Pakatan Rakyat and the Future of Malaysia’s Two Party Democracy


February 12, 2015

COMMENT: With Anwar Ibrahim back in Sungei BulohDin MericanY2 prison can Pakatan Rakyat coalition hold, given the strong and uncompromising stands taken by the secularist DAP and the theocratic PAS? That is the question. Without the glue that was responsible for making the Pakatan Rakyat coalition of PKR, PAS and DAP a reality, it is difficult to envisage an alternative force that can take over from the present regime that had held power since Independence. The spirit of 2008  that galvanized Malaysian voters has been extinguished. That is the sad truth.

I am personally not optimistic that a two-party system as presently constituted if PAS is obsessed with the hudud and DAP is uncompromisingly secular can be viable. So in the run up to the next General Elections, Pakatan Rakyat must get its act together and settle their ideological differences that can cause it to implode. A house that is deeply divided cannot stand.

UMNO-BN strategists knew the secret to weaken and eventually break up Pakatan Rakyat. They persecuted and put Anwar Ibrahim out of action, and continue to play the religion and race card to entice PAS to join their ranks in common cause. It is, therefore, naive to think that a two-party system as presently constituted can be a viable one.–Din Merican

Pakatan Rakyat and the Future of Malaysia’s 2-Party Democracy

by R B Bhattacharjee–The EDGE MALAYSIA

Malaysia's opposition leaders hold hands at the end of their People's Alliance conference in Shah AlamDAP’s Lim Guan Eng, Anwar Ibrahim and PAS’s  Hadi Awang

Although it has become common to acknowledge that a two party system has emerged in Malaysia following the unprecedented setbacks faced by the Barisan Nasional coalition in the 12th. and 13th. General Elections, recent events show that there is a long way to go before that concept can be said to have taken root in the country’s democratic system.

No doubt, the opposition parties had set aside their visceral differences to form an electoral pact in the run-up to the 12th general election in 2008. And following the surprise gains that they made in that election, Democratic Action Party (DAP), Pan Islamic Party  of Malaysia (PAS) and the People’s Justice Party (PKR) showed much promise as a new political force when they came together to form the Pakatan Rakyat coalition in order to establish the state governments in Selangor, Penang, Perak (at that time) and Kedah, besides Kelantan which  was already being administered by PAS.

Anwar-UbahThe Slogan for 2008 General Election

With five states under their control, it did seem for a while that Pakatan Rakyat was on its way to become an alternative  to the entrenched  political infrastructure created by Barisan Nasional.

Certainly, the groundswell of support for the opposition parties was an unmistakable sign that the people had become impatient to change the patronage of the ruling government for a new brand of politics that does not take voters for granted. At the same time, no politician worth his salt would be blind to the fact that voters would be looking for signs that the opposition coalition was intrinsically cohesive before they would be convinced about backing its bid to take power at the federal level.

Subsequently, it seemed that Pakatan Rakyat only needed to build on a common policy platform, grow its grassroots machinery, attract enough talent and avoid pitfalls that Barisan Nasional had fallen into to ultimately inherit the mantle of power from a political establishment that was showing serious of dysfunction.

Since the sea of change in voter sentiment in 2008, however, the Pakatan Rakyat grouping has come under severe strain on a number of fronts that collectively pose questions about its viability as an alternative federal government.

The well-aired conflict between DAP and PAS over the notion of Malaysia as an Islamic nation versus the supremacy of the secular Constitution is perhaps the most divisive of the issues that foreshadow the unmaking of Pakatan Rakyat. Not that the cluster of issues around this theme does not impact the Barisan Nasional too, but the dominant role of of UMNO in the coalition means that dissonance in the ruling coalition is very much muted by comparison.

The Islamic nation controversy illuminates the difficulties  confronting Pakatan Rakyat in its efforts to establish an inclusive political institution that can govern Malaysia’s diverse population without falling back on the self-defeating divide-and-rule paradigm that has become the default political culture particularly in recent years.

Hadi AwangPAS  is committed to Hudud

Far from clearing the way to build a race-blind, religious-blind society, DAP and PAS, which have been at loggerheads for decades over the establishment of a shariah-oriented administration, could only disagree to disagree on the matter in 2008 when it was expedient to announce the formation of Pakatan Rakyat as an emergent coalition bedecked with a string of states under its control.

Allah Issue SupportersThe Allah Issue

This is just not good enough, as demonstrated by their endless bickering over a slew of inter-ethnic and inter-religious issues that have bubbled up of late. Since the 12th general election in particular, the many difficulties between shariah and secular institutions show that the overlapping of theocratic and secular jurisdictions is an inherently problematic proposition.

So, it is almost inevitable that a political coalition that juxtaposes secularist and theocratic  parties will become undone when it comes to a crunch. This is clearly the story of Pakatan Rakyat’s journey until now.

To conceptualise a political system that can survive the competing pressures of secular and theological worldviews, there is effectively no alternative to the separation of religious and state powers. The lessons of history, from church-state relations of Medieval Europe to the record of contemporary Islamic states, are quite clear on this score.

This means that the Pakatan Rakyat parties have to embark on a voyage of discovery to chart new territory that circumvents potential whirlpools of conflict in a multicultural society. Only when it has mapped the extent of this new sphere can it present to voters a workable alternative model to the current one that puts one group against another in a perpetual cycle of acrimony.

It is necessarily a work in progress. explored one area at a time, with each emerging issue between individuals, institutions and society in a variety of combinations pointing to gaps that need fixing, rights that need acknowledgment and duties that must be performed.

To expect an overnight alliance forged  in the heat of an electoral triumph to withstand the assault  of a political establishment that has been in control over five decades is in itself wishful thinking. Perhaps, it may even entail a deconstruction of current political parties and coalitions to allow new thinking about contentious issues to emerge. This is a work to be undertaken for the long term, with the interests of the coming generations in mind.

The Pakatan Rakyat leadership council cannot be expected overnight to resolve such a fundamental issue  that goes to the heart of power relations, socio-cultural  pluralism and concepts such justice and equity, among other things. Rather, Pakatan Rakyat leaders may give themselves some breathing room if they merely acknowledge that their mixed marriage is on the rocks.

17 thoughts on “Pakatan Rakyat and the Future of Malaysia’s Two Party Democracy

  1. Perhaps this is the alternative:

    A strong PKR-DAP formal alliance, with support on certain issues (and not on others) from PAS and Parti Sosialis Malaysia. Most of the time, PAS and Parti Sosialis Malaysia will be supporting the PKR-DAP.

    This is comparable to red-green alliances in European politics where the
    Greens support a ruling Social Democratic or Socialist Party on certain issues but not on other issues. But the Greens vote in favour of the policies of the Social Democratic Party most of the time.
    Also comparable to “light red-dark red” alliances such as in Swedish politics where
    radical left parties (such as the Left Party) vote to support the policies of the moderate left Social Democratic Party much of the time. In the past, the Centre Party (former Agrarian Party) also supported the Social Democrats.

  2. The potential of two-party falls on the generation of likes of Rafizi Ramili, Nurul Izzah, Tony Pua and they are still one very big step away from in control of the politics of their party..DAP has no problem leap-frogging to the next generation but PKR and PAS is long way away, PAS likely decades away.

    There is only one possibility of PR taking over Putrajaya in the short term – to do it without PAS – PAS choosing to stay out – choosing neither side. It can only happen with a total collapse of the Najib and UMNO which is difficult to imagine but not impossible. The key is something truly as dramatic as Anwar’s jailing for example the total collapse of 1MDB or outright fight between Mahathir and Najib or possibility of something else even.. Its not a big hope but that is the hard truth given PAS’s betrayal and failure.

  3. Whether a two-party system could be institutionalized or not in the Malaysian context depends entirely on the Malay voters which in numbers are way more than all the others combined.

    The majority of the Malays in combination with some of the others must want it. This is democracy. Even if some section of the Malay and non-Malay voters are or perceived to be dubed by BN, so be it, and we deserve the government we all get. Some friends and members of my own family voted for BN at the last GE, and these are not kampong folks.

    It therefore also depends on the personal circumstances of each and every voter. Some whose personal financial circumstances are OK or more than OK, comfortable, and so socio-politcal stability even under a corrupt government is preferred, after all which government is 100% clean? So just having a strong opposition voted in by other people is good enough, while they continue to vote BN to be the government of the day.

    The way to approach the issue is to bring across the better argument that if this is what people want, i.e., a stable, strong government with an effective opposition which is equally able to govern as a viable alternative, then an institutionalized two-party system is the better way to get it, and get it peaceably at every change of government.

    The situation at the moment is that PR may be perceived to be not all that certain in presenting a viable alternative, with or without Anwar. The ideological differences between the various PR constituents seem to be irreconcilably wide which appear to be a permanent feature no matter how brave a front is put forward.

    Both BN and PR at the moment are betting that in 3 years time, the other party will implode, disintegrate, or be weakened beyond repair.

    For PR, capturing Putrajaya at the next GE may prove to be too ambitious at the moment. The better long term strategy is to capture more States, perform very well in governing these States, and hopefully in the process throw up an outstanding Malay Menteri Besar with PM material to lead the charge for Putrajaya.

    The advanced stage of political development should be that a level of maturity is reached whereby a non-Malay PM is acceptable. It took the US of A more than 200 years to reach it.

  4. the might want to think of the one or two or three broad similarities and a few straight forward objective and build on it. Just like any other groups of people there are going to be differences or perspectives but it does not stop from working one the similar objectives. DAP wants everyone to be same but demographic differences and where people are in Malaysia as strikingly different, these gaps would not disappear overnight – So Malaysia Malaysians is a good big dream , but it needs to commence there, PAS has to be seen to be Islamic, so DAP and other can openly assimilate some of these principles, UMNO is clever is stating shariah index and more principled based packaging, why not you guys. But you know what is missing its all has become one big talk fest with politics, where are the action? all three states in Current opposition hands needs to demonstrate real progress, and this will be clear for people. and It will give BN with 1MB and other plans a run for their money so to speak, Action boys , and when we sweat and play , this philosophical talk remains there usually up in the air and the real benefits seen on the ground becomes palable. Otherwise this is another dusty chapter long history of Malaysian opposition which is finished off and yet again. Hope is there and huge danger and precipice is also there

  5. PAS without Hadi hemming it will be more moderate. LGE will tone down and should take a more moderate stance, instead of being hardcore. Now the coalition needs a leader, a wise, shrewd leader without baggage.. someone like Ku Li supported by the factions in Sabah and Sarawak. This East Malaysian support is crucial. In fact PR would have ruled the country, Peninsular Malaysia in 2008 and 2013. BN squeezed through on the “fixed deposit” of Sarawak and Sabah!

  6. From the start the loose grouping forming the PR was just A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE to gain votes. When it appeared to work in 2008 GE12, the component parties tried to double their effort to win bigger. Unfortunately their diametrically divergent political ideologies proved too strong to prevent their internal quarrels from spilling unashamedly over onto the public arena. Despite that incessant internal trouble, the politically crafty Anwar was able to GLUE the disparate parties together through to 2013 GE13 which saw the PR for the first time gaining the popular votes though not the majority of the Parliamentary seats. But now without Anwar, it’s nearly impossible to visualize any hope of the components parties sticking together especially considering the worsening effects of the repulsive forces that influence the relationship of the DAP & PAS, which still seems sore with the PKR as the result of the ‘Kajang Move’ unilateral action by the latter.

  7. Sabah and Sarawak are the keys to Putrajaya. If for whatever reason UMNO does not have them, DAP and PKR can take Putrajaya without the aid of PAS.

    PAS has shown that it is should never be given a chance to run the country, have a say in running the country and even running a state . As is, a “two party system” is untenable without considering the Sabah and Sarawak issue because PAS is unreliable. If PAS were a reliable component it would not matter if Anwar were around or not.

    UMNO knows that through their sleepers and the mad mullahs in PAS, that they can destabilize the alliance enough without having to worry of a formidable adversary in the Peninsular.

  8. The fate of BN in the 14th GE depends very much on the economic and financial state of the country. It is in a healthy condition, BN would still run Putrajaya with a decent parlimentary majority. But it the economic sh– hits the fan, then PR would have a chance of cracking open the BN amour and take over Putrajaya.

  9. The best ideal political party in Malaysia should consist 2 parties to represent Malay and non Malay Party.

    Malay party should be give a special treatment in the constitution, even they loose in the general election, malay party should get a minimum 51% or simple majority in the parliament. This regulation has to be implemented because Malaysia is owned and founded by Malays, there will no Malaysia without malays.

    Meanwhile, non malays should be classified as pendatang or temporary passengers only and the gov’t should give them more incentive if they want go back to their original land and or migrate to other countries.

    Indons should be classified as malays, so they can live live and we have to welcome all Indons if they want move from Nusantara Indonesia to Malaysia. As a “center of malay world”, malaysia should show to Indons that we are “master and father” for them. Tto show our “malay brotherhood”.

  10. PKR champions democracy, good governance and justice for all. It is more than justice for Anwar Ibrahim. Unfortunately, Wan Azizah and her children are using the party once again to secure Anwar’s release from jail. It has been rumoured that daughter Nurul Nuha might be a candidate from PKR in the bye election for the Permatang Pauh Parliamentary seat.

    Stop perpetuating dynastic politics.Dr.Wan Azizah should resign from the post of PKR President.Enough is enough.

  11. Yeah, a good proposition indeed…. to tell the non-Malays to f_ _ k off to the land ‘your ancestors came from’. Pack up the mualaf ultra kiasu first and send him to Xinjiang and then invite the Balinese Malays to come over, and bring along their p_ gs.

  12. For PR to survive, PAS has to be controlled by the Erdogan group, otherwise PR is doomed and with it our dream of a better Malaysia.

    The Erdogan group has to challenge the conservative ulamaks (and pro UMNO) in the coming Muktamar, and neutralise the pro-UMNO group in PAS, like Hadi Awang, Nik Abduh, Nasaruddin Tantawi etc.

    If the Erdogan can take control of PAS, I believe the senior members of PAS like Husam Musa, Hatta Ramli, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Salahuddin Ayub, Dzulkifli Ahmad, Md Sabu.Khalid Samad etc can provide leadership ,with help of DAP senior members,for a new PR in the absence of Anwar.

    In fact, if PR is able to win in PRU 14, the PM can come from PAS, since PKR’s leader are rather young and inexperience.

  13. “The best ideal political party in Malaysia should consist 2 parties to represent Malay and non Malay Party. ”

    Instead, why not just have one political party : UMNO. Amend the constitution so that only the pendatang Non Malays have to pay taxes (and this is the important bit ) have to vote UMNO in every election and by election. Also every Non Malay business has to have a 51% Malay interest. Oh yes, and Non Muslims incur a 20% tax surcharge.

    This way we have peace and harmony and we can show the world how tolerant Malaysia is. Truly the best democracy in the world….wait….in the universe !

  14. Guys, a two party democracy is not a necessity. The UK is doing nicely with a coalition government (Conservative & Lib Dems), thank you very much. Her parliament is also strengthened by Labour acting as a strong Opposition.

    In Malaysia, I foresee PAS breaking away from PR and that is ok. And, if there is a hung parliament in the next election, then PAS could conceivably form a coalition with either PR or BN.

    I also foresee that East Malaysia will swing away from BN and join forces with PR in the next election. I did not realise that demographically, East Malaysia has less Muslims than all the other religions combined.

    That, and the antics of Taib and family, will finally end the rule of BN.

  15. The fact that DAP need PAS, is no secret. But will PAS continue with PR based on loyalty to Pakatan Rakyat whereas they have a bigger vision of implementing hudud and Islamic governance which DAP clearly oppose?

    Pakatan Rakyat should be well advised that the only roadmap to Putrajaya should be designed based on the worst case scenario of going ahead with GE14 without PAS in the coalition instead of clinging to lost hopes and best case scenarios. Unfortunately they are seriously lacking in this department.

    In recent times DAP and it’s supporters had been displaying political behavior that have failed to endear them to the Malays. Perhaps they are confident of their roadmap to Putrajaya without needing Malay votes, one may only ponder. But the way they have been going about speaking plainly on the net, I doubt BN need to instigate any hate campaign against DAP, when they themselves have have been doing such an effective job of delving into sensitive Malay and Islamic issues.

    PR would be wise to consider a very real possibility that for Malay voters, in a choice of two evils, one being the weaknesses and wrongdoings of UMNO , the second being the thought of being ruled by a coalition dominated by DAP who have indicated their stand on Malay or Islamic matters once attaining power, one would venture to guess the Malays could stick to the former choice for the time being that is, GE14 until better options present itself in the future.

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