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MGG: Could the Opposition have won in Indera Kayangan?
By M.G.G. Pillai

23/1/2002 5:52 pm Wed

01-15 February 2002

Could the Opposition have won in Indera Kayangan?

M.G.G. Pillai

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 sustains politics?

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 Kayangan?

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?

The Indera Kayangan byelections
19 January 2002
Electorate: 7,976
Voter turnout 75.99%
Oui Ah Lan (BN-MCA) 4,279
Khoo Yang Chong (BA-Keadilan) 1,687
Spoilt votes 81
Majority 2,592


M.G.G. Pillai