"Son, the greatest trick the Devil pulled was convincing the world there was only one of him." - David Wong (John Dies at the End)

COMMENT Ex-prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's latest tirade against his former protégé, Anwar Ibrahim, continues the greatest Malaysian show on earth.

NONE"Better the devil you know than the angel you don't" may not be as Nurul Izzah Anwar (right) seems to think, a back-handed compliment to PM Najib Razak, but rather the wily former autocrat may be referring to the grand racial designs he imposed on Malaysia (which the majority of the Malaysian public willingly voted for) and the continuing influence he has within Umno.

Take this section 114A nonsense. The fact that the ‘public outcry' in the form of the Internet Blackout Day had the effect of making Najib have a possible rethink, but in the end proved ineffectual in actually changing anything proves that the so-called flip-flopping of the Najib regime is in actuality the dramatic evidence that the internal power struggles of Umno have reduced the Prime Minister's Office to merely a window-dressing role.

The public has never voted in a prime minister, only the party that chooses the prime minister from within its own ranks; hence we can judge how influential any given "prime minister" is by observing the internal power struggles within Umno. You can bet that during Mahathir's tenure if he didn't want such a law; there would be no question of its continued existence.

Ironically even with the flawed "election process" of PKR and the nature of the give and take of Pakatan Rakyat coalition partners, which is basically the same model of BN - that is, if the component party was doing its job instead of kowtowing to Umno - for the first time, Malaysians could be voting in a prime minister of their choice in the form of Anwar Ibrahim.

Nurul should not be relieved or allude to the fact that Mahathir did not compare any Pakatan politician to United States presidential candidate Mitt Romney because any objective or informed Malaysian observer of American politics would note (with great amusement) that Romney says very often of Barack Obama policies: "He promises you so much, but in the end who would end up paying for it? The answer? Your tax dollars". Just sayin'.

But what the hell (since we are talking about angels and devils), I would gamble my tax ringgit (in the voting booth) to see that Nurul has a chance of becoming the highest ranked civil servant in this country.

Dr M's accidental honesty
The funny thing is, this has been the most honest Mahathir has ever been. Well, when I say honest, I mean accidently honest. I don't think it was a conscious decision on his part.
But he got it right. What he means is that, everyone knows the system is corrupt but please don't vote for anyone else to control the corrupt system because Umno has been doing it so well since independence.

And he knows the partisan game well, too. He understands that since the tsunami of 2008, Pakatan has been playing the race game far better than his cohorts in BN. Beneath the multiracial visage of Pakatan beats the slow steady heart of a racialist Malaysia. Just like the Obama presidency did not herald the dawn of a post-racial America, neither did the 2008 election make us all Malaysians, regardless of skin colour, as some too loudly proclaim.

As the leaked PKR documents reveal, the racial game is still being played behind the supposed multiracial doors of Pakatan. Of course, this being Malaysia it would seem that ethnic relations is solely defined by Chinese/Malay interactions.

And why not? Penang under Lim Guan Eng is the model of how an efficient Malaysia could be run and no doubt this stokes the fires of inferiority that Umno continues to fan in a certain segment of the Malay polity.

NONEIn other words, Mahathir and Umno have made it very clear that Malay supremacy instead of any non-racial ideology is what legitimises BN's power and has brought "success" to this country. But what happens when a member of another community, a minority community, demonstrates that a non-sycophantic model of leadership proves objectively more successful than the race-based politics of patronage that have been peddled for years?

The leaked documents may, according to Penang Deputy Chief Minister Mansor Othman, highlight the genuine concerns of his party members - or should that be Chinese PKR members - but the reality is that the squabbles between a Chinese-dominated party and interlopers from a supposed multiracial party, which is in reality a Malay-dominated party, is just business as usual in the political landscape of Malaysia.

For Pakatan, still a racial game

The accusation of arrogance by Mansor of Lim hardly surprises me. I couldn't care less if Lim is arrogant and for me at least, it's a non-issue. If you can't stand up to those in power, you have no business claiming to represent those who voted for you to speak on their behalf. And if you have power and your arrogance lends nothing to your leadership capabilities and compromises the objectives you seek to accomplish, then you are of no use to anybody.

What is of greater interest is the racially-tinged bickering of seat allocations based on ethnic demographic and the perception that the ‘PKR Chinese' pose a threat to the hegemony of the DAP Chinese.

Mansor has since claimed that the whole issue is being spun to paint a picture of disunity amongst Pakatan.
NONEThe picture of Mansor arms linked with "God", or should that be a "god", is perhaps one of the most uncomfortable pictures of political unity in Malaysia, which is quite a feat considering what Umno has put out all these years.

What Pakatan should do is embrace this process as part and parcel of dismantling racial politics in this country - if that is their goal, that is. Issues like these should be part of the discourse amongst ‘opposition' types instead of trying to gloss over it and painting the problems of their politics on Umno.

Pakatan supporters here and elsewhere are tripping over themselves alternating between wringing their hands that such dirty linen is exposed to the public and chiding PKR as the weak link filled with frog hoppers used to the supposed old ways of Umno. Even Sekinchan assemblyperson Ng Suee Lim warns of MCA-type money politics seeping into the DAP, now that the party has established itself as the Chinese power base of the country.

It must have really pissed off the former prime minister and Perkasa patron that with all the racial politics going on in Pakatan, they can still maintain their ‘multiracial' facade and here BN is playing the exact same game but struggling to maintain their centrist position.

Actually Pakatan is not playing the same race game. It's a variation of the old race game because there is no centralised racial power base. It's an alliance built on tenuous compromises (is there any other kind in politics?) and fuelled by the hate for Umno-BN and let's face reality, for a certain section of the Malaysian voting public, the former prime minister himself.

And Mahathir is right to be worried that "many things can be destroyed in five years". He's probably right that BN may not survive if the "opposition" comes into power.

Mahathir frets that "officers in the government will be used to threaten whoever tries to change the government", meaning that what he is really afraid of is that Pakatan would use the same tricks that Umno-BN did to hamper the democratic process by using government institutions to abrogate the will of the people.

Choice between blue and red pills

To be honest, I share his fears too. Not that of BN's destruction, but rather that the system perfected under the Mahathir regime would be commandeered by a new regime which has shown no real commitment to the supposed philosophies that separate it from Umno-BN.

How do we begin the process of dismantling a bloated civil service? Will Islam be practiced differently? Is a welfare state the only option? Will we forever be a subsidised nation? How are we going to reform institutions that have suffered decades of abuse?

Now, I am not making the argument that there is no difference between BN and Pakatan, which is the popular strawman put out there.

However as I have put forward in many articles we - and by "we" I mean those of us who believe that the need for a change in government is axiomatic - need to be very clear as to what these "changes" that we are fighting for mean beyond changes, which in reality merely reinforce an entrenched system that was designed (even if administered competently) to meet our racialist expectations, which in the long run would put an end to any idea of an egalitarian Malaysian identity, not to mention way of life.

Understand now, we need a two party or more accurately alliance system but the common refrain from Pakatan supporters is that after 55 years of corruption, we need a change which I am totally down with, but if we have two parties that are in substance offering us the same deal only with one party less corrupt than the other only because they have not been in power, how exactly is jumping between these two parties every four years going to make a difference in the long term?

Obama supporters didn't ask the tough questions about how exactly Obama would bring about change. They took comfort in the fact that George W Bush and John McCain (who ran perhaps one of the most boneheaded campaigns in American presidential elections) would be banished from the land for at least four years, and are now dejected by the supposed change that never happened. We should not fall into the same trap as them.

Never has there been a time in Malaysia, as it is now, where political parties are at the mercy of the voters. It is a pity that so far, we have not made much use of this opportunity. Or maybe this election is like the choice between taking the blue pill or the red one in the movie ‘Matrix'.

You take the former, you end back in the prison they created secure in your self-delusion, whereas you take the latter; you discover how deep the racial and political rabbit hole goes.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) in the Royal Malaysian Navy.