NB: This article was originally published in my column on The Malaysian Insider.
This is the story of a man who became prime minister not very long ago.
This man however, had not been elected into the premiership, and consequently has never earned his own governing mandate. He had succeeded into the job when his predecessor was forced to resign under internal pressure. While the coup was not entirely of his own orchestration, this prime minister had played an important albeit implicit role in facilitating it.
His predecessor is an altogether different story. Initially elected with much fanfare by a buoyant nation on a platform of hope and change after years of rule by an authoritarian and right-of-centre leadership, his premiership had by its tail-end been reduced to a lethargic disappointment. Though heavily criticised and the subject of mass ridicule, he was still able to pull through with a mediocre win at the general election. Remaining defiant, he announced that he would fulfil the mandate of the people and see through his term as prime minister.
However, his own party members had other plans. Disenchanted with his leadership, the internal politicking began. New pacts were formed, loyalties shifted and deals were cut. Attention now turned to our protagonist, the then-number two, a man long known for his loyalty and methodical methods.
Convinced that the gamble would pay off, he began to make his moves. Though his actions were not overt, the die was cast and the message was clear. In the end, faced with open revolt and under immense pressure, the incumbent prime minister had no choice but to announce that he would step aside within a year. Even that was too long and before the year was up, his premiership had crumbled to an abrupt end.
Expectations were high for the new prime minister. In an elaborate campaign to both distinguish himself from his predecessor and spruce up his public image, he took on the mantle of a statesman with vision for leadership and change.
This led to a popularity high and favourable approval ratings. Soon, the opportunity for snap polls presented itself. With the benefits of a honeymoon period still lingering, it would have been the perfect time to call it. Yet an indecisive itch overcame him and he decided against it at the last minute. Instead, he thought it best to proceed with a smaller-scale local election in order to gauge the sentiment of the people.
In hindsight, that was perhaps his biggest mistake. His party grossly underperformed at the local polls, and whatever momentum previously gained had dissipated with a whimper.
As days went by, the public began to realise that a man who has been a part of the system for so long is really incapable of change. His promises of a better future began to ring hollow amidst growing economic uncertainty. The longer he was into his administration, the more problems unravelled. Financial irregularities and scandals involving his party members made dimmer and dimmer the prospect of a desirable moment for a general election.
Yet the prime minister kept waiting and waiting, until by the time he knew it, his government’s term of office was up. In the end, what was supposed to have been snap polls that would have leveraged upon his then-popularity and caught his opponents by surprise had become an exercise that was easily predicted by all and sundry.
Having rigorously prepared for so long, the hungry opposition wasted no time in pouncing aggressively. Without the element of surprise, the prime minister had lost the upper hand and soon found himself on the defensive. Election Day came and the nation delivered its result. Though not very conclusive, it was certainly very clear about one thing: the people had rejected the prime minister.
After a short period of denial and desperate attempts at forming a coalition, the prime minister had little choice but to accept his fate. Indecisiveness, poor decision-making and the inability to carry out necessary reforms are traits that will characterise his legacy as a short-lived prime minister who had never won his own mandate.
This is the story of the former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.