A Kadir Jasin
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PARDON me for saying that despite the best of efforts, many debaters of this blog regularly missed some very important historical points.
This could be due to the fact that the older ones (the present company included) have forgotten them and the younger ones are not deeply informed about history.
I have this sad, disquiet feeling that history is no longer the priority in our education system and in our everyday life. Or that we are simply “mudah lupa” – forget easily.
With that in mind, I would like to share with esteemed visitors and debaters an article entitled “A New Dawn For Multiracial Parties?”
This article is relevant especially in the light of the collapse of the Perak Pakatan Rakyat government following the defections of two Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) state representatives and one from the DAP, and the failure of Anwar Ibrahim to topple the Barisan Nasional government via defections.
The article was published in July 1, 2008 issue of the Malaysian Business magazine. I wrote:
SOME weeks ago a businessman asked me if there is a future for race-based political parties in Malaysia. He's a Chinese and obviously apolitical.
He must have been influenced by the emergence of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) or People's Justice Party, as a key player in national politics following the March 8 polls.
The credit has to go to the party's adviser and de facto leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. His spirited efforts to entice a sufficient number of Barisan Nasional (BN) Members of Parliament to cross over to his Pakatan
Rakyat (an informal coalition of three parties), or to side with it, is keeping public interest alive.
To date, his success has been limited and tentative. Only the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) has openly shown some interest.
But instead of leaving BN to join Pakatan Rakyat, SAPP had proposed its own vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in Parliament.
Even that did not materialise when on the appointed date - June 24 – the party's two MPs went absent on claims that `they were threatened'.
Instead, an indirect confidence motion seeking support for the Government's action in tackling rising food, fuel and commodity prices tabled by the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister, Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad, was carried, with 129 voting in favour and 78 against.
Even if SAPP's two MPs were to join Pakatan Rakyat, Anwar is still very far away from getting 29 or 30 crossovers to topple the BN government and to form an opposition minority government.
Anwar continues to claim that he will have a sufficient number of BN turncoats joining him by Sept 16 to enable Pakatan Rakyat to topple Abdullah and form its own government. Sept 16 would be the anniversary of the proclamation of Malaysia in 1963.
With the Abdullah government using its financial and legal might to keep the BN component parties and MPs in line, Anwar's backdoor attempt to take over Parliament may backfire.
Abdullah has already poured more money into Sabah and Sarawak where Anwar is concentrating his efforts. And out of the blue, the pro-government newspapers started to publish news that the SAPP president and former Sabah Chief Minister, Datuk Yong Teck Lee, might be investigated for corruption.
Abdullah's carrot-and-stick tactics could thwart Anwar's attempt to get further support from BN MPs either individually or en bloc.
A failure to do so can greatly affect Anwar's reputation and the relevance of PKR as a multiracial party in the multi-party Pakatan Rakyat.
Back to the Chinese businessman, I told him that it is the multiracial parties that have an uncertain future in Malaysia despite PKR's strong showing at the March 8 polls.
I am not against multiracial parties nor am I against multiracialism. I grew up in a multiracial environment, living side-by-side with our khinzir-rearing Chinese neighbours, attended a Roman Catholic school and worked in multiracial companies.
For those not familiar with contemporary Malay language, khinzir is supposed to be the politically correct word for `pig'. Instead of babi, which supposedly has dirty and unhygienic connotations, khinzir, which is an Arabic word, sounds cleaner and more palatable although no less haram (forbidden).
In all that time, I saw the multiracial parties, despite their lofty ideas, high ideals and encouraging initial support, come and go. What survived are coalitions that bring together communal and regional parties as typified by BN and its predecessor, the Alliance.
But in the case of the fledgling Pakatan Rakyat that proposes to formally bring together PKR, the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (Pas) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP) in a BN-like coalition, its success depends very much on Anwar's leadership.
Without a strong PKR, Anwar may not be able to convince its more established and larger coalition partners to stick around with him given their vast ideological and policy differences.
Success at the polls alone will not guarantee that the PKR-Pas-DAP collaboration will survive and evolve into a permanent coalition that can rival BN and give birth to a true two-party system.
The idea of a multiracial party is not new. The first to promote it was the founder president of Umno, Datuk Onn Jaafar, a Johor Malay aristocrat.
He founded Umno in May 1946. In 1951, at the behest of the British, he proposed opening Umno membership to the immigrant races. At that time, the Chinese and Indians, most of whom were indentured labourers, were yet to be accorded Malayan citizenship.
The Malays objected and Onn, being an honourable person, left Umno and Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra took over the fledgling party.
Onn went on to pursue his dream of a multiracial party by forming the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP). The IMP became the first political movement to oppose the concept of Malay dominance.
Ironically, neither the Chinese nor the Indians, despite the promise of equality and citizenship, found the IMP convincing. Instead, the Chinese-based Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and the Indian-based Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) opted to form an alliance with Umno.
In 1952, Umno and the MCA contested the Kuala Lumpur Municipal election and won 11 out of the 12 seats. The Alliance was formalised in time to contest the 1955 Malayan Legislative Council elections with the MIC as a third member. It won 51 out of 52 seats. Pas won a solitary seat.
Undeterred by the dismal failure of IMP, Onn started another multiracial party called Parti Negara in 1953. He found some success among the Malays but again failed to get Chinese and Indian support.
The only parliamentary seat ever won by Parti Negara was by Onn himself in the 1959 general election in Terengganu. With his death in 1962, Parti Negara came to a natural end.
Since then, numerous attempts have been made to forge multiracial parties that draw membership from the various racial groups but with little success. Most of them failed while those that survived degenerated into communal parties.
Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia or the Malaysian People's Movement Party started off as a multiracial party in 1968. Its first chairman was the late Professor Syed Hussein Alatas.
In its early days as the opposition state government of Penang, Gerakan made quite widespread use of the services of its Malay members.
But many of them, especially the prominent ones, went back to Umno when it joined BN. Today the Malays form a tiny fraction of the party's membership. Some 80% of its members are Chinese and 15%, Indians.
Other attempts at promoting multiracial politics at the organizational level were Parti Keadilan Masyarakat Malaysia (Pekemas), Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia (PSRM) and the DAP.
When in 1972 Gerakan co-founder Tun Lim Chong Eu led the party into BN, the late Tan Sri Dr Tan Chee Khoon opposed it.
He soon left Gerakan because he felt that by joining BN, the party was endorsing the race-based politics of the new coalition. He went on to form Pekemas or the Social Justice Party of Malaysia as a non-communal party.
Despite his non-communal stance, Dr Tan supported the New Economic Policy (NEP) because he believed that an affirmative action plan was required to address poverty, which was then rampant among the Malays and the rural population.
Despite his best efforts and his idealism, Pekemas did badly in the 1974 general election. Dr Tan was the only Pekemas parliamentary candidate to win. When he retired in 1977 due to poor health, most of Pekemas' members defected to the DAP.
The DAP itself, which was the product of the “Malaysianisation” of the Malaysian operation of Lee Kuan Yew's People's Action Party (PAP), started life as a multiracial party in 1967.
But today it has lost its Malay representation. Despite winning the most number of seats in the Perak State Legislative Assembly in the March 8 polls, it was unable to lead the State Government because the State Constitution requires that the Menteri Besar be a Malay and a Muslim.
The last of the maverick post-colonial multiracial parties to survive was Parti Rakyat Malaysia or Malaysian People's Party.
It was founded in 1955 by nationalist Ahmad Boestaman and counted among its leaders Ishak Haji Muhammad or better known as Pak Sako, Abdul Aziz Ishak, Datuk Kampo Radjo, Tan Kai Hee, Tan Hock Hin, Dr Rajakumar, Hasnul Hadi and Tajuddin Kahar.
Under the leadership of academician Syed Husin Ali, the party supported Anwar's 1998 reformasi movement that led to the founding of Parti Keadilan (Justice Party). In August 2003, the two parties merged to form Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
Thus the question arises whether PKR can sustain its multiracial representation or it too will degenerate into an ethnic-based party like the DAP and Gerakan.
Already, several key founders of the party have resigned while others have gone back to Umno.
Still, PKR may stand a better chance of surviving thanks to its strong leadership and its success in leading the opposition coalition in the March 8 polls.
Its chances of surviving may improve further if Pakatan Rakyat is formalised and becomes a viable long-term alternative to BN.
Of course, PKR will become stronger if, by Sept 16, Anwar is able to coax enough numbers of BN MPs to switch their allegiance and side with Pakatan Rakyat.
So we may yet see Anwar as the Prime Minister of Malaysia.