How a united opposition can win GE14 Part 1

Uniting the opposition

This article repeats what I have written in past articles. The reason is I want to gather these ideas together to form a comprehensive strategy for the opposition to win GE14.

In Western democracies it is said, the opposition does not win elections, it is the government which loses them. In Malaysia, the BN government is embroiled in so many scandals that would have destroyed other democratic governments many times over and yet Najib Razak has emerged stronger than ever. Why?

This article suggests that to be successful, the opposition must:

  1. Be united.
  2. Provide a vision of what Malaysia would be like if they took over. Constantly attacking Najib over the various 1MDB related scandals cannot substitute for this vision.
  3. Put to rest the Malay fear of domination by the Chinese, exemplified by the Chinese majority DAP dominating the opposition.
  4. Figure out how to deal with the Malays’ loyalty and sentimental attachment to UMNO. See Part 2
  5. Settle issues regarding the place and role of Islam in the country, as exemplified by hudud. See Part 3

This article suggests that the following operational principles or tools can achieve the above objectives. Some of them are new to Malaysians, but unless we are open to new ideas and willing to make changes to our mind set, attitude, and approach to politics, we will continue to make the same mistakes and be trapped in the same mess.

  1. Have an agreed, specific and publicised programme of action, commonly called a manifesto.
  2. Be willing to announce that, in the event of victory in GE14, the opposition will govern for only a limited time, e.g. 1 year, to implement a limited, specific and agreed manifesto.
  3. Face problems head-on and solve them; do not shove them under the carpet, hoping they will disappear or only explode after the elections.
  4. The broad tent principle, i.e. be willing to work with others to achieve shared objectives, while agreeing to disagree on other objectives. An example is working with PAS to eradicate corruption in government while, at the same time, opposing hudud.
  5. Oppose those whose political opinions we do not agree with as a friend and not an enemy. As Abraham Lincoln said “I destroy my enemies by making them my friends”. See Part 3.

Uniting the Opposition with a limited time, limited program electoral pact

By opposition I mean PAS, PKR, DAP, Amanah, PSM, and Dr Mahathir’s new party, Bersatu. Unfortunately, I know nothing of Sabah and Sarawak politics and my remarks only apply to Peninsular Malaysia.

Utilising the principle of not sweeping problems under the carpet, we must admit that the differences between the political agendas of the opposition parties are huge and the personal relations between their leaders poor. PAS wants hudud, DAP is fiercely against. PAS and Amanah compete for the Islamic vote: if one gains, the other loses. Bersatu presumably supports the NEP and positive discrimination in favour of Bumiputras whereas PKR and DAP wants to eradicate poverty irrespective of race. It is impossible for this group to govern for 5 years without breaking up.

But the opposition parties do agree on fighting corruption in government, institutional reform and the repeal of oppressive laws. In this regard, it is interesting that PAS has not entered into an electoral pact with UMNO, despite Hadi Awang’s partiality for Najib, as shown in many of his statements. Though PAS is happy to receive UMNO support to implement hudud in Kelantan, they have not condoned corruption in government in return, as evidenced by PAS leaders denouncing the 1MDB scandals, especially by Tuan Ibrahim bin Man, PAS deputy president.

It is therefore possible and credible for the opposition parties to form a temporary coalition to fight GE14 on a platform to implement a limited, specific and agreed program of eradicating corruption in government, institutional reform and repeal of oppressive laws. Such a coalition means opposition parties must leave out of their GE14 manifesto positions on the economy, education, position of Islam, etc. which other parties do not agree with.

However, it would be unnatural to expect political parties to put on hold their differences for 5 years till GE15. It is reasonable to ask PAS to suspend their drive to implement hudud in Kelantan for one year in order to eradicate corruption in government, but not for 5 years. Neither can the country wait that long before debating and deciding on key policies in the economy, education, etc.

Therefore, a necessary condition for the formation of this temporary coalition is the operational principle that the opposition parties announce that, in the event of victory in GE14, they will govern for only a limited time, e.g. 1 year, to implement a limited, agreed program. Following this, an early GE15 will then be called, at which the parties will be able to fight each other over their different political ideologies.

Let us call this limited time, limited program coalition Pakatan Sementara untuk Menyelamatkan Malaysia.

Since the objectives of the coalition are at national level, there is no need to extend co-operation between opposition parties to state elections. At this level opposition parties may fight each other if they wish and the elected state government govern for the normal term of 5 years.

Other advantages of the limited time, limited program pact

Such a will help resolve that nightmare and wrecking ball of political coalitions – seat allocations. All political parties want to expand and to do this, they must fight as many seats as possible. It will be easier for them to give up seats if the sacrifice is for 1 year, and not for 5.

Malaysia faces many issues which will need to be decided democratically through elections. But we cannot decide all these issues at one election. If we ask the voters whether they want a corrupt government or not and, at the same time, we ask them whether they want hudud or not, we will get a muddled answer.

It will lead to voters who are anti-corruption and anti hudud voting for a pro corruption and anti hudud candidate as the lesser evil to an anti-corruption but pro hudud candidate. Similarly, an anti-corruption but pro hudud voter may vote a pro corruption and pro hudud candidate as the lesser evil.

Such a limited time, limited program pact will be very reassuring to the Malay voter who wants to eradicate corruption in government, but at the same time is fearful that the opposition is Chinese dominated. He will know exactly what the opposition will do if it gains power at GE14. At the same time, he will be reassured that if the new government does not perform up to expectations, he can vote against it in one year’s time.

In fact, the above remarks also applies to voters of all races who lack confidence in the opposition. If the opposition wins GE14, it will be the first time ever that the country is not ruled by an UMNO dominated government. Further the opposition has a history of quarrelling amongst themselves. It is natural for people to have doubts. Knowing exactly what the opposition will do if it gains power and its willingness to serve a probationary period of 1 year can be a tipping point for doubters.

Drawing up a Citizens’ Manifesto

How do we draw up this limited, specific and agreed program for action?

Traditionally political manifestoes have been drawn up by party leaders with little input from party members and the rakyat. This time round the opposition is divided and opposition party leaders show no inclination to present their vision for the future of the country. Citizens will have to step forward to make up for the failings of our politicians by formulating a Citizens’ Manifesto.

Thousands of ordinary people, academics, NGO leaders, and MPs will have ideas on how the country should be reformed. Some of these ideas are published in newspapers or online sites. Up till now, these ideas are here to-day and gone to-morrow. There is no way to collect these ideas together in an easily accessible library for reference and development through debate and discussion.

To fill this deficiency, I have gathered ideas, proposals, and background information on items for a Citizens’ Manifesto into an electronic database in my website. The rakyat is invited to think about, find information on, discuss, choose, and propose their own ideas for inclusion in the Citizens’ Manifesto. It will form a pool of ideas from which political parties can select their manifestos not only for GE14 but for future elections to come. For further details, see Formulating a Citizens’ Manifesto.

Glib talk about institutional reform is too imprecise to have much value. Dictators too have vowed to defend “fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution” and to restore the “integrity of the institutions”. As Dr Kua Kia Soong said “Malaysians demand concrete reforms, not sloppy slogans.”

Items in this Citizen’s manifesto will be detailed, concrete, and specific, such as:

  1. The chairman of the Public Accounts committee must be a member of the opposition.
  2. Transferring the power of the PM to appoint Judges, AG, IGP, etc. to an independent, non political Commission
  3. A list of all Acts to be repealed should be compiled and proposed amendments to Acts drafted out in full.

The necessary condition for Pakatan Sementara to function effectively

For Pakatan Sementara to function effectively, it has to stick to the broad tent operational principle, i.e. the willingness to work with others who have objectives we disagree with, in order to achieve other shared objectives.

In other words, Pakatan Sementara must be based on a consensus model of decision making, willingness to compromise, agreement to disagree if necessary, and the right of a party to unilaterally promote a policy which the other parties do not agree with, combined with the right of the other parties to oppose this policy openly and publicly.

Let us take the Sedition Act as an example. For many, repeal of the Sedition Act is the cornerstone of reform. But when Najib proposed repealing the Sedition Act, Mahathir was in the forefront of UMNO criticism against it. What is Mahathir’s and Bersatu’s position now?

If they cannot sign up to the repeal of the Sedition Act, should Pakatan Sementara part company with Mahathir and Bersatu? No, for they may represent strong Malay fears that if the Sedition Act is repealed, it would open the door for unscrupulous politicians to start questioning the constitutionally guaranteed special rights of Bumiputeras, etc. A compromise should be sought and one is available.

Experience in other countries show that the number of sedition cases drop to almost zero, if intent to provoke violence to overthrow the government by force must be proven before a guilty verdict can be handed down. Our present Sedition Act considers intent as irrelevant. A solution acceptable to both sides may be not to repeal but to amend the Sedition Act, keeping those sections important to the Malay community but introducing the principle of intent. For more information, click here.

In addition to institutional reform, Pakatan Sementara should include in their manifesto bread and butter items on which they can agree, such as abolishing GST. Debate should continue on items they cannot agree on, in order to show the rakyat that the component parties of Pakatan Sementara understand the problems faced by ordinary people and, even if they cannot be solved at GE14, the items will be on the manifestoes of component parties for GE15.

Some, particularly the DAP, think that if component parties of a coalition are allowed to express different views on a topic, the public will lose confidence in the coalition. I do not agree. Provided the coalition has a clear, agreed core program of action, I am certain the public appreciates an open and honest discussion of differences. The idea that everybody must be forced to say he same thing, “singing from the same hymn sheet” as the English say, is old fashioned, outdated and stands in the way of achieving desirable political objectives.

The alternatives are worse. Either the differences are shoved under the carpet and dismissed, as Mahathir and Lim Kit Siang did over the Citizens’ Declaration by insisting that Najib is toppled first before discussing what is to replace him. This is equivalent to telling a person “Your house is in bad condition. We will tear it down. When you are homeless, only then will we think of how to build you a new one.”

Or the opposition (especially DAP and PAS) in their arrogance deceive themselves that they will win Putrajaya even with 3 cornered fights. Hopefully the results of the Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-elections and Sarawak state elections have forced them to face reality.

Role of civil society

Civil society is useful to political coalitions. We provide fresh ideas, reassurance to the public that proposals are made in the public interest and not for the benefit of politicians and can act as honest brokers in disputes between component parties. As Bersih is the umbrella body for civil society NGOs, it should offer these services to Pakatan Sementara through a seat at its top decision making table. As Bersih is nonpartisan and is against bad practices and not against any particular party, it should offer similar advice on eradicating corruption in government to BN as well.

But unlike the Citizens’ Declaration, Bersih’s representatives at the top table must not be personal invitees of Dr Mahathir or anybody else, but representatives elected by Bersih’s sponsoring NGOs to represent their views and not their own personal views.

For civil society to achieve what we want, we must be focused, work smart, be quick on our feet and in our thought. We must strike a consensus that, in present circumstances, the best chance for change is by the opposition winning GE14. We cannot afford distractions like Bersih 5, yet another demonstration in KL where we will only be talking to the converted and giving an opportunity to the Red Shirts to make trouble. This in turn may give Najib an excuse to use the powers of the new National Security Act.

Some give up hope on GE14, saying that if Najib loses, he will stage a coup to remain in power.  The reply to this kind of thinking is this. If we do not prepare to fight GE14, we leave an open goal for Najib to win democratically and claim legitimacy. He will have no need to stage a coup.

Never been heard of before, never been done before in Malaysia

Mahathir comes close to the proposals in this article when he wrote “traditional political rivals, who have set aside their differences for the Citizens’ Declaration, can continue their feud after democracy is restored.” I extend the idea further by asking political rivals to set aside their differences for one year only in order to win GE14 and save the country.

I realise that some of the proposals in this article have never been heard of before, never been done before in Malaysia. I challenge anyone to fault the logic behind these proposals. The barriers to implementation are in the mind, not in the physical world. It will be interesting to see if Malaysians can rise to the challenge of changing our mind set, attitude, and approach to politics.

For Part 2, Getting UMNO supporters to vote opposition, click here.

Part 3, Opposing hudud as a critical friend and not as an enemy, is being consulted on and will be published soon.

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