Monday, January 19, 2009


Monday, 19 January 2009 11:18

Liew Chin Tong for The Malaysian Insider

The Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election result shows that Pas commands the majority Malay support but fails to translate the anti-Umno Chinese sentiment into additional votes.

On the campaign trail I heard murmurs of memories of the hardline Pas state government of 1999-2004.

On the other hand, I have recently been shown an internal poll which suggests that non-Malay support for DAP was up to the roof but Malays were generally still wary of the party.

On Jan 17, we witnessed history in the making. We will only know the importance of that day when we look back later in the future but it is safe to say that the Umno-Barisan Nasional brand, in its current form, is beyond repair.

No one knows how much Umno spent on this “buy”-election. Apart from the various announced financial allocations, I happened to know that some CEOs of government-linked corporations were on stand-by in Kuala Terengganu to “take care” of expenditure incurred during the campaign.

Aided by the weight of the entire machineries of the Federal and the Terengganu state government, not to mention the mainstream media that misrepresented and distorted the news from the Opposition, Umno still lost miserably in the end.

The voters saw through BN’s timeless campaign modus operandi – money, media, and machinery. The Utusan-led racial campaign, the character assassinations against opposition figures and all other tricks did not stop Pas from winning with a convincing majority.

Umno is the backbone of BN, and has operated as the final arbiter of power in the multiethnic coalition because its Malay base underwrites the electoral prospect of other component parties.

But as Umno could not even rescue itself from its own electoral debacle, component parties, especially those from Sabah and Sarawak, are likely to rethink their strategic interests.

Neither the March 8 general election nor the Permatang Pauh parliamentary by-election had left such a strong impression that Umno is like a sand castle disintegrating like nobody’s business.

In this context, it is impossible for Pakatan Rakyat to enter the next general election just aspiring to be a strong opposition. Malaysians want us to be the government to bring change. But that requires all of us to move to the centre.

Let us look back a bit into the history of our Opposition, especially that of Pas. Being oppressed by the BN government from all fronts in a situation of permanent opposition, parties like Pas depended entirely on supporters and members who hung on to the movement religiously. It is their tenacity that kept the fire burning even in the darkest of nights.

But the reformasi a decade ago changed Pas membership profile – between September 1998 and November 1999, Pas members increased from 450,000 to 800,000 – while support base grew from mainly rural to urban centres and electoral prospect from a few East Coast seats to 27 parliamentary seats in the 1999 general election.

For the first time, Pas saw it possible to win federal power in a coalition. Throughout the last decade, the party has gone through many ups and downs, as well as internal rifts.

But the constant theme remains: whether to cooperate with other opposition parties, and to what extent, particularly on the issue of the Islamic state.

In late 2001, the then Pas president Datuk Fadzil Noor, with the intention to mainstream the party, directed a group to define an Islamic state. The paper, dubbed “the memorandum”, was silent on hudud while syariah is to be implemented gradually (tadaruj) through education. Democracy was the centre tenet.

With the passing of Fadzil in June 2002, the memorandum never saw the light. In its stead was Datuk Haron Din’s conservative and hardnosed “Dokumen Negara Islam”, released in November 2003, which contributed to Pas’ defeats in the subsequent general election.

Those within the party who intend to move Pas to the centre looked to Indonesia’s Partai Keadilan Sejahtera for inspiration.

The ascendance of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey provides another reference point. The leader of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party is the country’s prime minister. From him came the term “Erdogan”, intended to be a derogatory term by the conservatives in the party, especially after the 2008 elections, to be used against Pas members who aspire to move the party to the middle. To the conservatives, the Erdogans are willing to play second fiddle to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto opposition leader.

More importantly, the Erdogans devote their times building bridges among ethnic groups by focusing on common and practical platforms. The “Welfare State” tagline of the 2008 election was one such attempt.

I believe it’s time for all of us – all Malaysians – to become Erdogans. As Umno’s end is nigh, lets meet the aspirations of Malaysians for change and present our beloved country an alternative acceptable to all.

Once we can bridge the gap, our Pakatan Rakyat will be the more realistic and better alternative than the divisive BN.

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