The Opposition Needs A Plan
One constant feature of Malaysian politics is the grouching of the opposition parties and their supporters about the Barisan Nasional government. There is a veritable treasure trove of issues with which one can hammer the government, and it is no wonder that this is exploited by the opposition. However, the atmosphere of hate engendered by negative politics is, in my opinion, not conducive to winning elections.
Elections are won or lost based on who has the better plan and ideas for developing the country and moving it forward. This maxim holds true anywhere on the planet where generally free elections are held. In Malaysia, the opposition seems wholly incapable of presenting its own plans and ideas. It has a hodgepodge of proposals, but these rarely (if ever) coagulate into one grand plan for advancing the country. These proposals are rarely (if ever) presented to the voters in a way that starkly shows just how far their lives will be improved if they are implemented.
That is not to say that there is no place for good old criticism of the government. The opposition has done a terrific job of keeping the government on its toes. However, that is simply not good enough. Hate does not win elections - a plan wins elections. Also, when you present an alternative to the government's policies, you have more than enough of an opportunity to criticse the government's policies. There is no zero-sum trade-off here - you can have both a plan and criticism of the government.
Currently, we have far too much criticism and not enough planning. Just look at the blogosphere. Check out Jeff Ooi's Screenshots, Lim Kit Siang's blog, or Malaysia Today. These sites all have one thing in common - they do a brilliant job of criticising the government and its various plans (or lack of plans), without ever presenting much of an alternative to the government's plans. The commentators on these sites tend to be even worse - focusing single-mindedly on how terrible the government is, without even considering the calibre or quality of the opposition. Sometimes when I read the comments, I get the feeling that these people would vote for the opposition even if they were led by a pink fluffy rabbit.
Pointing out the government's flaws is not necessarily bad in itself. Certainly, it can often be enough to persuade many to vote against the government. However, it is rarely enough to persuade a majority to vote for the opposition. When people vote for the opposition, they are generally registering a vote of protest against the government instead of actually voting for the opposition. I believe that this is what dissuades many people from voting for the opposition - they can't stomach the thought of voting for a party without a plan, whose only platform seems to consist of pointing out flaws in government policy without presenting any new initiatives of their own.
The key to BN's success has always been its strength on concrete, tangible issues such as the economy. People, especially those in the villages, could not care less about the ISA or the Sedition Act or what have you. All they care about is whether you can bring them greater prosperity and development. Thus far, BN has generally delivered on that count. It has not delivered as much prosperity as we would like, mainly due to all the corruption going on in our halls of government, but it has delivered some modicum of prosperity. The opposition must seize this opportunity by presenting a coherent and visionary plan for delivering more economic success than BN has.
It is not enough to run on abstract things like "transparency" or "freedom of speech" alone. We must show how these abstract concepts tie into that very concrete object called economic development. We must demonstrate how an open system is superior to a closed one because of the way it permits errors to be pointed out.
Furthermore, it is not enough to simply promise that your plans will bring about development. You must show the tangible products of development. Show how by creating greater transparency, we will no longer have to wait half an hour for the bus to arrive late at the stop. Show how by halting handouts, we will be able to build so many more schools, highways, railraods and hire so many more teachers, engineers, policemen for the same amount of taxes we pay.
The opposition needs a concrete plan. The opposition needs to go beyond being the opposition. It needs to start planning as if it is the government, because only then will voters be able to be convinced to vote for the opposition. That is the day when a two-party system in Malaysia will become feasible. That is the day when we will have a future that is no longer as bleak as the dark clouds that seem to hang over our country now.