MGG: After Ketari, whither the Opposition?
By M.G.G. Pillai
3/4/2002 1:45 pm Wed
After Ketari, whither the Opposition?
The Indera Kayangan by-election set the pace - DAP refused to
join in the opposition campaign. That dislocation cost the
opposition plenty. As in the Ketari by-election over the weekend.
The opposition went in there without a plan, DAP would not let it
be rode roughshod and named its candidate. There was no
consultation or discussion. DAP could not win it, even if it
reduced the majority by 90 cent between 1995 and 1999.
The 1999 result included a Malay disenchantment with Umno and the
Barisan Nasional over the humiliation of the jailed former deputy
prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim. It could have reduced that
majority if the opposition had gone in with a seriousness it does not
BN's Yum Ah Ha defeated DAP's Choong Siew Onn by 7,153 to 4,949
votes, a majority of 2,204. While the majority is a ten-fold
increase from the 1999 result, it is back to status quo ante
1995. The BN had to be returned, for it looks upon every
by-election as an insult to its intelligence. Nothing is spared
to ensure victory.
Its unexpected defeat in Lunas, where the MIC candidate lost to a
Malay from Keadilan frightened it beyond words. It showed the
path to electoral politics in the future. When non-Malay
candidates are reduced to depend on Malay votes to succeed, a
shake-up in the Malay persona, as now, could create waves. In
other words, Ketari affirmed the non-Malay irrelevance in
Malaysian politics, especially when the Malay vote is split.
DAP is caught in its own doldrums, to get out of which, it
focusses attention to PAS's Islamic agenda; and fell into BN
hands. BN has its own Islamic agenda, which to catch up with PAS
must be as, if not more, extremist than PAS.
But it sold the idea to Malaysians in the Islamic state it
envisions (which PAS Aziz Nik Mat calls negri Islam segera -
instant Islamic state) is so humane that when it cuts off limbs
for thievery, it is far preferable to the PAS' plans. Yet, every
attempt to impose Islamic law in the country is by the BN, not
Even in Kelantan and Terengganu, where PAS is in power, all it
has to is strengthen the Umno version in force. But DAP looks to
PAS worldview as the devil incarnate, and by implication accepts
An undeniable fact is the non-Malays slept through as these
changes were made: those in BN wanted to remain in office and
accommodated to the point of not raising their voices when they
should. The opposition, especially DAP, did not give it the
seriousness it should have.
Now that DAP has lost control of it, it walks out of the Barisan
Alternatif. The BA on its own is reduced to its own Malay and
Chinese hold outside the towns, DAP to its hold in the urban
centres. This would get worse unless the BA and DAP get together
to frame a policy of its own before the anticipated general
elections next year.
It should also have a policy on by-elections: it should not to
win but to make it as expensive as possible for the BN, with a
win an unexpected bonus. But it would not do to have leaders
refusing to help unless formally invited.
BN's campaign in Ketari eased much when BA, instead of coming out
to help DAP, insisted on a formal invitation to campaign. That
was followed by an argument whether the invitation was issued or
not, with leaders dragging their feet while the campaign went
under way. In the end, it was left to Pahang PAS and Pahang
Keadilan to help out, but unofficially.
This was one election where both BN and the opposition were on
level ground: both had problems within, both wriggling out when
asked. When control of the voting is in government hands, the
Elections Commission unable to exert its will, accusing the
government of foul play, as DAP did, is irrelevant.
There is only one way to prevent that: have hundreds, if not
thousands, of election workers well versed with the Elections
Law. Only one party, in government and opposition, have that:
PAS. It trains people throughout the year, but the other
opposition parties have not taken up its offer to train them. In
other words, the opposition believes that its belief is strong as
to be beyond question; that if they were not voted in, it was
because the BN cheated.
The opposition is probably too late to counter the BN. The BN's
future is predicated to the Malay community coming together under
Umno's leadership. In the meanwhile, it tightened the Elections
Laws to reduce the space of debate, with the sedition law thrown
in to disqualify those who challenge the government as one would
expect opposition parties to.
Civil servants are not allowed, after their Akujanji pledge, to
attend ceremah - opposition and government - but this is where it
would fall on its feet. What we see now in this tightening of
democratic elections is a fear within BN that the only way it
could hold on to power is by such methods to put the opposition
on a tight leash.
All this is ignored in the aftermath of the latest by-election in
Ketari. There is a tendency to regard it as an exercise of a
democratic right. In a sense it is. But when how an election
could be conducted is changed, chopped, centred on laws that make
a mockery of a democratic choice, and the opposition does not
even raise merry hell, the battle is all but lost.
If the opposition wants a voice in what is to come, it must buck
up now, aim for a minimum common programme, organise itself as a
coalition of multiracial parties, look upon parliamentary and
state assembly constituencies not as of seigneurial right but to
be allotted on the basis of a cold-blooded calculation of
choosing the best candidate or party to run it.
Otherwise, it must consign itself into an irrelevant appendage of
no use but to help the government prove to the world there is
indeed democracy in this blessed land of ours.
MGG Pillai is a veteran journalist and runs the Sangkancil discussion group in the Internet.