A holistic understanding of constitutional principles and what constitutes freedom and good governance is more vital than a convenient electoral arrangement just to win elections, says Ronald Benjamin.
Some time ago, I met a member of parliament during lunch at a restaurant in Ipoh.
As we had our lunch, the MP told me that he was disappointed with Amanah leaders for leaving Pas, because in his constituency Pas played a vital role in getting Malay support for his victory in 2013 general election. The action by the so-called breakaway group of Pas also made it difficult for his party to join the newly minted Pakatan Harapan coalition.
As I was reflecting on his point, I correlated it to an episode before the 2013 general elections, when Aliran held a forum in a church In Ipoh. Its speakers, fresh from a Bersih rally and buoyed by the overwhelming urban support for change, took turns to convince the audience to support the movement for change, believing that the time was ripe.
The reality that Pakatan Rakyat had nothing substantial in common – other than having a united front to dislodge the Barisan Nation – was ignored.
Looking back at the MP’s unhappiness and the rallying cry for change of the speakers at the Aliran forum before the 2013 general election, I realise there was something very wrong with the opposition parties and civil society groups calling for change about the understanding of what constitutes a strong cohesive government.
This is made worse when certain politicians in the opposition are focused on what they believe are game-changes – e.g. corruption issues such as 1MDB or one-to-one contests through electoral alliances – which they believe will be enough to dislodge the Barisan National from power.
The obvious result of such thinking was the break up of the marriage of convenience of the so- called Pakatan Rakyat, which was a casualty due to partners having different visions for Malaysia.
Even though these parties had a common policy framework, a disintegrated understanding of what constitutes the wholeness of the constitution, governance, and the real nature of what these political parties are about prevailed and ultimately broke up the political alliance between Pas and the DAP.
Currently a new brand called Pakatan Harapan still has not been able to get its act together as witnessed in the Sarawak state elections and the Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-elections.
Some would argue that political coalition partners with differing ideologies can work together as the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party in Britain and certain coalition governments in Europe have done.
What these proponents have not understood is, even though these coalitions have different ideologies, they have a common understanding of constitutional principles, parliamentary integrity and great respect for diversity and professionalism in governance.
Such an understanding has more long-term stabilising effects than a mere convenient electoral alliance. There is no such thing as ethno-centric dominance or cherry picking constitutional provisions to match the respective political ideologies in these cultures when it comes to governance. Fundamental principles prevail.
What we find in Malaysia is political parties like the DAP speak about equality in the constitution, Umno speaks about Malay rights and dominance while Pas speaks about an Islamic state that appears ultra vires the constitution.
PKR does not appear to have evolved beyond Anwar Ibrahim based on its current leadership while PSM’s understanding of governance appear limited to socio-economic paradigms .
The current pribumi party set up by Dr Mahathir is basically for the removal of Najib and his warlords rather than having any clear vision that embraces comprehensive change.
The cherry picking of what constitutes the constitutional principles or a just society and narrow opportunism is one of the potent root causes of the failure of the opposition parties in Malaysia. The sense of history and the intention of the founders of the nation have been lost in the cherry picking politics of the Barisan National government and the opposition parties.
Coming back to my conversation with the MP, I believe that the vision of a cohesive government that has a holistic understanding of constitutional principles and what constitutes freedom and good governance is more vital than a convenient electoral arrangement just to win elections.
Unless this understanding is clear among opposition parties, they will not able to dislodge the Barisan National from power. For example, saying that one is not against hudud law, but the time is not right is an example of political correctness and distorted understanding of what constitutes the Malaysian constitution.
Even if Pakatan Harapan is able to dislodge the Barisan National from power, its governing period will be short due to infighting about various approaches to governance. If a mere electoral alliance between the DAP and Pas can break up, what happens when it comes to issues of governance where more serious matters are at stake?
What I see now is the natural self-defeating nature of the opposition parties which have no equilibrium in political alignment and governance. The missing link is clear to see.