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Go For Electoral Pacts

Opposition seem to be in a state of passivity, not stressing programmes enough

"Citizens should be allowed to express opposing views"

Aliran Monthly: What do you think of the state of opposition politics and parties today in Malaysia?

Lim Kean Chye: I know almost nothing about the Borneo states and should confine myself to Peninsula Malaysia. Well, basically, I think they are rather unprincipled. If their policy is constitutional rights, human rights, independent judiciary and so on they should always proclaim that policy and put it into practice.

Many times the rights of Sabah and Sarawak are brushed aside or ignored; yet the opposition has remained silent. It�s a shame that Borneo was even threatened by hints from the opposition. If you do not uphold - and strenuously uphold - the rights of Sabah and Sarawak, you are going down the path of the destruction of our Constitution (or what�s left of it) and hurting the interests of the others in Malaysia.

Back home, the case of Lim Boo Chang-Tan Cheng Liang in the PORR affair, I am afraid, is another example where the Opposition failed. Instead of maintaining a petty silence, they should have struck out at the unfairness of the whole process of punishment.

And then there is the SNAP affair. It smacks of an abuse of power. And I don�t hear the voice of the Opposition.

AM: Do you think the opposition are cooperating well enough or should they have a united coalition including PAS?

Kean Chye: When you come down to brass-tacks, if you are talking about the opposition, they want to win seats in Parliament. For that I think they should have electoral pacts and not something more profound than that - because as was shown in the last election in Penang, the DAP (candidates) were wiped out. The Penang electorate decided, Ah, you are going to introduce Islamic law in Penang; no, no we won�t have it. So they threw them (the DAP candidates) out. But it�s very different with a temporary election pact - to win a certain seat in a certain area.

AM: Some people say the opposition are always reacting and are not pro-active enough. What do you think?

Kean Chye: That�s true, I think that�now, this may be unfair because we can only read what they say from the newspapers - but judging from the newspapers - and again I stress it may be unfair - they (the opposition) don�t seem to be stressing their programme. And their programme, if you remember from the early days, was to restore the independence of the judges, to abolish the ISA, and so on.

Now they seem to be in a state of passivity, of inferiority, reacting to statements by the government. To take an example, if you talk about freedom of religion, I don�t think the opposition has ever come out on obstacles to church building. The Constitutional provisions about freedom of religion and the right to acquire property and so on is meaningless if certain state regulations frustrate their implementation. Worse still, while complaining that the judiciary is no longer independent, certain opposition leaders encourage appeals from one court to another, which makes them rather foolish.

AM: After Sept 11, the opposition seem to have lost their momentum and strength. Why do you think this has happened and what are the...

Kean Chye: Have they? I only noticed they have quarrelled, that�s all. In a recent speech Tan Sri Musa Hitam said that many have left UMNO and joined PAS. That does suggest something, and he ought to know�

AM: Do you think the (opposition BA) coalition was the best way to go?

Kean Chye: I don�t think so. I don�t think they were right to have a coalition. That�s why they lost in Penang, the DAP. As I said, you must have temporary electoral pacts.

AM: How do you think a multiethnic opposition should cope with the challenges arising from the Islamic...?

Kean Chye: Is there a multiethnic coalition? I don�t think so. I don�t think it�s a multi-ethnic coalition at all.

AM: Okay, how should the opposition handle the emergence of political Islam?

Kean Chye: Is that what you call it? I think the problem we face here is the rise of the Wahabi teachings and the desire of their adherents here to wipe out the identity of the Malays, to Arabise them so to speak. Will an Ayatollah system be imposed on us? Will the �Islamisation� of the governments lead to worse than the �dress code�?

The opposition ignore these problems but this main headache of Malaya and the Borneo states keeps pounding away. Surely it is time that the Opposition seriously study the laws and practices that prevail in the Middle-East e.g. Morocco, Yemen, Egypt and the Palestine Authority, setting up a commission, say, and reporting and even sponsoring a conference after the study. If that had been done, we wouldn�t have heard about people being �shell shocked� about Saudi Arabia.

AM: Is there a role for NGOs in this process of bringing about change and reforms?

Kean Chye: Yes, I think that NGOs are absolutely vital. There are various NGOs in this country and I think they are all doing a good job. I think the more you make people aware of what is going on around them, the more they will get to know what the issues are that affect their lives.

AM: Some people in the government say that the opposition are just opposing for the sake of opposing. What are your comments on that?

Kean Chye: Well, that is the usual claptrap from people who abhor dissent, the very pulse of a democratic life. But that said, I think that generally the opposition should consider where necessary to support the government on certain issues, for example, on aspects of Islamic practices of which the government has taken a more enlightened view than the ultra conservatives have done.

AM: So at the end of the day, are you disillusioned with partisan politics or do you think there is hope?

Kean Chye: I am neither disillusioned nor hopeful. While there�s life, there�s hope - that is, people are not Nazi sheep; different people have different ideas. If we want to talk of democracy and a more tolerable life for the citizens of the country, they should be allowed to express opposing views freely. Without a clash of ideas, the truth will never emerge.

Penang-based Lim Kean Chye was one of the founders of the Malayan Democratic Union, a party that strove for self-government of Malaya in 1945. He was also one of the founders of the All-Malaya Council of Joint Action (AMCJA) of which Tun Sir Tan Cheng Lock was chairman. This council, made up of all political parties then, was set up in 1946 to seek self-rule in Malaya.

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