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Uncommon Sense with Wong Chin Huat: Who makes a better opposition?

    (boxing gloves © vierdrie | sxc.hu)

(boxing gloves © vierdrie | sxc.hu)

THE last general election birthed a situation that was not common before 2008: the Barisan Nasional (BN) functioning as an opposition. Although the BN has been the opposition in Kelantan for many years, it was a completely new experience for them in Selangor, Penang, Perak and Kedah. Indeed, the blanket term “opposition” previously used to describe DAP, PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) can no longer be used as they now form the government in several key states.

How has the BN adapted to this new state of affairs? Has it embraced its role as the opposition in Pakatan Rakyat (PR)-controlled states? Has the PR continued to play its role as an effective opposition in BN-controlled states and at the federal level? The Nut Graph asks political scientist Wong Chin Huat.

TNG: Have the political parties functioned as an effective opposition — for BN in the PR-controlled states and for PR at the federal level and in BN-controlled states? How can they do better?

Wong Chin Huat : The BN refused to accept its defeat in the PR states and has tried to undermine the state governments. By extension, it is therefore also undermining our federal system. For instance, the BN federal government denies PR state governments public funds that are due to them. To cite two examples — petroleum royalty and Penang’s heritage fund. The PR states are also sidelined by the tourism ministry. Even at the grassroots level, the BN refuses to accept PR state-appointed village committees and set up parallel ones instead. This behaviour is akin to kids who cannot accept losing a game.

Kelantan doesn't get oil royalties for offshore oil (© Dawn Allwyn | sxc.hu)

The PR has performed well as the opposition, both at the federal and state level. However, as state governments, they have practised some discriminatory policies against the BN opposition. For example, they denied BN state lawmakers their constituency funding, and are also keen to fill local councils with party loyalists, on the pretext that the BN is doing the same. They say that to do otherwise would be shooting themselves in the foot.

The PKR-led Selangor government’s latest moves in enacting a Freedom of Information (FOI) law and appointing an opposition member to head the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) must be praised. This is the first ruling party in Malaysia’s history to do so. In contrast, Selangor Umno has been silly in opposing both these initiatives. Obviously, Umno is dreaming of returning to power in the near future and would not want measures that would create a more level-playing field for the opposition. Umno is dreaming of returning to rule without check and balance, just as they did before March 2008.

Citizens must now apply pressure on the BN as well as PAS and DAP to follow Selangor’s footsteps in the governments they lead. Enough lip service about reforms. Just deliver.

Are there signs that the BN and Umno have started to reform in response to their relatively poor performance in the last general election?

Umno, under Datuk Seri Najib Razak, has tried to rebrand itself as a centrist party under the 1Malaysia banner. Many blast Umno for its tacit support of ultra-right groups like Perkasa, but that is really not an issue. If there are free and fair elections, you can simply kick out racist parties if you don’t like them. The real threat is if your votes do not count.

Khairy Jamaluddin

Khairy Jamaluddin

Hence, the real measure of whether Umno can or has changed is whether they are willing to democratise this country, contest in elections and accept the election outcome no matter what. Next time Najib or (Umno Youth chief) Khairy Jamaluddin talks about change, just ask them this: Will Umno bow out in a dignified manner should they lose the next general election? No other questions are relevant until this is answered!

Malaysia is still effectively an electoral one-party state. The only substantial difference between Umno and the Chinese Communist Party or the Communist Party of Vietnam is those parties do not hold elections. Umno still thinks that they are the natural rulers of Malaysia. In that sense, the Chinese and Vietnamese communists are more honest.

Any other comments on how parties can be more effective as the opposition?

After 2008, everyone has been talking about the need for a two-party system. But we cannot build a two-party system [simply] by voting. We need to change the institutions. We need to dismantle the electoral one-party state Umno has built and ensure room for opposition parties to survive healthily and make a come-back instead of contemplating defection, coup or sabotage. This would be beneficial for Umno itself, which could one day be occupying the position of the opposition.

(© svilen001 | sxc.hu)

BN and PR need to negotiate (© svilen001 | sxc.hu)

Both sides need to sit down and negotiate the rules of the game for a genuine multi-party democracy, which we have not had since 1963. We need round table negotiations like those in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which made these countries consolidated democracies.

There is a reason why both BN and PR are interested only in toppling each other, instead of negotiating for peaceful co-existence and vigorous multi-party competition. It is because they are political gamblers. They like our “winner-takes-all” system. They believe they can or have to win big. Deep down, they don’t believe in having an opposition that functions like the government-in-waiting. And they don’t trust their opponents to be kind to them either. Hence, Selangor Umno’s ridiculous response to FOI and the PAC chair appointment.

Because there will only be one winner, the fight is very cut-throat. Do people hate this? Does the public want to see healthy politics instead? Then tell both the BN and PR to negotiate as if they will be the opposition after the next general election. Don’t be impressed by both sides’ gestures to signal moderation on ethno-religious issues.

The real problem that holds us back is not racism, but authoritarianism. So, don’t pick a good master, but be the master yourself and kick out the servants if they do not perform well.

Wong Chin Huat is a political scientist by training and a journalism lecturer by trade. If readers have questions and issues they would like Wong to respond to, they are welcome to e-mail [email protected] for our consideration.

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6 Responses to “Uncommon Sense with Wong Chin Huat: Who makes a better opposition?”

  1. Jessica Choong says:

    Wonderful insight!

  2. Jambala says:

    I thought BN made a good Opposition.

  3. mykantree says:

    I particularly like this :”Will Umno bow out in a dignified manner should they lose the next general election? No other questions are relevant until this is answered!”

    But I still do think that Malaysians should still go ahead and remove the Umno/BN regime from the seat of power. Otherwise there is only one way the country will go. The disease within the Umno/BN regime cannot be treated with medicine, as every organ and tissue is diseased and needs to be cut out.

  4. fedup says:

    The only reason Umno is still there as opposition in Selangor and other PR states is because Umno and Co. is still the government at the federal level.

    They dream of coming back into power by hook or by crook as seen in Perak!

    Dream is all that they are doing instead of truly earning the trust and confidence of the people by working hard in the interest of the people and state, like what the PR is doing in the other BN-held states.

    When a product is already good, re-branding can only make it more popular but if a product is shit, no amount of re-branding or arm twisting can change it!

    Instead, these futile ‘window dressing’ exercises only insult the people’s intelligence and infuriates the people even more for unnecessarily spending public funds which could have been put to better use in schools and hospitals!

    The only incentive to be in government for a political party that does not act by the people, for the people and of the people is clearly the power and what it brings. So when the same losses power, what incentive is there as the opposition? The same is guaranteed a short life in opposition.

    Many expect that the BN coalition will disintegrate and many component parties will become mosquito parties when they lose power whilst others to disappear into oblivion.

    Even if power is not the only incentive for them to be in government (which is hard to believe), they are grossly incompetent judging from the horrendous and miserable track record they have in managing this country!

    The BN continually makes blunder after blunder even with the resources of the government machinery at their disposal. What to say when they lose power and no longer have the government machinery when they become opposition!

    They are doomed to fail with these bunch of monkeys at the helm and those that has reaped the ‘fruits of their labour’ are likely first to jump ship when things goes south!

    Thus, leaving behind those feudalistic ignoramus with the intellect of a nut and yet to taste the ‘fruit of their labour’ the elites have been chewing and spitting out for over 50 years!

    These monkeys will continue to insists on their ‘ketuanan’ birth right. They will kick up a fuss, probably sacrifice and parade some poor animal which is the only way they know how instead of being civilised and intelligibly get their point across. Clearly a product and remnant of years of gratuitous patronage without meritocracy of the past power.

    By then, Malaysia would have moved on to bigger better things and nation building and the likes of [...] Ibrahim Ali will [...]

    Time for change!

  5. Philip LIM says:

    “The PKR-led Selangor government’s latest moves in enacting a Freedom of Information (FOI) law and appointing an opposition member to head the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) must be praised. This is the first ruling party in Malaysia’s history to do so. …..

    Citizens must now apply pressure on the BN as well as PAS and DAP to follow Selangor’s footsteps in the governments they lead.”

    Wasn’t Penang the FIRST PR-led government to offer State Opposition Leader the chairpersonship of PAC? Like in Selangor he refused.


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