What Happens Now to the Opposition and Change?

What Happens Now to the Opposition and Change?

By Kee Thuan Chye

Now that the 13th general election (GE13) is over and Najib Razak has been sworn in as prime minister and his Cabinet has been formed, what happens to the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat and the massive numbers of people who wanted change, as reflected in the popular vote?

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has done the right thing in not accepting the result of GE13 on grounds of fraud, and he has been going around rallying support for his cause, but where this will lead is highly uncertain.

Meanwhile, PKR strategist Rafizi Ramli has announced that Pakatan is investigating the results of 27 parliament seats which were won by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) narrowly. If he and his team are able to prove fraud or wrong tabulation of the votes, there might be a case made for them. But where? In the courts? Would they get the justice they seek?

The harsh reality is, the system we have now and the rules made for it are heavily in favour of BN. Since the time when Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister, many rules were changed to favour the incumbent government – including controlling the judiciary, the Attorney-General’s chambers, the media, the police, the higher echelons of the civil service, Felda, the universities and numerous other institutions – and they cannot be unchanged unless the present government is overthrown.

And to overthrow it is extremely difficult, as we have seen from the GE13 result. The fact that Pakatan garnered three per cent more of the popular vote and still lost the elections, and the fact that it managed to win only 89 seats from this while BN won 133 indicate clearly that gerrymandering has favoured BN beyond decent proportions.

If this continues to GE14, the Opposition may still not win at that one. Besides, in the interim, it may be further disadvantaged by an expected fresh exercise to redelineate the electoral constituencies. We can be sure it will be conducted to further benefit the incumbent. So, realistically speaking, Pakatan cannot possibly beat BN playing by the latter’s rules.

As it looks, nothing short of a revolution can bring BN down. But that would not be the way preferred by most Malaysians, especially the middle-ground ones who want peace and stability. And given that we have not reached our economic limits, there may not be enough impoverished people with little to lose to support such a drastic move.

As such, Pakatan has to keep soldiering on despite the odds. And the most important thing it needs to ensure is that the three main parties within it stay together, even build on their solidarity.

They have to guard against their tendency to quarrel or nitpick among themselves because of their ideological differences. They should resist slinging mud at each other in public over issues like hudud and the Islamic state. They should also put aside the issue of the use of ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims, which in any case will be decided in the Court of Appeal soon. This issue arguably cost Pakatan partner PAS some seats at GE13; it would do the coalition well to learn from that.

Pakatan should also start planning its strategy for GE14 right now. Not only when the next elections draw near. It has to work hard at convincing rural voters and those in the interiors of Sabah and Sarawak of the need for change.

Many young people are now charged up to do something to bring about change. Some of them have even expressed willingness to help in ways like educating others about pressing issues and going into the rural hinterland. Pakatan should harness their energies, their eagerness. It should also form closer pacts with civil society groups that are sympathetic to its cause, including groups helmed by the young. They are the ones who will drive the future.

No doubt BN will be depending on its new Minister of Youth and Sports, Khairy Jamaluddin, to win over the young, but he has a lot of baggage from his days serving his father-in-law, Abdullah Badawi, when the latter was prime minister, and, considering what he has said and done in the last few years, he has much to do to prove his sincerity. In fact, he had publicly declared that he would not contest any seat in GE13, but he did so anyway. And his reward is obviously the ministerial position.

Compared to him, Pakatan’s Rafizi Ramli is a more credible prospect. He has done much to gain public trust, including blowing the whistle on the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) scandal and other BN shenanigans, and proven his sagacity on economic matters. He also talks more sense and substance than Khairy. Together with fellow party leader Nurul Izzah Anwar and the DAP’s Tony Pua and Liew Chin Tong, Rafizi is a formidable draw for youths who want a clean and accountable government.

Meanwhile, to make the playing field more amenable to a fairer game, Pakatan could co-opt the help of like-minded civil society groups and NGOs to push for real electoral reform. What came out of the parliamentary select committee that was formed in the aftermath of the Bersih 2.0 rally in 2011 is only a small fraction of what can be done. And even then, many of its recommendations were not adopted by the Election Commission (EC), which is supposed to be neutral and independent but in reality is not.

What is clearly needed, therefore, is a concerted campaign to make the EC truly independent and answerable not to the Executive but to Parliament. If that is not achieved, GE14 will be another one-sided battle. The other requirement would be to purge its leadership of retired civil servants and to replace it with non-partisan professionals.

The next step would be to campaign for a redelineation of electoral constituencies to provide for a fair fight. As it is, constituencies that favour the Opposition tend to encompass huge numbers of voters whereas those that are BN-friendly tend to be smaller. The parliament seat of Putrajaya, for example, has only a little over 15,000 voters. This explains why BN needed only 47.38 per cent of the popular vote to obtain 133 parliament seats. One way to surmount this problem is to ask for constituencies to be made proportionate to population size.

Concomitant with electoral reform is reform of the media, and that’s the third initiative Pakatan must strongly pursue.

The first target is the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), which gives the Home Minister the power to deny any applicant a permit to start a newspaper and also to suspend or revoke the licence of an existing publication. If it were to be repealed, the industry would be open for Pakatan to set up its own mass information providers.

This would greatly help it to enlighten the public on the good things it does and answer accusations hurled at it by BN. More important, it would provide a counter-balance to BN’s side of the story, thus allowing readers to draw their own conclusions from reading both sides. Come election time, it would be able to publicise more efficiently its manifesto and aspirations for the people. During GE13, it could hardly do this through the mainstream media, which also refused to run Pakatan advertisements countering those put up by BN.

These are just measures Pakatan can take to keep up the fight to overthrow BN. But what about the people who have been supporting it before, during and even now after GE13? The people who called for ubah (change) and are still calling for it?

They have to keep the faith, and avoid being intimidated by BN or be lured back by it. Five years is a long time to GE14, and things may be done, for example, to the Chinese to make them feel they should support BN the next time or suffer, like assailing them with threats to scuttle Chinese education, but they have to stay united with their Malay and Indian brethren who also want change.

To keep to their course, the Chinese could take heart in what PAS’ Hatta Ramli said at the ‘Black 505’ rally in Kuantan a few days ago: “Let me warn Umno, if you want to disturb our Chinese friends, then you will have to do it over my dead body! … They are our friends, they were born here, they contributed to the nation’s development, why are they being discriminated against in this way?”

He assured the Chinese, “Don’t worry, we are very much with you. We will defend you to the last.” This is something they are unlikely to hear from any Umno leader.

Even though BN has been declared the winner of GE13, ubah seekers can still take heart that a new spirit has arisen in Malaysia. And that they themselves are the generators and embodiment of that spirit. The unity of purpose and commitment that they displayed during the run-up to the elections is the best thing that has happened to the country in a long time.

There should be no turning back now – because to turn back would be to regress. The clamour for change should instead continue to grow – because the force of change is bigger than any political coalition. And the comrades for change should continue to fight for what is right, for what is needed. For if and when they succeed, we might be able to get a better Malaysia.

Or, as I like to think, the real Merdeka.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, and the latest volume, Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!