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Can reconstituted multi-racial political parties rescue Malaysia from dark forces?

The multi-racial membership and multi-racial electoral agenda of these reconstituted parties could be a game-changer

Dark clouds ahead for the nation - ANIL NETTO/ALIRAN

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By Lim Teck Ghee and Murray Hunter

Many in Malaysia have been disillusioned with the present race-based party system in Malaysia.

However, when proposals are put forward towards changing the system, many armchair critics knock down these ideas as being undoable.

Not surprisingly, most members of the public have given up on the possibility of a genuine grassroots-based multi-racial party with membership, leadership and agenda that are fully representative of the nation’s diverse racial stakeholders.

Many feel they have to live with the reality of the status quo in Malaysian politics with its current mix of coalition and race-based identity politics and parties.

This failure to establish fully representative multi-racial parties in place of the racially based or racially dominant ones in the coalition system has become the Achilles heel of Malaysia’s politics, economy and society.

It affects everything else. In politics, we see it in the choice of candidates, party manifestos, campaigning, the composition of cabinets and government.

All these forces and dynamics lead to and reinforce racially based rather than multi-racially based policies. Race-based politics and political parties are a key part of what is holding the nation back.

Changing demographics

Malaysia’s changing demographics indicate that a Malay-centric coalition made up of racial and religious parties may soon become the natural government at the federal level and in the majority of states.

This will take the nation on a more pronounced ethno-religious trajectory.

This ethno-nationalistic trend is occurring while the rest of the world has adopted a neo-globalistic view of the world. Middle East countries are drifting away from their religion-centric stance with some of the Gulf States as examples today.

READ MORE:  What makes a party 'truly Malay'?

Many nations have also realised that the cost of not reforming politics and political parties could end in a revolt by their citizenries.

Nothing as drastic as that has happened in Malaysia yet.

However, hopelessness and despair is taking its toll as seen in the increasing brain drain. Today, the mobility of Malaysians is much greater than before. Malaysia’s best talent, both Malay and the ethnic minorities, will continue to pack up and leave if the political system and resultant politics remain unchanged

The probability that any other form of progressive political or electoral reform, such as the redrawing of constituency boundaries or proportional representation, can be undertaken appears to be a non-starter or is highly unlikely.

The more feasible option would be to create and incentivise genuine multi-racial politics based on purposely and deliberately formatted multi-racial parties that draw on the existing parties or new ones intending to contest in the next general election.

Creating one, two or even three separate multi-racial political parties from the current coalitions in government and the opposition to contest in the next general election is definitely a challenge.

However, we think this is not impossible. We are also confident that the evolution of the present system of multiple and fragmented parties in coalitions to one comprising competing unitary multi-racial parties can and will receive widespread public support – if not in the next general election, in the one following that.

What is also unique in our proposal is that it can provide a new and stronger basis for bringing together the political constituencies from the peninsula and East Malaysia which have drifted apart.

READ MORE:  What makes a party 'truly Malay'?

The merger of geographical and race-based parties and their convergence into unified multi-racial parties drawing support from the national rather than regional electorate will not only help to defuse separatist sentiments. It can strengthen national solidarity and unity.

Enter multi-racial political parties

The only way Malaysia can get away from the long-past shelf life of race-based and religious-based political parties is to move now towards the creation of openly and explicitly multi-racial parties.

Any big tent multi-racial political party that can emerge must be based on membership from different races and geographical areas joining and working together in the interest of a common national electoral agenda in which racial and religious interests are subordinated to the larger national good.

Forces for and against

Other than the pundits who will throw cold water on this concept, certain forces are likely to resist any change to the current party configuration in the prevailing coalition systems. Other hurdles, some unforeseen, will stand in the way.

But they can be overcome if the leadership and membership of the current parties are prepared to break out from their racial silos and work with each other to begin reconfiguring their parties into singular multi-racial entities.

Young multi-racially oriented talent kept away from the inner sanctums of power and position in the existing party system today can emerge more quickly and easily in the new multi-racial parties that we propose.

Their emergence backed by the multi-racial membership and multi-racial electoral agenda of these reconstituted parties can be the definitive game-changer that Malaysia needs for a cohesive and brighter future.

READ MORE:  What makes a party 'truly Malay'?

Dr Lim Teck Ghee and Murray Hunter are well-known political analysts and commentators on Malaysian affairs

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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