Pakatan’s mistake was in turning the next general election into a US-type presidential election. The voters are being asked to oust Najib and replace him with a new Prime Minister. But the opposition is not able to name who that Prime Minister will be although they have already decided that Kit Siang is going to be the Deputy Prime Minister.

In the previous article in this column, we wrote ‘Pakatan Harapan is stuck and cannot move forward’. The reason Pakatan Harapan is now in trouble is because it keeps repeating the same mistakes it makes in the past. Basically, the opposition never learns from its past mistakes and keeps repeating them again and again.

In 2013, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad decided to launch his ANC (Anti-Najib Campaign). It started quite low-key with criticism regarding Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak pandering too much to the Chinese and neglecting the Malays, kowtowing to Singapore by not building the Crooked Bridge, and so on. The following year the attacks on Najib intensified when they added the 1MDB issue to the arsenal of weapons to use against Najib.

By 2015 it was apparent that Najib was the main target. Mahathir wanted to bring down Najib for his personal reasons — which was because Najib did not help his son Mukhriz in the 2009 and 2013 Umno party elections. The opposition realised that if Mahathir can bring down Najib then most likely Umno and Barisan Nasional would fall as well. And that was when the opposition decided to ambil kesempatan and join forces with Mahathir and support his ANC.

Basically, the opposition were trying to menangguk di air keruh, as the Malays would say. In Indonesia they say mengambil kesempatan dalam kesempitan or tying to jump onto the bandwagon and take advantage of whatever benefits that will come out from Mahathir’s effort to bring down Najib.

The problem with making Najib the target — as what they did in 1999 when they made Mahathir the target — is you need to lay out your alternative. If Mahathir falls who is the alternative? Anwar Ibrahim! If Najib falls who is the alternative? That, however, is not too clear.

Muhyiddin’s scandal with Nika Gee has finished off his political career

In 1999 it was very clear. Mahathir goes, Anwar takes over as the new Prime Minister. Even then, all the opposition could do was to increase its votes and number of seats slightly. Mahathir still did not fall in spite of so many people hating him. And the 2004 general election proved this was a bad strategy.

So, if Najib falls — and they hope that if Najib falls then Umno and Barisan Nasional will fall as well — who from the opposition is going to take over as the new Prime Minister? Yes, who? This time around it is not too clear. At least in the 2008 and 2013 general elections the belief was if Umno and Barisan Nasional are ousted then Anwar is going to take over as Prime Minister. That is no longer the case today. Anwar is in jail and will never be able to return to active politics until after 2025 when he is 78 or so, or around the 2028 general election when Anwar is past 80 years old.

In short, Anwar is history. Muhyiddin Yassin, on the other hand, is facing a sex scandal with someone’s wife and he may soon be made to appear before the Johor Sharia Court to answer for his crime. This effectively makes Muhyiddin history as well. And the fact that he is no longer talked about much shows that the opposition has written him off as the candidate for Prime Minister in the event that Najib, Umno and Barisan Nasional are ousted.

Mahathir, of course, never really intended for either Anwar or Muhyiddin to take over as Prime Minister if Najib, Umno and Barisan Nasional are ousted. But he could not tell the world that he wants his son, Mukhriz, to be Prime Minister. So he went along with the myth that either Anwar or Muhyiddin would become Prime Minister while behind the scenes he tried to position his Boboi instead.

That opportunity presented itself during the December 2016 Umno assembly when Najib revealed that the next general election is going to be a contest between the Umno-led Barisan Nasional and the DAP-led Pakatan Harapan. Basically the voters would be asked to choose between a Malay-dominated government and a Chinese-dominated government.

Kit Siang knows that Pakatan is in trouble and he is panicking and saying a lot of silly things

This caused Lim Kit Siang to panic and he quickly phoned Mahathir on the night of 3rd December 2016 to invite him to attend DAP’s convention the following day. However, earlier, DAP had already announced that Mahathir was not invited to DAP’s convention. Now Kit Siang wants Mahathir to attend. He needed Mahathir to attend DAP’s convention to counter the allegation that Pakatan Harapan was a DAP- or Chinese-led coalition and Mahathir’s presence at the convention would give DAP that Malay face they needed.

Mahathir sensed Kit Siang’s desperation so he pressed home his agenda. Mahathir said he would attend DAP’s convention only if Kit Siang endorsed Mukhriz as Pakatan’s candidate for Prime Minister. Kit Siang saw that coming and he was ready with his counter-proposal. He will endorse Mukhriz as Prime Minister if Mahathir agrees that he (Kit Siang) would become Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

Kit Siang knows that a Deputy Prime Minister who is also Finance Minister would be more powerful than the Prime Minister. Anyway, Mukhriz is so lembab that in the end Kit Siang and not Mukhriz would be running the country. Mahathir, on the other hand, thought that once Mukhriz is Prime Minister he can deal with Kit Siang later. At the back of their minds, both thought they could makan the other after they get into power.

What Kit Siang did not figure on is that this secret deal would be leaked. He knew that if the Malays found out this would hurt Pakatan Harapan very badly. What made it worse was when Mahathir revealed that DAP did ask for the post of Deputy Prime Minister. When he realised his mistake, Mahathir did a U-turn and said it was MCA and not DAP that had asked for the post of Deputy Prime Minister. But it was too late. The damage had already been done.

Mahathir wants Najib ousted but is not able to say who is going to take over

This has turned this whole episode into an utter mess. The next general election has been turned into a US-type election, to appoint the next Prime Minister rather than to elect the party to run the country. It is now all about replacing Najib as the Prime Minister. That is what the voters are being asked to decide.

Okay, so the next general election is about replacing Najib and not about changing the government. In that case, replace Najib with whom? Not Anwar. Not Muhyiddin. Not Mukhriz. Not Kit Siang. Then who?

An even weirder thing is they have already decided that Kit Siang is going to be the Deputy Prime Minister. That is more or less a fait accompli. But they are still stuck on who should be the Prime Minister. The opposition is scared to mention their candidate for Prime Minister because they do not have one yet. And it cannot be Anwar, Muhyiddin, Mukhriz or Kit Siang. So they choose to remain silent and hope that the voters would agree to vote against Najib without being told who will take over from Najib once that happens.

In 1999, when Pakatan Harapan was called Barisan Alternatif, it adopted the strategy of bring Mahathir down to bring down Umno and Barisan Nasional. Basically, if you want to bring down the government, you need to first bring down the Prime Minister. Hence you attack the Prime Minister to bring down the government.

And that was when the Anti-Mahathir Campaign (or Anything But Mahathir campaign), disguised as the Reformasi Movement, was launched. Anwar Ibrahim gave very specific instructions from the Sungai Buloh Prison. Do not attack Umno or Barisan Nasional. Just attack Mahathir. The target is Mahathir. If Mahathir falls then Umno and Barisan Nasional would automatically fall, argued Anwar.

Without PAS supporting Anwar for Prime Minister, Pakatan is at a loss as to who to name as its candidate

In the November 1999 general election, the opposition coalition of Barisan Alternatif won just 40% of the popular votes and 21% of the seats in Parliament. In spite of the so-called 1999 Reformasi ‘Tsunami’, the opposition improved just 7% on popular votes and 5% on Parliament seats.

After all that effort the opposition won just an additional 600,000 votes and 12 Parliament seats. And this was at the height of the Anti-Mahathir Campaign, mind you. The build-up of hatred for Mahathir was so great and the November 1999 general election was the peak of this hatred. And yet that was all the opposition could achieve.

It was then pointed out that this was the wrong strategy for the opposition to adopt. The focus was just Mahathir. And even then it was not enough to bring down the government. What happens if Mahathir resigns just before the next general election in 2004 and a new Prime Minister takes over? What alternative strategy will the opposition employ then?

The opposition had no answers and when Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over as Prime Minister on 1st November 2003 and the general election was held five months later, the opposition got massacred. The ‘Hate Mahathir’ or Anti-Mahathir Campaign no longer worked since Abdullah and not Mahathir was the Prime Minister during the March 2004 general election.

And this is the same mistake the opposition is making today. And that is why the opposition is going to fail, yet again, like it did in 1999 and 2004. If they do not name who is going to be the next Prime Minister they are in trouble. And if they name the next Prime Minister from the opposition they are also in trouble. And do not for one minute think that this is coincidental and is not part of Najib’s strategy to checkmate the opposition.

Mukhriz is so lembab if you name him as Pakatan’s candidate for Prime Minister the opposition is going to get massacred

Raja Petra Kamarudin