Updated 10 Oct 2008, 6.33pm
KUALA LUMPUR, 10 Oct 2008: The time is ripe for Barisan Nasional to seriously consider merging its component parties into a single multiracial party, Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon said today.
For a start, the 13 component parties could open their membership to all races, Koh said in his speech when launching the Gerakan Youth and Wanita national assembly today.
“The time has come to explore this suggestion. As it is, we already practice the concept with the BN having 13 different parties, each with a separate structure but in the same coalition. There is already a basis for the BN to become a single multiracial entity,” said Koh, who became president after the post went uncontested at the party’s nominations on 4 Oct 2008.
Tongue-in-cheek, he even suggested new names for the three major BN members: “Umno to become the United ‘Malaysian’ National Organisation (instead of Malays), MCA to be the Malaysian “Citizens Alliance”, and MIC the Malaysian “Integrated Congress”.
“But we do not want multiracialism just in name. It is the responsibility of all the BN component parties. BN should not just be a party for the general election,” Koh said at the assembly. Also present was Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin, MCA Youth chief Datuk Liow Tiong Lai and People’s Progressive Party Youth Chief Senator T Murugiah.
Koh said he had proposed the same idea when he was Youth Chief and it was generally accepted apart from concerns on the implementation.
Koh says BN should merge into a single multiracial party “I’m a very pragmatic person; I know how party systems work. To say that we should dissolve race-based parties immediately will cause a lot of problems.”
He said the BN constitution might have to be amended. Other things that need to be addressed include the constitution of each party, respective party structures and current leadership positions.
“I will raise this at BN meetings and we should take it step by step,” he said.
He also proposed holding elections at state and divisional level for the posts of the state BN liaison leadership. The current practice is to automatically give the state or division leadership to the head of the party “in charge” of that area under the BN concept of power sharing. Koh suggested that all the BN component parties in that area meet together to vote for a leader from the party in charge.
“This is because the leader supported by its own party may not receive support by the other component parties in that area,” he said.
Outgoing Youth chief Datuk Mah Siew Keong raised the merger concept in his speech at the assembly opening. He said the BN should become a single multiracial party as part of a rebranding exercise after 50 years in power.
Koh said Gerakan Youth should be the “guinea-pigs for this great experiment in multi-racial politics”.
“The youth do not have the baggage of history and animosity of the past; they are more open-minded. Let Gerakan Youth be the pioneers and set a good example for the rest of the BN,” Koh said.
In an immediate reaction, Khairy said the single-party idea may still be “premature” from Umno’s point of view.
“We may still need Umno, MCA and MIC. Maybe we should look at strengthening the centre, which is the BN, and look at how to move as a party not only during elections but at other times,” he said.
PPP’s Murugiah welcomed the idea as a platform to create a Malaysian race. He pointed out that Umno had already opened its doors to other races in Sabah where it has members from the native tribes there.
Meanwhile in ALOR STAR, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak poured cold water on the idea and said now is not the time for Barisan Nasional to become a single multiracial party.
Commenting on Dr Koh’s proposal, Najib said it was a big step which needed a mandate from all the BN component parties.
“This is a very big step and needs to be discussed with all the BN components parties and we have not that level for discussion,” told reporters after attending the joint meeting of federal department heads and community leaders organised by the state Umno here.