PETALING JAYA, 12 May 2010: The Pakatan Rakyat (PR) missed a golden opportunity to push for attainable democratic reforms after the historic March 2008 elections by focusing on its 16 Sept government-by-defections strategy instead.
Ong Academic Dr Ong Kian Ming said since former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition were in a weakened position after their historic losses, the opposition could have forced key institutional reforms then.
“For example, they could have clarified the parameters of their role as parliamentary opposition, thus assuring Pak Lah of his continued leadership, while also demanding for a more independent Elections Commission,” said Ong.
He added that the opposition would probably be stronger now if it had adopted these measures.
“Instead, the opposition ended up looking very bad by attempting to topple the government via defections, and probably the PR is suffering now because of this,” he said.
Ong said this during his seminar presentation, The Breakdown of Dominant Party Authoritarian Regimes (DPAR), at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (Ikmas), at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia yesterday.
According to Ong, it is through such institutional reforms that opposition parties ultimately defeat authoritarian regimes in which one party dominates, otherwise known as DPARs.
“For example, the DPAR in Mexico decided to make the playing field more even by introducing electoral reforms when the opposition started gaining strength throughout the 1990s,” Ong said. It is these reforms which contributed to the defeat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in 2000 — its first in 71 years.
Ong said that therefore, electoral reforms were the most important institutional reform which could cause the breakdown of DPARs, including in Malaysia.
“Furthermore, the different political parties will take electoral reforms seriously because all parties are concerned about winning votes,” he said.
Additionally, he said a weakened and vulnerable DPAR would also concede electoral reforms in order to safeguard its own existence should the opposition eventually defeat it.
At the same time, he noted that most DPARs were quite stable. Hence, the most effective way for the opposition to defeat them was via elections, as opposed to overthrowing them by non-electoral methods.
The opposition should have forced key institutional reforms instead of playing party-hopping
In all the countries Ong studied, he said the other key factor that contributed to the defeat of DPARs was the split of an elite leader or leaders from the dominant party such as the Umno-led BN in Malaysia.
He pointed out, however, that such elite splits need to put the opposition into a position powerful enough to veto the ruling party and thus force institutional reforms.
Ong said Malaysia was now at the crossroads because by controlling more than one-third of Parliament, the PR has the power to veto the BN’s constitutional amendments. Nevertheless, he said the extent of the PR’s veto powers remains untested.
“This is why the constituency redelimitation, which will likely happen in 2011, is a good test to see if the federal opposition can maintain their veto position and possibly extract some concessions for electoral reform from the BN,” he said.
He added that another effective electoral reform could be the reintroduction of local government elections, already being pursued by the Selangor and Penang governments.
Mugabe (Public domain) Ong said he defined 15 regimes as DPAR according to four criteria. Among them are Malaysia under the BN, Singapore under the People’s Action Party, Egypt under the National Democratic Party, and Taiwan under the Kuomintang.
The seminar was based on the findings of Ong’s PhD dissertation, from Duke University, on the emergence, maintenance and ultimate breakdown of DPARs.
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