What the Opposition must do in the Coming Election:
Address the Issues Clearly and Consistently

A Coffee Shop Conversation

Aliran's Roving Correspondent eavesdropped into this conversation among Zul, Leong and Muthu in an Ipoh coffeeshop recently. It would be a treat to visualise this conversation being enacted in a future episode of the Kopitiam TV series. One hopes.

Leong: It's partly our fault, too, you know. We keep giving the BN massive majorities. Mahathir always cites the BN's win as voters' endorsement of everything - the ISA, the Univesities and University Colleges Act, privatisation, and so on.

Muthu: We must send a clear message to the government this time. Malaysians are fed up with cronyism. We oppose the way that our Judiciary and the Police have been subverted for a political vendetta. We are disappointed that our EPF is being used to bail out certain companies at a time when all our appeals for the setting-up of a Retrenchment Fund for workers of bankrupted companies are ignored. We are against the use of the ISA.

Zul: Yes. Let me add the Anwar case to your list, as well as the harsh way the Reformasi people are being treated. You are right! It is crucial for us to vote for the opposition this elections. Otherwise the BN leaders will keep doing more of the same and more brazenly too. Malaysia will go down the drain if we continue to support the BN.

Leong: We must all work to deny the BN a 2/3 majority this time.Zul: Why only that? Let's boot them out! A lot of my Malay friends are very angry with the way the government has been mishandling the Anwar issue. They,...er...I want this BN government out of office! This will serve as a warning to all future governments that the Malaysian public will not tolerate abuse of power!

Muthu: I am not too sure. We do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water! This country needs an efficient and stable government.

Zul: How many of the present Cabinet members are of any calibre? Not only ethically, but even intellectually and technically? Many of those with calibre have been sidelined – only the yes-men are left! The opposition leaders, on the other hand, are in politics for their principles and not for material advancement. Aren't there enough capable leaders in all the opposition parties to take over the Cabinet and do a good job?

Leong: I don't know Zul. A lot of the non-Malays are frightened by PAS' stated objective of creating an Islamic State.

Zul: I personally believe that our political system should remain secular. That is the only way to ensure the free participation of all ethnic groups in our government. However, you must admit that PAS has done quite a good job in Kelantan. They have set up an inter-religious council at State level. They have approved the building of several temples including one which was previously stalled by the previous BN government. They are fairly uncorrupt, and their MB is simple and humble. And Muthu, you yourself have told me that they have begun implementing workers' housing schemes in some of the estates there.

Leong: But they want to set up an Islamic State in Malaysia. How can I vote for them? I don't want to vote for an Islamic State!

Zul: Hey! Don't get carried away. To establish an Islamic State, PAS would have to amend the Constitution. They would need to win a 2/3 majority. Even for the combined opposition to win a simple majority is about 50-50. How can PAS win 2/3 alone? It means winning 128 seats! Bolehkah?

Leong: Okay let's leave aside Constitutional amendmends. What about laws requiring a simple majority. PAS could use its position within the ruling opposition coalition to push through some Islamic laws.

Zul: What is wrong if the laws are based on principles of justice and equality that are found in Islam? You know, the same principles are also found in all the religions?

Leong: I don't know-lah. I just feel uncomfortable with the whole idea of Islamic laws. Maybe I don't know enough about them, but then shouldn't I and others like me be persuaded? Educate me, convince me before you pass these laws. If PAS wants the non-Malays to vote for them in this coming elections can't they drop their Islamisation Vision from their party agenda?

Muthu: Hey! Mana boleh? You can't ask them to do that. That is the ideology and vision – the soul - of their political struggle and their party. You can't ask DAP to drop their ideology of a Malaysian Malaysia, or the newly formed Parti Sosialis Malaysia to drop their vision for a socialist Malaysia.But what we can legitimately ask PAS is that they refrain from bulldozing through any Islamic legislation. They should consult all the different ethnic groups sincerely before they push laws like that. They must respect the fact that a significant number of votes for PAS this time will be votes against nepotism, cronyism and the abuse of power that the BN is responsible for. These votes are not necessarily for Islamisation, and PAS should respect that.

Zul: Well said. But how about the DAP's programme then? There are Malays who are apprehensive that a vote for the DAP is a vote against the special privileges for the Bumiputeras. Shouldn't the DAP also be asked to take cognisance that not all the votes for them are in support of their Malaysian Malaysia concept? So they, too, should not use the legislative clout that we hand to them to push through programmes based on that vision. As with the issue of Islamisation and the non-Malays, the Malays should be persuaded to understand and accept that perhaps the time has come to gradually phase out the special privileges. But this should come about through dialogue and understanding, and no attempt must be made to withdraw these privileges until a proper consensus emerges on this.

Muthu: Yes, we can't ask any of the opposition parties to drop their long-term agendas. They can continue educating the Malaysian public as to the long-term benefits of their respective vision for Malaysia. But they should come out and state categorically that they understand that a significant portion of the votes given to them are votes against the dictatorial actions of the BN of late. They are votes against BN and not necessarily endorsements of particular opposition programmes. The opposition should, therefore, use the legislative power that we give them to wipe out cronyism, cut down corruption, re-establish the independence of the Judiciary and the integrity of the Police, review the process of privatisation, and things like that.

Leong: Hey, wait a minute. How come specifically caution the PAS and the DAP to guard against using the votes given them this election to push through their agenda, but not a word of caution to my party, the Parti Sosialis Malaysia? Smacks of disrepect you know!

Zul: Hahaha! How many seats do you expect to win?

Muthu: The same holds for the PSM as well. You can't use the votes you win in this elections to bulldoze socialist programmes through. Education of the Malaysian public should take precedence. However if you feel that the Malaysian public are ready to accept your vision, document that through a proper referendum before you legislate.

Leong: Yah! That's better!

Muthu: I feel very strongly about what I said earlier (voice getting louder): * that the opposition parties should come out and state clearly that they fully understand the context in which people are casting votes for them; * that they will not push their "partisan" visions without reaching a consensus among all opposition parties; and * that they will consult the people, perhaps even hold a referendum before pushing through laws that are in pursuit of their own long-term agendas.If they are not explicit in this, then the BN will counter-attack very vehemently and effectively during the last 3 to 4 days before the polling using their control of the television and the radio to scare the people into voting for the BN.

Zul: Won't work this time, you know. The credibility of the Barisan media is at an all time low!

Muthu: We can't afford to be complacent. In a 50-50 situation, it won't take much to turn the tables! We must address the fact that many Malays who will have to choose between BN and DAP are not comfortable with the DAP's position. Similarly, many non-Malays who will have to choose between PAS and BN are apprehensive about PAS' Islamisation goal. These issues have to be addressed clearly and consistently from the start, and in a principled manner!