singapore to say this.
If I or my allies win the presidency, win the leadership of my party, I will commit our support to the unity government, to Anwar Ibrahim, and to you."
Big words and coffee
Khairy summed up by addressing the problematic nature of the current agreement. Saying that it was a post-election agreement, and that it was a "short term thing".
Both sides of the unity government had yet to "discuss if this is a long term thing", and what both sides believed in.
Inviting Loke to "chart a course" for a centrist vision of Malaysia where "finally you and I get to work together", and to rebuild a "consociationalist" (as Khairy explained in an aside, "bringing together disparate strands") structure that "used to be Barisan Nasional".
He said that they should be able to present a unified pre-electoral pact that is ideologically consistent, accepted by their rank-and-file, and has a clear runway for not just the parties' agigin leaders but for the younger leaders as well.
"If you want this to be long term", Khairy said, once again turning to Loke. "Let's have coffee after this."
Top image by Keyla Supharta