MGG: Could the Opposition have won in Indera Kayangan?
By M.G.G. Pillai
23/1/2002 5:52 pm Wed
This self-fulfilling fiction of an evil National Front (BN)
sustained with might easily toppled by a disparate group with
right on its side bars the opposition from headway in Malaysian
politics. The Indera Kayangan by-election in Perlis, which BN
won handsomely, proved it yet again. And would in elections to
come. The Alternative Front (BA) is, like opposition unity,
another fiction. How could the opposition topple a
well-funded-and-focussed BN when it could not even mount a
unified campaign? The MCA, split worse than BA, could. When all
is said and done, one is surprised the BA candidate, Mr Khoo Yang
Chong, got as many votes as he did. All the opposition could was
to score points without turning it into votes.
It is time the Opposition took itself seriously, with a
united coalition that took the BN on in elections as an
alternative government, not ad hoc, as now. That was how BA was
formed. But no coalition leader would take the time and effort
to define its aims philosophically and objectively. Instead,
internal strife within the individual parties and the coalition,
helped by BN infilitration and pressure, made it a non-starter.
The DAP was hostile in Indera Kayangan -- it does not matter if
it was right or wrong -- and that shook the Chinese votes. When
it is compounded with regular prime-time TV advertising slots
equating PAS and Taliban, and driving the message home with the
Taliban executing women, it had, in BN's view, the desired effect
of alienating the Chinese from the Opposition. It did not matter
if Mr Khoo is from Keadilan; since PAS backs it, he is, ipso
facto, a Taliban supporter. It is not logical, but is logic what
BA underestimated the impact of President Bush's war on
terror, which the BN government jumped on to destroy the
credibility of its main opponent, PAS. There is more. Indera
Kayangan is the anvil on which BN hammered the Chinese to force
it to take a stand. Since World War Two, there were three such.
In 1948, the Chinese had to chose between the communists and
British colonial rule; in 1969, between Chinese and Malay
chauvinism; and now between two worldviews on Islam. The
pragmatic Chinese jumped on the bandwagon that would at least
give them monetary security. In that respect, the terrorist
attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001 is godsent to
the BN. The opposition missed, indeed ignored, its impact, and
would pay the price long after that is no more the issue.
The Opposition has not learnt its lesson. In every
byelection, the same tired allegations against the BN is aired.
It gets a few claps and a few laughs. The BN knows then nothing
has changed, and it can do what it likes to throw rings around
the opposition. The one election where this did not work was
Lunas. When busloads of BN vote fraudsters were stopped, in
Lunas, it turned the tide. But Lunas, like lightning, will not
strike twice. Indeed, the BN cashed in on it. When busloads of
"tourists and shoppers" arrived in Kangar, three organised by an
UMNO assemblywoman from Selangor, were stopped, they were meant
to be. The traffic jams in Kangar on the morning of the election
showed that the vote fraudsters arrived on their own.
The Opposition proves it cannot unite to fight an election.
The 1999 general election was the first since the days of the
Socialist Front which did, but what caused it is the fallout from
the Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim affair. There was no desire for a
common minimum programme, and what it had was broken asunder by
the BN dirty tricks department. Clausewitz said diplomacy is war
by other means. So is elections. Intelligence and dirty tricks
are the normal paraphernalia of campaign. It is important one is
not caught. But it goes on unabated and unabashedly. Why else
should there be three campaign workers for every voter in Indera
The one party that has the wherewithal to lead an opposition
coaltion is not PAS but Keadilan, especially after its tie-up,
still fraught with doubts, with Parti Rakyat Malaysia. As UMNO
lurches towards an Islamic agenda -- to counter PAS -- the
secular ground is left to Keadilan-PRM. It is the one group that
challenges the increasing Islamisation of Malaysia. The politcal
agenda is dictated by the Malay and increasingly by Islam. To
counter it, only a Malay party could. But it is also a political
party formed to further the cause of its eminense grise, Dato'
Seri Anwar. Anyone who could further the cause of Keadilan is
either out of the party or detained under the Internal Security
Act in Kamunting. The BN and UMNO realises how dangerous it
could be since those unhappy with its fliration with an Islamic
state could well move to it.
So, what could the opposition do to staunch the bleeding?
For one, a permanent committee must puts the flesh on to the
bones of a coalition, clearly and unequivocally of what it stands
for, and constantly refined and defined. Keadilan had it right
when it issued position papers before the 1999 general elections,
but it could not sustain it. In other words, the BA must break
free of its insecurities, and bring the battle into the BN court,
challenging its assertions and providing alternatives. Prof.
K.S. Jomo shook the government to its roots when he delivered his
first alternate budget in 1999: it was so superior to the
government's that some of his suggestions, though it would not
admit, were incorporated, in haste, into the official budget.
But not any more. Why?
Indera Kayangan therefore begs the question for the
Opposition: should Malaysians look upon it -- as the Chinese,
DAP -- to show their disgust of the moment for the government,
but not so they could form the next government? PAS transformed
itself in Kelantan and Trengganu. The BN, having learnt its
lesson, would not allow it in Perlis and Kedah, the next two
dominoes political correctness in the opposition declares would
fall to PAS in coming elections. PAS it its own worst enemy, and
it ties itself in knots when it should show its hand of
friendship. If anything, the byelection on 19 January makes it
harder for the Opposition to succeed, unless it transforms
itself. Could it?