|Up to now, he has been unable to surmount the hurdles and that is why he failed on Sept 16 and will fail again. He is unlikely to see the inside of the prime minister’s office in Putra Jaya unless he successfully clears these hurdles.
This is the case even if he has the numbers. Depending on who you talk to, he is said to have 31 to 42 MPs behind him. This is the reality of politics here and anywhere where democracy is weak and personalities dominate national politics.
While, theoretically, the public will is paramount, entrenched institutions have a big say on who becomes prime minister. One instance is the King, who, although he is a constitutional monarch, still has a big say on who governs the country.
Not only is the King’s support crucial for Anwar to achieve his aims but support from the Rulers as an entrenched institution is essential.
The backing of the Rulers is essential, not just for the technicalities of convening parliament, taking a vote of confidence or the swearing in of a new government, but more as an integral part of the political establishment of Malaysia.
Anwar’s image as a rabble-rouser, earned from his days as an Islamic firebrand, stands in his way now as he battles from the outside to change the government. The worry is he is seeking to rewrite the rules and change the status quo.
Is he just replacing the leadership or rewriting the rules? Is he a republican or a monarchist?
He has not yet convinced the country’s monarchs, who are also, crucially, the heads of Islam in their domains, that he will defend the status-quo including their positions.
Another entrenched institution that needs convincing is the army, and, by extension, the police force which sees him as an agitator who will potentially destabilise the status quo.
The recent statement by the armed forces chief that the military is worried race and religious disputes are destabilising the country should be taken in the context of the constant refrain from Anwar that he would topple the government.
Any armed forces would worry about what is really being toppled?
By voicing their concern, the armed forces signalled that they will defend the status quo – meaning the institutions of the Raja Raja Melayu, Islam and the related political establishment – including current structures i.e. bureaucracy, state government structures, the established economic policies and the open investment climate – all of which together makes up the status quo.
Any established military, and ours is one such force, is for the status quo. It will defend the status quo against any grab for power from a leader considered “outside” the political establishment.
Originally, Anwar came in from the outside as a radical student leader in the 1970s and rose rapidly up the ranks in Umno only to be thrown out again. Now that he is trying to come back again from the “outside,” it is natural for the “insiders” to be cautious and apprehensive of his motives.
What does he really want to change? That is a natural question entrenched stakeholders would ask. Anwar has to explain and convince, not just collect the numbers and head to the palace.
The door will not open otherwise.
Although he may have a majority of the public behind him, he has a lot of convincing to do to put powerful institutions at ease. No easy task for a man with an agitator’s image.
Anwar’s aides go to great lengths to say that he has already met the King or is going to meet him to clear the way. But that is not enough; he has to find a tactful way to assure not just the King, but also the Rulers as an institution and the many royalists who populate Malay society, that the change is benign not malignant.
The third hurdle Anwar faces is the one million-strong bureaucracy, 90 per cent of whom are Malay and Muslim, without whose support his chances of competently running the country is near zero.
In fact, it would ruin the country if he wins power and the civil service drags its feet.
Unlike in other countries where governments are frequently changed and the civil servants soldier on, here the bureaucracy has had only one master – the Barisan Nasional.
In fact, one of the key issues in the Pakatan Rakyat-ruled states of Selangor and Perak is a disobedient bureaucracy. This problem is minimal in the “Muslim” states of Kelantan and Kedah with the civil servants accepting their new masters as one of their own.
Anwar had attempted to meet senior civil servants, with some success his aides say, to assure them that basic policies will remain and institutional interest would be protected against encroachment i.e. a more racially balanced civil service.
Nevertheless, an obedient, helpful and functioning bureaucracy is a major factor and Anwar has to win them over in a manner convincing enough that investors and stakesholders are satisfied that the elephant in the room would cooperate proactively.
The last major hurdle is the divisions and diverging interests in his own Pakatan Rakyat coalition, with ally PAS having radically different views of how the country should be governed from that held by another ally, the DAP.
Up to now, Anwar and his people are “closing an eye” to the differences without actually working to resolve major issues.
The thinking, for now, is that the main struggle is to capture power and they believe everything else would fall in place after that.
Such a rationale has not convinced the entrenched stakeholders who believe differences should be resolved now to show that PR is a viable alternative to the BN.
PAS has repeated numerous times that they will not back a new government that is “not Islamic”. They have proposed that PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang is the “best person” to be prime minister of the new Malaysia.
Up to now nobody in the PR – neither PKR nor DAP – is taking the PAS position seriously.
It is also not clear which of the parties – PKR, DAP or PAS – any potential defecting BN MPs will cross over to. Are they crossing over as individuals or as political parties joining Pakatan? Will everybody in a political party cross or only some?
Anwar has worked to show, in a convincing manner, the future shape of the political structure he will be heading. Is it a grand coalition or a collection of adventurous individuals?
There is a lot for work ahead for Anwar before he can confidently walk up to and knock on the palace gates. If he has the entrenched players behind him, the gates will be open when he arrives. Otherwise it will never open, even if he has the numbers.
Up to now, he has only succeeded in getting the people talking and thinking and accepting that a change of government is possible. That’s about all.
The ISA detentions last Friday, roundly condemned by all, show how thin the line is between fair play and foul play, between acceptance and coercion.
It gives a glimpse into the powerful entrenched forces that are arrayed against Anwar in his bid for power.