More options May 18, 11:21 pm
Date: Mon, 18 May 2009 08:21:04 -0700 (PDT)
Local: Mon, May 18 2009 11:21 pm
Subject: Who stands for something, and who opposes?
BN is a pale shade of what they used to stand for..? :-p
Who stands for something, and who opposes?
MAY 18 – As the war of words between Barisan Nasional and Pakatan
Rakyat continues, I can’t help but think that Barisan is missing
something fundamental which Pakatan has.
Regardless of which party is actually in power in a plural system, one
side usually stands for something, and the other usually stands for
Today, Barisan Nasional is nothing more than a pathetic opposition
While the correlation is certainly not perfect, the fact is that
parties which stand for something principled and meaningful tend to
outperform those that just stand for the sake of standing.
Before March 8, while the opposition had a nominal platform, it was
still by and large an outlet for a variety of anti-government
sentiments, without any real uniting principles. What changed in 2007
and 2008 is that the opposition finally managed to agree on something,
and stand for it.
In other words, the difference between today and the years past is the
difference between Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Alternatif.
One defines itself based on the belief that all Malaysians are created
equal, and that the unlucky should not be condemned to a life of
misery. The other defined itself as, well, the alternative to whatever
Barisan stood for. Is it any wonder that Barisan Alternatif eventually
fell apart, while Pakatan is slowly solidifying?
You see this in other countries too. In the United States, the
Democrats lost in 2004 because the key plank of their platform was not
being the party of George W. Bush. They won in 2008 because Barack
Obama had a principle, however vague, which he stood for; the
Republicans lost because they became the party of opposing the
India recently wrapped up its own general elections, in which Manmohan
Singh became only the second Prime Minister ever to democratically win
a second full term, because his Congress Party knew what it stood for,
while the opposition only knew it stood for whatever Congress didn’t.
Parties which become more wrapped up in their own self-importance tend
to believe that simply having a platform for the sake of having one is
enough to win – and this is often their undoing.
That is exactly what has happened to Barisan. While Barisan has always
been a marriage of convenience (like most political coalitions), if
you look at the statements of its leaders from years past, they at
least seemed to know what they stood for. Barisan stood for harmony,
peace, and prosperity, and their leaders could convincingly say this.
Today, if any Barisan leader said that, they would be dismissed as yet
another joker, because Barisan blatantly stands only for whatever
The evidence is there, after all. Both coalitions claim to be “people-
centred,” but while one implements popular policies (like granting
well overdue land titles to deserving owners), the other refuses to
submit to democratic elections and implements a power-grab for the
sake of enhancing its own power.
Barisan is no longer united by a true desire to see harmony, peace and
prosperity in this country – it is united by the common purpose of not
being Pakatan, and enhancing its own interests.
Pakatan has its own issues, too. This is in large part a holdover from
their former days of being the opposition party.
When you are a coalition of people brought together only by
disaffection for the government, you get both the true believers and
the thieves. Some people want to topple the government because they
want a better government. Others want to topple the government because
they believe they should be the ones running a corrupt government.
Pakatan had no choice but to accept the latter type because they were
so short on people willing to work with them.
But let’s look at the longer trends. Pakatan, like it or not, has a
clear intention of what it wants to do. Even though its component
parties disagree on many important issues, they all want to reduce the
vast inequality of economic opportunity in our country, bolster basic
freedoms and institutions, and truly do away with the identification
of race and socio-economic status.
We do not seem to appreciate enough the surprising reality that amidst
the chaos of Malaysian politics, there is a major coalition which
actually has unanimous agreement on racial issues! Even Barisan
Nasional cannot say that.
Really, all Barisan Nasional can say for itself is that what’s best
for Barisan is what’s best for Malaysia. The problem with that is that
it is a complete and blatant lie – and the situation in Perak has been
a brilliant illuminator of this. Pakatan could not have asked for a
better gift from Barisan.
Even people I know who were for Barisan less than a year ago cannot
imagine voting for or supporting it now. In the hearts and minds of
Malaysians, Pakatan is now the party with authority – Barisan is the
wildly flailing, failing opposition party.
If Barisan were to have any hope of undoing the catastrophe that it
has brought upon itself, it must find a better principle to stand for
than its own self-aggrandisation.