Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lessons from Bagan Pinang by-election

PR must win on own merits not the demerits of BN

The Bagan Pinang by-election as expected gave Barisan Nasional(BN) the much-awaited victory after a series of losses. However it was the majority of loss that came as a shock. The Pakatan Rakyat(PR) was expected to put up a stronger fight to reduce the majority of the BN but instead it disappointed their supporters by losing so badly.
Although so many reasons can be offered for their miserable showing by PR, the underlying cause was complacency. It took the people’s support for granted making the same mistake of the Barisan Nasional (BN) before. It is deeply disturbing how it can become so overconfident within a short period of just 18 months and with the BN holding a noose around its neck, tugging it each time it makes a right move.

In fact the BN, under the leadership of Datuk Seri Najib Razak, despite all its shortcomings is trying hard to show that it is willing to reach out to the people at large. Its 1Malaysia policy, liberalization of economic policies and Najib’s personal efforts to woo the people especially the Chinese and Indians with pledges of equality for all are definitely positive moves although are scorned off by the Pakatan as political rhetoric which nevertheless may be so. He may not have convinced the majority of the people of his sincerity in wanting to bring change but he is definitely succeeding, with the help of the mainstream media.

On the contrary the PR does not seem to show the same enthusiasm and commitment as before to reach out to the people with problems which they promised with their ‘ketuanan rakyat’ slogan. Its component parties, towards each other PKR, DAP and PAS, who were very compromising before March 8,2008 have hardened their stand after their win and coming into power in some states. Each is now intent on championing to further their own cause instead of fighting for the common good of the people as a united opposition coalition.

The last 12GE and the subsequent by-elections that followed clearly showed that in order to win, a candidate or the party he represents, needs the support of all races. In most constituencies the support from any one race alone will not be sufficient to win. This is a wonderful situation which gives every race a significant voice in deciding the winner of any election.

The Bagan Pinang by-election further reinforced this fact where the BN’s candidate,Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad, won a landslide victory due to the overwhelming support of not just the Malays but the Chinese and Indians as well. In fact 67% of the Malays and 73% of non-Malays supported Isa in this by-election. It was very encouraging, despite the tactics to divide them, the people of all races were united in deciding who to vote. It further reinforces the fact that the people are willing to unite above their ethnic divide to vote for a candidate or party whom they love. Ethnicity was not major factor; it is only made one by political opportunists.

Najib and BN seem to have realized this need to garner across the board support from all races but unfortunately PR failed to do so as they took the voters for granted. Fiery speeches and criticisms of their opponents alone are not going to convince the voters. They need to see concrete actions of their sincerity and capabilities. The people are aware of the unfair and unfavorable environment the PR is working but they must at see that it is trying to do its best under the most difficult circumstances. Time is not its side so are the media and government machinery. The only favorable factor on their side is the people support or ‘Makkal Sakti’ and even that seems to be eluding them as it is being hijacked by BN.

It is time for PR to find ways and means to win the hearts of the people not just by their words but more so by their actions that must be seen to always consistent with their pledge to uphold their interests at all times. It could have won on the demerits of BN but it cannot continue to so for long. It must strive to gain its own merits for long-term wins in future elections.

The numerous public spats over many issues between PAS, PKR and DAP did not go down well with the people. They only helped to highlight the differences between them not the commonness. Most right thinking Malaysians, and there many these days, had expected these differences to be settled amicably without the unnecessary negative publicity but sadly they were not.

They have created doubts in the minds of the people on the capabilities of the PR to rule the nation one day. Can they trust the nation in the hands of three warring parties each fighting to impose their ideological system that is detested by the others? The people are more mature today to make such an unwise move.

PAS must discard its fundamentalist ideas and Islamic state agenda as even the growing middle class Malays are getting jittery over them. The DAP must rid of its Chinese chauvinistic label and adopt a truly multiracial appeal at all levels. It must not keep blaming its problems of the past Umno-BN but be focused on solving the problems of the present that they inherited. The PKR must strive to rid of the BN mentality among its members who are there to just reap the benefits of money politics. It is disheartening to see that each time we have a by-election some PKR members cross over to the BN.

The components of PR, namely PAS,PKR and DAP must seriously push through for the creation of a formal Pakatan Rakyat as a legal entity with its own elected leaders and supreme council that is represented by all parties. This would enable them to contest as PR candidates and not PAS,PKR or DAP candidates. That would convince the people of their seriousness and capabilities in wanting to form the federal government. That would convince the people on the merits and viability of a two-party political system of governance.

Of course for a formal coalition to take shape there is a need for a lot of compromise on the part of all parties. The time has come for PKR,PAS and DAP to make the all important decision – are they willing to put the long-term interest of the nation and its people above their own parties’ short-term benefits?

The 12GE has shown that they should and the recent Bagan Pinang by-election showed that if they don’t they will perish and become a part of history which future generations of Malaysians will detest on reading of the missed golden opportunity.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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