Liberal Democracy, Filling the Gap in Malaysian Politics
For decades, a niche has been unfilled in the Malaysian political scene. Since Gerakan gave up fighting for true change by joining the Barisan Nasional regime in the early 1970s, there has been no centrist, liberal democrat party.
Gerakan represented one of the best hopes this country had for moving forward, because it was positioned so well politically. It had leaders with the class and credentials to make it a credible party for governing the country. Its positions on issues were well thought out. It adopted and advocated the values of liberal democracy — a regulated free market with greater liberty and civil rights for all.
These advantages helped Gerakan topple the state government of Penang in the 1969 general election, just one year after its inception. In one year, Gerakan did what the Democratic Action Party has never achieved — taking over a state government.
Other parties have been focusing on fringe, extreme positions — as exemplified by PAS' religious extremism, and the DAP's penchant for socialism and staking out extreme stands on racial issues — or grabbing the centre through a piecemeal coalition of parties that are meant to be all things to all people, i.e. the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition (which promises both an Islamic state and secularism; aggressive Malay supremacy and tolerance for all ethnic communities; economic growth and redistribution of wealth; the paradoxes and hypocrisies in BN policies are staggering).
Now that Gerakan has vanished from the scene, for over 30 years, there has been a vacuum in Malaysian politics aching to be filled. A vacuum awaiting a liberal democrat party, a non-racial organisation, that can credibly fight for the power to change this country for the better and take it from third world to first.
Many in the late 1990s and early 2000s hoped that Parti Keadilan Rakyat would be able to fill this niche. Even now, many still think that PKR can be or already is a liberal democratic party.
The trouble is, if this is true, there are few signs that it is so. PKR takes the idea of a "big tent" party to the extreme. Everyone, from socialists to free marketeers, secularists to Islamists, idealists to opportunists, can find a political home in PKR.
It is true that every party must be capable of accomodating and tolerating viewpoints that are at odds with the views of its main components. But if the big tent gets too large, it will collapse. There must be a unifying pillar that holds it together — in this case, the ideas of liberal democracy — and it's simply impossible to see such a pillar holding PKR together at the present.
There is a movement, so I hear, to unite the party under the theme of liberal democracy. If I am not mistaken, it is abstractly titled Pencerahan, or Enlightenment. I don't know if it can succeed, but I have met its foremost proponent within the party, and I am suitably impressed — this is the kind of man I could see leading the country.
Malaysia cannot afford to continue down its present political path. At the end of the day, politics is about how we lead our lives, and we cannot let our ship of state be dashed on the rocks of regression and prejudice. We cannot allow the political agenda to be set by fringe extremists, nor can we allow our vessel to be captained by a crew which tries to be all things to all men.
We need a liberal democratic party which holds the necessary values and ideals for moving the country forward — and just as importantly, has the necessary credentials and capability to put these ideals into practice. PKR stands a chance of being this party, but the liberal democrat elements within it are not the ones holding its reins. The liberal democrats must do their best to seize these reins, or see the party go down the drain — and possibly the country may not be too far behind.