Instability Without a 2/3 Majority?

The following article is taken from the 1995 Election Special Issue of Aliran Monthly (Vol.15:3). Apart from the fact that Dr Mahathir has been in power for an additional four and a half years since then and the fact that the list of scandals and corruption cases have grown much longer, the message in this article is as applicable today as it was then in 1995. This is what is shocking and amazing. Nothing has changed for the better.

We urge you, fellow Malaysians, to rise to the occasion and do justice to your conscience when you cast your vote on 29 November 1999. The 4/5 majority that you gave the BN had not resulted in better governance; it did not reduce corruption; it did snot eliminate abuses; it did not prevent human rights violations; it did not guarantee freedom of speech and assembly; it did not protect the environment; it did not solve the housing problems; it did not ensure better healthcare; it did not provide quality education ...

You can make the difference. Use your vote wisely.

Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders have been telling the people that if the Barisan loses its 2/3 majority in Parliament we will have a weak government. A weak government will result in instability and chaos.

These leaders are not telling the truth. Even if the BN loses its 2/3 majority, we would still have a workable, effective government. For all that the opposition is hoping to secure is at least 64 seats. This means that the BN would still command more than 120 seats. 120 or 125 seats out of 192 is a big, comfortable majority by parliamentary standards anywhere in the world.

If we examined the electoral situation in most Western parliamentary democracies over the last 50 years (since the Second World War) we will realize that their governments have ruled successfully with much smaller majorities. In Japan, the previous ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has never enjoyed a 2/3 majority and yet it was able to rule quite effectively. In India, the largest democracy in the world, the ruling party has ruled without a 2/3 majority for long periods. The same goes for Sri Lanka.

In fact, ruling without a 2/3 majority is the norm in parliamentary democracies. Dictating to the people armed with a 2/3 majority in Parliament is in fact abnormal. This is why we want to make our democracy a normal democracy. We want a normal, healthy, functioning democracy.

Reducing the Barisanís 2/3 majority would result in this for the simple reason that it would still have at least a 60-seat lead over the combined opposition. This is because of a number of electoral and political factors. Whatever the extent of the opposition challenge in Sabah and Sarawak, it is almost certain that the Barisan parties there will be able to bag over 30 seats. In places like Pahang, Negeri Sembilan, Selangor and Southern and Central Perak, it is very likely that the BN will retain its formidable support. The opposition in these states lacks the organisational resources, personnel and widespread influence to dislodge the BN. Besides, the electorate as a whole knows that at the moment there is no alternative to the Barisan as the ruling coalition. Barisan leaders should not therefore create the false impression that if the 2/3 majority is reduced, there would be a fragile, tottering government. It is not likely to happen for all the reasons we have outlined. We repeat that even without a 2/3 majority we would still have a stable, secure Barisan government.

This brings us to all the arguments made by Dr Mahathir and others about the importance of a 2/3 majority. Dr Mahathir has said that the country needs a government to guarantee stability and development. The question is: What does the Barisan Chairman mean by a `strong government?í If by strong government he means a government with numbers on its side, he is totally wrong. Numbers alone cannot ensure development for a country. The crucial thing is the integrity of the national leadership. If leaders are corrupt, are involved in scandals and can be bought by others, then it goes without saying that the government would be a weak and unreliable one. Isnít this what happened throughout history? Dr Mahathir has forgotten that the Melaka Sultanate fell to a foreign power largely because of corruption and factional feuds within the Court. Is there a parallel to what is happening today? This is why instead of asking for a 2/3 majority, BN leaders should try to restore integrity and honesty among the ruling elites.

There is no justification at all for a huge 2/2 majority. If the Barisan is genuinely concerned about helping the rakyat, it can do so with a simple workable majority. It can eradicate poverty, curb corruption, reduce ethnic polarisation, and expand the scope for human rights with such a parliamentary majority, as long as its policies are founded upon justice and its leaders are wise and sincere. Sincere leadership and just policies - these are the ingredients of good government. Not a huge 2/3 majority.

In any case, the Barisan should be ashamed to ask the people to bestow it with another big win - after all that has happened in the last 14 years. How can Dr Mahathir ask for total endorsement of his leadership after the Kerpan scandal, after Rahim Tamby Chik, after Bank Negaraís forex losses. No self-respecting people will be prepared to give him another huge mandate. A huge mandate after all the large share allocations to relatives of top leaders? How can one ask for total support after how the Barisan robbed a duly-elected state government in Sabah of its victory? A huge mandate for what? For giving minimal attention to the basic needs of the people; for neglecting the rural and urban poor? An overwhelming majority as a gift for accumulating a massive foreign debt of 57 billion ringgit? Most of all, how can we give a 2/3 majority to Dr Mahathirís Barisan after seeing how it has conducted the current election campaign. This is undoubtedly the most undemocratic election in our history.

Apart from the continuing ban on public rallies, the campaign period is a mere nine days. The biased, lopsided reporting and analyses in the newspapers and the propaganda songs and other programmes over television is unprecedented in its scope and intensity. And, at the same time, Barisan leaders in government exploit their official roles forgetting that they are only caretaker Ministers and Deputy Ministers. They have been abusing all the privileges of their government positions for their electoral campaigns. By conducting such an unethical, undemocratic campaign - which puts past campaigns in the shade - the Barisan has given the voter a very good reason for denying the BN its majority.

This then is the essence of the issue before us. Is is not simply because we value democracy that we want to reduce the Barisanís majority. Equally important, the denial of a 2/3 majority to the Barisan is our way of passing judgement on the Coalition. It is a vote of protest against all the misdeeds of the last fourteen years. It is our mode of expressing our unhappiness with the ruling regime. If, after all that has happened, we do not want to show our displeasure with the Barisanís performance then there must be something wrong with us as human beings. It would mean that we are not capable of feeling angry, of reacting against injustice and dishonesty. It would even mean that we are prepared to tolerate a lack of openness and integrity.


Let us show the world that Malaysians are not that sort of a people. We are a people with honour. We are a people with dignity and integrity. We know how to judge. We know how to choose. We know how to distinguish right from wrong.

These then are the two main reasons for denying the BN its 2/3 majority. One, it is to ensure that we evolve into a healthy, functioning democracy which will check the ruling elites from becoming too dominant and too arrogant. Two, it is to express our disillusionment, indeed our anger, over the lack of integrity and openness displayed by the Barisan in the last fourteen years or so. By so doing, we would be re-asserting our concern for morality and ethics in public life.