By Kua Kia Soong
The prospect of three-cornered and even four-cornered electoral battles in the next general election has now dawned on Malaysians. The delusional in Pakatan Harapan are in denial, even claiming this will work out in favour of their candidates.
For those who have yearned for decades to see the end of Barisan Nasional (BN) hegemony and its racist, corrupt and unjust policies, this is a shocking reality especially after the breakthroughs made to include PAS in the opposition electoral pact since the mid-Eighties.
Factions within PKR can see the ominous signs of disaster if they cut off PAS totally and have to face three or more cornered fights while others in the same party seem to have developed an aversion to PAS similar to DAP’s current fear and loathing of them.
Is PAS’ Syariah Bill the cause of the opposition split?
The anti-PAS elements in the opposition claim it is PAS’ attempts to introduce the Syariah Amendment Bill that is the cause of the breakdown of the opposition pact, but is it really?
According to PAS, such laws would apply to all Muslims and would not apply to non-Muslims. However, legal experts have pointed out that there will be cases that are not so cut-and-dry and that hudud-type laws will infringe on the Federal Constitution that guarantees equality for all Malaysians before the law.
Nevertheless, the enactment of PAS’ hudud law will require a two-thirds majority in Parliament as it involves constitutional amendments.
Anyway, this has all along been the argument by Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition members to justify their engagement with PAS. It did not stop the DAP forging a successful coalition with Semangat 46 (S46)and PRM under ‘Gagasan Rakyat’ while S46 had in turn forged another coalition with PAS under ‘Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah’ during the 1990 general election.
Although the opposition failed to defeat the BN, the attitude of Malay voters toward the DAP changed positively because of its alliance with S46, PRM and PAS.
In fact, the realisation of this opposition front and the hope of a multiracial challenge to the BN had been the main reason for the entry of civil rights activists including myself into the DAP in the first place.
PAS’ 1985 policy statement a game changer
Without a doubt, PAS’ policy statement in 1985 on equality of all peoples before Allah was a game changer. In October 1985, then PAS vice-president Abdul Hadi Awang made an important policy statement when he declared that “…the question of privileges for the Malays will not arise under Islamic law.”
At a stroke, PAS had undermined the communalist ideology of Umno which had dominated the Malay community for so long. The contrast with Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s call to Umno members at the time to “defend their special rights by holding fast to the spirit of nationalism” could not be more stark.
It immediately evoked the predictable response from Umno that PAS was “traitorous to the religion, race and country…selling out the birthright of the Malays.”
Then prime minister Dr Mahathir said the attorney-general would have to determine if the speech was seditious. Even the home minister indicated that his ministry was studying the speech.
Not only was the Sedition Act invoked, some quarters maintained that Hadi’s speech was tantamount to treason. The only voice of reason emanated from the former prime minister Tun Hussein Onn who said: “The Sedition Act should not be invoked too easily just because people express views which do not conform with established views…the authorities should not stretch the provision of the law to make every non-conformist statement seditious or the law itself would fall into disrepute. There is the political aspect which involves the rights of the people to express their views. If it is blatant, one has to be careful in invoking the Act as it involves the freedom of speech.” (The Star: Sept 20, 1985).
Engaging with PAS against Umno hegemony
Seeing an opportunity to engage with the leaders of such a large Malay-based party and to combat the racist ideology of Umno, it was not the DAP but the leaders in the Civil Rights Committee (CRC) of the Chinese Associations (of which I was a member) who initiated a dialogue with PAS leaders in 1985.
During the 1986 general election campaign, leaders of the CRC went around the country calling on the Chinese electorate to vote for the opposition coalition, including PAS. In 1990, quite a few of us civil rights activists led by Lim Fong Seng, the erstwhile chairman of Dong Zong joined the DAP in order to strengthen the opposition front.
We saw PAS as the largest party outside Malaysia’s ruling BN coalition which was capable of attracting Malay votes for the opposition coalition. From its establishment in 1951, it had entrenched itself as one of the country’s strongest opposition parties. Except for a short period from 1974 to 1978 when PAS joined the governing BN coalition, the party has otherwise been in opposition at the federal level for the entirety of its history.
PAS’s electoral base is in Malaysia’s rural and northern states although in recent years it has been attracting the urban middle class as well. The party has governed the northern state of Kelantan since 1990 and has also, in the past, formed governments in Kedah and Terengganu.
DAP’s continual flip flops over associating with PAS
During my association with the DAP between 1990 and 1995, I observed their constantly shifting attitude toward PAS depending on the way their “Chinese ground” shifted. The debates within the party leadership over relations with PAS and Gagasan Rakyat revealed this muddled mindset of the DAP leaders.
Events following the 1990 general election, especially the poor showing by S46 led predictably to the DAP leadership reappraising their relationship with Gagasan Rakyat. Thus, while S46’s other alliance with PAS had not posed a problem during the 1990 general election, by the time of the 1995 general election, the DAP leaders had started having second thoughts about any link at all with PAS claiming that their “Chinese ground” had been shaken.
Nevertheless, the civil rights activists argued that BN was still our main enemy and any policy or tactical adjustment should not detract from the task of weakening the BN through the six-point objectives of Gagasan Rakyat, namely: to uphold the Federal Constitution; uphold democracy and human rights; uphold justice and the independence of the judiciary; defend the socio-economic rights of the people; oppose atrocities, corruption and abuse of power and to strive for inter-ethnic harmony.
Agreement to these objectives did not change the ambivalent attitude of DAP leaders over engagement with PAS. During the subsequent leadership conference, a prominent DAP leader (who rose and rose irresistibly in the party leadership ranks) actually stood up to declare that, in his view, “PAS is our main political enemy”. He was visibly getting a load off his chest after hearing the appeal to be clear in our minds as to who was our main political enemy.
Consequently, DAP decided to pull out of Gagasan Rakyat in 1995 apparently because they did not want to have a tainted association with PAS, even though their association had not posed a problem in 1990.
The impetus for the formation of Barisan Alternatif (BA) was the Reformasi movement after the 1998 arrest and subsequent conviction of former Umno deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. The Reformasi movement had set new political forces into play and on October 24, 1999, PAS, DAP and Parti Keadilan formed an electoral alliance and issued a joint manifesto.
In the 1999 general election, the BA cooperated to ensure only one candidate would contest in each constituency. PAS managed to capture the states of Kelantan and Terengganu and increased its parliamentary seats from 7 to 27.
DAP increased its share from 7 to 10 but with two of its most prominent leaders, Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh losing their constituencies. This disappointing performance for DAP was again blamed on the DAP’s alliance with PAS. Keadilan took only five seats while the BN retained a 77% absolute majority with 148 of 193 seats.
With the disappointing results in the 1999 general election, DAP once again began to review its alliance with PAS and shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York by Islamists, the DAP announced its withdrawal from the BA on September 21, 2001.
The lessons of the 2004 general election
The split led to infighting between the opposition parties in the 2004 general election, resulting in many seats having multiple contestants. Nevertheless, it was a lesson to be learnt by the opposition and by the 2008 general election the main opposition parties had realigned themselves to avoid three-cornered contests.
On April 1, 2008, the leaders of PKR, DAP and PAS announced the new official alliance of Pakatan Rakyat, and this led to the political tsunami at the 12th Malaysian general election. Together the three parties won 89 of the 222 parliamentary seats, its biggest electoral victory yet.
After the political tsunami of 2008, DAP did not have any problems being in the same coalition with PAS and PKR given their overwhelming support from the Malaysian electorate in the 12th Malaysian general election. In fact, during GE13 in 2013, there emerged a video in which the DAP secretary-general accepted PAS’ own commitment to the Islamic State while abiding by the common platform of PR.
So why was PAS kicked out of PR in 2015?
The question that has to be asked is: Why and when did the latest fallout between DAP and PAS start? Who exactly is responsible for the destruction of the painstaking efforts to construct the two-front system all these years?
NGOs and concerned Malaysians should demand to know the real reasons for PAS being kicked out of the opposition coalition. We have been told that it is because of PAS’ commitment to the Syariah Amendment Bill. Is it really? Did Nik Aziz the former menteri besar for Kelantan not legislate the same kind of Bill in the Kelantan State Assembly in the Eighties?
Those who have followed events will know that the rancour between DAP and PAS started well before the Syariah Bill in the Federal Parliament. Already during the silly Kajang Move in 2014, we saw the former Selangor menteri besar being openly maligned by lesser DAP leaders for being inept and corrupt which was the justification for his ousting.
Was the PAS president consulted about this irresponsible political move? The Kajang Move showed not only contempt for the voters in Kajang but also insensitivity toward the PAS leadership, who were a part of the PR coalition.
What Malaysians saw during this Selangor menteri besar controversy was the contempt shown toward the PAS president not only in not being consulted from the start about the former MB’s alleged misconduct and the consequent Kajang Move but also in being set upon by DAP’s Rottweilers.
There was clearly a dearth of leadership in PR that allowed lesser party leaders to be publicly insolent toward the president of a component party in the opposition coalition. Before long, the DAP top leaders entered the fray, with its secretary-general calling the PAS president “mad” and a “liar” among other things in the ongoing spat between the two PR parties. The coalition was formally declared disbanded by the DAP on June 16, 2015, citing their inability to work with PAS.
For all DAP leaders’ protestations about wanting to attract more Malay members, cursing the PAS supremo was not likely to endear the DAP to grassroots PAS supporters all over the country. I am surprised DAP leaders think that the cosmetic efforts to co-opt a few Malay leaders into the DAP leadership can undo all the damage done by continually cursing the Malay-based party supremo.
Lack of electoral pact shows no resolve to replace BN
The disbanding of PR after the DAP declared it could no longer work with PAS was a sad day for all Malaysians who had hopes for a viable alternative to the BN.
The DAP is now willing and able to work with the man who has been responsible for privatising practically all of Malaysia’s industries and destroying whatever semblance of democracy we had in his 22 years in office – all because of the stated need to “Save Malaysia”.
It is certainly a sad day for Malaysians who have carefully nurtured a working relationship with PAS since the Eighties, to see this alternative coalition wrecked by a total lack of sensitivity to coalition principles, human relationships and a dearth of leadership.
This is a significant political turnaround by the DAP. Their current readiness to work with the erstwhile oppressor and autocrat of Malaysia requires a more responsible political economic analysis by the DAP leadership to justify this volte face. They also owe the Malaysian people an analysis of class oppression in Malaysia today and how this ties in with their new agenda to “Save Malaysia”.
The DAP leadership is now banking on their token Malay centrists and the former PAS “New Hopers” to get by. No doubt the DAP is complacent in governing Penang since ruling the state government is already the petty bourgeois’ dream come true. Does their “Malaysian Dream” not involve the capture of the federal government in order to introduce real reforms for all Malaysians – social justice, democracy and human rights?
Kua Kia Soong is the adviser for SUARAM.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.