Vote for Change

Vote for Participatory Democracy
Vote for Reform of a One-Coalition to a Two-Coalition System
Vote for Multi-ethnic, Multi-religious Dialogue and Co-operation

Malaysians will be going to the polls for the tenth time on 29 November 1999.

For the first time, there will be a real choice for the voters: between the 14-party Barisan Nasional (BN, previously the Alliance) which has been in power for 42 years, and the Barisan Alternative(BA), a new-coalition comprising Parti Islam SeMalaysia(PAS), the Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM), and the new Parti Keadilan Negara (KeADILan).

Stark Differences

Both coalitions have unveiled their election manifestos. The BN claims that it is a proven force. Under its rule, there has been political stability, economic development and racial harmony. All Malaysians, it claims, have a place and have opportunities, under the Malaysian sun. The BN system has worked. There is therefore no need for any drastic change to existing BN programmes. It further claims that the turbulence of the past two years were due to the interventions of foreign powers and interests into Malaysian affairs, and certain Malaysian leaders (namely Anwar) allowing themselves to be used by these foreigners.

On the other hand, the BA sees a need for reforms. The past yearsí problems were of the BNís own making. There had been clear abuse of executive power; therefore any prime minister should in future be restricted to two terms in office. The judiciary and legal system has lost its integrity; therefore a Royal Commission should be formed to investigate several cases of conflict of interests. Indeed, the ISA should be repealed and other coercive laws reviewed. Too often these past years, these laws were used to curb and curtail dissent and criticism. There are other calls to put an end to the abuse of special rights granted to the Bumiputeras in the Constitution, and to provide help to weak and marginalised Malaysians, regardless of ethnicity, social background or religion. Other calls are for the introduction of minimum wage legislation, for guarantees on the freedom of our media, 90-day maternity leave, a 5-day week ,etc.The contrasts between the BNís call to maintain the status quo because it has worked and does not need any fixing, AND the BAís call for drastic reforms to right the wrongs of past abuses by the BN government could not have been more stark.

Participatory Democracy

In this election, as in previous elections, Aliran calls for participatory democracy.

By this it is meant not merely the holding of elections, but upholding the rule of law wherein the people are guaranteed their rights to express their opinions freely; to organise and assemble peacefully, and if arrested be given a fair trial. It further means establishing autonomous government institutions which check and balance one another; consulting the people in between elections, and being accountable. It includes the emergence of free and responsible media. It also means the right to practice and promote our languages, cultures and religions, and the responsibility to respect and co-operate with those of other languages, cultures and religions.

It is because of this demand for participatory democracy that Aliran calls upon all Malaysians to vote for meaningful change.

Vote For Change

This vote for change is a vote to transform our party system which has been dominated by a single coalition for 42 years to a party system made up of two fairly evenly matched coalitions which allows for change of government from one coalition to another every 5 or 10 years. A vote for the Barisan Alternative is not to enable the BA to rule for the next 42 years. Instead, it will allow for deepening democracy in Malaysia. This is consistent with Aliranís call for a participatory democracy.

Such a two-coalition or two-party system, which allows voters to choose between two viable coalitions or parties, is the norm in numerous countries ranging from developing countries like Jamaica, Guyana and India to developed countries like Britain, the United States and Canada. There are very clear moves towards this form of two-party system in neighbouring ASEAN countries. Voting for change, therefore, is the norm all over.

Islamic State and Inter-religious Dialogue

Aliran also wishes to state categorically that it is against the formation of an Islamic state in Malaysia or in any of the states of Malaysia. This goal is inconsistent with our multi-ethnic, multi-religious society.

This is not to say, as some BN parties have claimed, that the formation of the BA is a sham. and that those opposed to the formation of an Islamic state should not be cooperating with PAS which advocates the formation of an Islamic state.

On the contrary, Aliran always welcomes cooperation among people of different faiths and of different ethnic backgrounds. Indeed, the coming together of PAS, DAP. KeADILan and PRM is one of the most promising developments in our post independence political history. By having PAS and the DAP in the same coalition, it tends to moderate their views substantially because pragmatic politics dents the sharp and extreme demands of factions within these parties. All over the world, coalition-building involves compromises and thus results in the containment of extreme opinions.

Let us give you two examples. In India, the BJP, the main partner of the ruling coalition there, started off as a Hindu extremist party. Their supporters were responsible for the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayuthia in North India. One of their campaign platforms was to rebuild a Sri Ram Hindu temple on the site of the destroyed mosque. In the process of coalition formation, however, this extremist position had to be abandoned because of the influence of the coalition partners, especially the regional parties such as the Telegu Desam Party headed by Chandrababhu Naidu. (The irony is that his father-in-law became famous by acting as Sri Rama in Ramayana movies.)

The second example is the BN coalition itself. The main rationale for the formation and continued existence of the three main component parties, ie UMNO, the MCA, and the MIC, has been to fight for the ethnic rights of each of their respective communities. As such, these parties have become the natural reservoir for ethnic extremists. The only reason why the ethnic contradictions among the BN component parties are not exposed is that the pro-BN media does not highlight these differences.

Let us not forget that, 30 years ago, Dr Mahathir was considered a Malay ultra. In the 1969 elections, he insulted the Chinese voters in his constituency by saying that he did not need their support to win. Many of the indignant Chinese voted for his PAS opponent, Haji Yusof Rawa, and, as a result, Mahathir lost his seat.

Nevertheless, the fact is when these three racially based parties formed a coalition, they were compelled to give up many of their ethnic demands in the interest of securing political power.

If this can happen with the BN, we cannot see any reason why the same thing cannot take place with the BA. By the formation of this coalition, dialogue, tolerance and understanding is enhanced and the celebration of our differences made possible.

In fact, it is Aliranís firm belief that the various religions share a common core of universal values and that these common values can be the basis not only of co-operation over many aspects of our everyday lives, but of effective governance. This has been made manifest in the joint manifesto prepared by the BA parties which upholds universal values like justice, compassion, fairness and truth. Hence, Aliran rejects the naive claim by some BN quarters that a vote for the BA is a vote for PAS and a vote for an Islamic state

Rather, a vote for the BA in the 1999 election is A Vote for Change, A Vote for Participatory Democracy, A Vote for Reform from a one-coalition system to a two-coalition system, which offers voters a real choice, and A Vote for Multi-ethnic and Multi-religious Dialogue and Cooperation.