Muda’s dilemma: Locked out as supporting cast

FEBRUARY 9 — It’s not prom night but it stings to be the only kid not invited to the dance.

The unity government had a powwow in the city two nights ago and forgot to invite Muda, or as its full name tries to hide the youthful vigour of the party, Malaysian United Democratic Alliance.

Everyone else was there at the get-together. Even those just like Muda, possessing the bare minimum one parliamentary seat.

It gets less and less awkward to see Anwar Ibrahim share the stage with Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Anthony Loke and Wee Ka Siong. A post meeting photo-op of PKR, Umno, DAP, MCA, Warisan, MIC, PBB, Upko and everyone opposed to Perikatan Nasional [PN(PAS and Bersatu)], except of course Muda.

Thankfully, the whole Muda leadership was able to follow proceedings like the rest of Malaysia, on social media. With every chance to retweet.

If they still do not feel unwelcome, then maybe they deserve their predicament.

What are the chances that of all the invites to go missing it’d be Muda’s? And then for over 24 hours after the meeting, neither the leadership of Pakatan Harapan — which Muda is in — nor the new secretariat has apologised or attempted to rectify the matter.

This is not a hatchet job. This column has plenty of affinity for the fledgling party. It might even hold a balloon or two for its victory parade in the future.

It backed its right to be registered two years ago. It cheered aloud despite the initial efforts by Pakatan to disadvantage them a year ago at the Johor election.

Just before the general election months ago, it warned the party not to put all of its woke yoga eggs in the Pakatan nest, as the coalition would rather scramble them for breakfast.

Sure enough, almost three months on, Muda appears weaker than ever.

Is there an upside?

By association with Pakatan, it’s in the unity government. President Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman sits in the government bench next week for the first parliamentary session of term 2022-2027. Presumably some, even if few, plum posts in government have been passed to Muda.

But this is scant consolation. Muda had bigger aims. It wanted to be the fulcrum of a national resurgence. Instead, it has turned into a minor member of a bloated association of coalitions, crowded so much so the new group cannot ill-afford one seat for Muda, even at the children’s table.

Muda secretary-general Amir Hadi said — in jest, irony or condescension? — the party is not upset as much, perhaps the newly formed unity government secretariat could update them on what transpired at the meeting.

Let’s go with irked condescension.

The meeting decided on principles for co-operation heading to the six state elections, including head-to-head contests, and the newly-formed secretariat’s leadership, Gabungan Parti Sarawak’s Fadillah Yusuf and Barisan Nasional’s Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki.

This was a highly-strategic meeting and Muda was kept away and out of.

It is ominous for the party.

If Muda was only allocated five Pakatan seats to contest last year — from 222 — imagine how much less it gets now. The unity government ostensibly divvies up seats between the two coalitions (Pakatan and BN), who then proceed to split up among their coalition members. It is complicated and messy.

Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman sits in the government bench next week for the first parliamentary session of term 2022-2027. — Picture by Hari Anggara

When more players divide the opportunities, how will Muda fare?

For example, Muda contested in Selangor’s Tanjung Karang, and their candidate Siti Rahayu Baharin (Cikgu Rahayu) lost. The two state seats under it are Sungai Burong and Permatang. Both are traditional Umno seats, Bersatu’s win there in 2018 seemingly an aberration.

When the negotiations kick off, Pakatan will probably insist on all its safe seats in Selangor and it will also have to give in to BN — more like Umno — and that would mean seats like Sungai Burong and Permatang.

Therefore, caught between the proven track-record of Pakatan and Umno’s need to salvage some pride through a clean run in the northwest, Muda likely suffers.

The same is expected in Penang and Negeri Sembilan. It is in the PN strongholds of Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan where defeat is imminent for Pakatan that Muda might be handed a few races to fight.

The state elections may invariably lead to the shrinking of Muda in the public’s imagination.

What now brown cow?

The why helps with comprehension.

As the secretariat photo session from last Tuesday exhibits, the established order is just a coterie of old men with lengthy political histories.

Muda is an existentialist threat to the equation because it is not that.

Then why the absorption of Muda into Pakatan last year?

It is good to have Muda around to embellish the unity government’s youthfulness.

But even more than that, it is great to have Muda inside and strangle it in stages. Like the slow coil of a python.

They treat Muda like how they treat their own young children. Hold them with a metaphorical leash — attention, presence and endeavours set to fail— let them wear out their precocious nature and eventually tire. In a controlled process.

Over time, Muda ends up more like an NGO than a political party. At this stage, the leaders of the secretariat scoop up the restless talent.

It is telling that the secretary-general and not the party president Syed Saddiq has spoken up about the affront.

What can Syed Saddiq do? Personally, his brand is still valid and can always head off to one of the Pakatan parties, probably PKR or DAP.

But if a fight is what he wants, to lead his ragtag bunch to success on their own terms, then he has to change the game and not play the one presented to him by the elders.

This is the time, surely.

When the columnist was asked how many leaders below 50 today are likely to stay potent 10 years from now, no more than four names come to mind. A huge leadership vacuum is expected then, and if Muda is too timid the opportunity may go missing.

Not to stray wildly from this side to the other side, PN. Yet, there is ample evidence it won’t improve inside the unity government. It is tricky, very tricky. But to continue with the current path is unwise.

As Ren McCormack in Footloose said, “There’s a time to dance.” Rather than be shackled by the past, maybe Muda needs to break free and dance to its own tune.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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