By William de Cruz
COMMENT Behind the election stalemate gripping Malaysia is a Pakatan Rakyat government-in-waiting powered by an Islamist party that was once the font of paranoia and fear.
And for the first time, many Malaysians are willing to embrace such a historic opportunity, which only years ago would have been considered preposterous.
Anwar Ibrahim, the Pakatan prime minister-to-be, is now powerfully positioned to articulate a vision of a new Malaysia when – not if – today’s tripartite opposition becomes tomorrow’s government.
Political and financial scandals make for a wonderful arsenal, but Pakatan needs to wage peace and prosperity for Malaysians.
Framing such a vision and articulating its policies clearly and repeatedly is now the job of the alternative government.
Between now and possibly till next April, by when premier Najib Abdul Razak is by constitutional mandate required to hold elections, PKR, the DAP and PAS must target the electoral divide to convince undecided voters and even BN supporters that a new Malaysia will not be scarred by a troubled reawakening of the national psyche and body politic.
PKR, DAP and PAS must together win over those who may yet stand unconvinced that a Pakatan electoral victory in GE13 will not usher in religious extremism, more racial division, violence, retribution and, by no means least, the economic malaise that all too often courts civil unrest and, if we may paraphrase the ever-alarmist and fear-mongering BN, regime change.
Amid talk that secret research presented to BN shows a 55-year-old government probably retaining anything between 80 and 120 federal seats out of 222, these ‘swing’ voters can render unto Pakatan what is Pakatan’s, and Malaysia’s.
A clear and present danger in the minds of many Malaysians is the possibility that PAS will revert to fundamentalism once Pakatan unseats BN.
In a living room just outside Kuala Lumpur, a seasoned journalist says: “Malaysians need to see pictures of Kit Siang and Hadi Awang standing together and convincing people that Islamic extremism is not on the agenda.”
In a café in the heart of KL, the question of whether PAS will turn after Pakatan wins is tabled. An agitator for sweeping reform suggests that “PAS will want to be re-elected after GE13.”
In other words, PAS cannot afford to revert to its old ways if it wants to stay in government for the long haul.
Malaysians need to hear this from Pakatan, in no uncertain terms, and they need to keep hearing it like a mantra. Tackling this fear head-on is so vital, the journalist said, that Pakatan should issue a “policy template”, to which all its politicians must strictly adhere under pain of disciplinary action at party level, if not expulsion.
Becoming Malaysian again
Bridging the racial divide that took a life of its own under the tutelage of Dr Mahathir Mohamed should be almost as important as winning the election for Pakatan.
One searing afternoon recently, an ardent advocate of racial understanding suggested Pakatan “should tell the people” that, when it wins government, it will make Chinese manage affairs in a predominantly Malay constituency, send Malays to run an Indian area and so on…“so we begin to understand one another again”, she said.
For Pakatan, this would not set a precedent, but nothing could be more simple, or profound a strategy, if it were pushed further and deeper into the system so Malaysians may once again become simply Malaysian.
Mahathir deservedly rues the possibility that Anwar will treat him exactly like he treated his former DPM. However, Anwar would do well to measure the political expediency of some sort of amnesty for the small fish, who fear not only ouster from government but criminal prosecutions that will net and in all likelihood imprison their closest cronies, friends and family.
At street level, mitigating the fear of a sweeping purge that must run rampant among the rank and file of the police and military would be crucial to underpinning any promise of a peaceful transition of political power; ditto for the civil service.
But there are crimes, and then there are crimes, and justice must seen to be done for the worst cases.
In nearly any other truly democratic system, and to convey its message to the masses, Pakatan would have access to all media platforms, an unrestricted ability to campaign and the sort of taxpayer funding that an opposition is granted under parliamentary tenet.
But this is Malaysia, and the difficulties Pakatan faces in communicating its policies, ceramahs notwithstanding, therefore require that a new government must also bring about two vital changes to the political environment.
First, it must extinguish all state involvement in the mass media. It must forever be unacceptable for any political party to have a financial stake in media organisations like Utusan Malaysia, New Straits Times, Star, Berita Harian, national news agency Bernama and RTM.
Political patronage and ownership of the mass media is simply untenable in any functioning democracy.
Second, Pakatan must guarantee by law that all political parties in a parliamentary opposition are sufficiently funded to function effectively as a check and balance to any future Malaysian government.
It is also imperative that Pakatan navigates the ideological chasm between itself and Bersih, the ever growing civil society movement whose only goal is thorough reform of an electoral system in which Malaysians have lost all confidence.
Pakatan and Bersih strengthen one another, but it is Bersih’s purity of purpose – electoral reform – that has allowed it to draw the support of Malaysians from across the political, racial and religious spectrums.
Bersih will forever stand independent of political parties, and so it should be, because Bersih has offered a priceless and novel opportunity in Malaysia – change of government by the will of the people.
Malaysians who have awakened to the power of a free and fair electoral system, and the very real likelihood of regime change just around the corner, will reserve the right to kick out any other government that does not meet the highest standards they shall demand of all politicians, and Pakatan will not be the exception. – Mkini
WILLIAM DE CRUZ, who is based in Australia, is back home to vote.