Liberal Democrats and Theocrats in Malaysia
One of the largest setbacks the liberal democratic (at least I would hope they are liberal democrats in nature) opposition parties in Malaysia has been their association with the Islamic party, PAS.
Without fail, the ruling Barisan Nasional regime has capitalised on this in almost every election. In 1990, they attacked Semangat 46 and the Democratic Action Party based on this. In 1999, they attacked the DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat for forming a united Barisan Alternatif with PAS.
Incredibly, the opposition parties have never found a way to effectively counter this. In the recent Machap by-election where this issue came up, the dumbfounded DAP could not find a way to defend their cooperation with PAS.
In a sense, I think this harks back to the problem of the opposition not having a plan for what to do after they win an election. Their focus is so much on opposing and on just defeating BN, that they don't even care to think much for what they will do next.
The typical response is, "Well, it's easy to talk, but do you realistically believe the opposition stands a chance of winning the next election?" Of course not — but the irony is, unless you can prove you have some idea of what to do after you win an election, odds are you won't win any election at all.
The opposition has not thought out how they will deal with PAS after the election. PAS is actually the strongest opposition party in terms of the popular vote, so it's even questionable if they can remove PAS from any coalition government.
We thus end up in a very unpleasant catch-22; if the PAS Members of Parliament are required for the opposition to form a coalition government, what will happen then? PAS will simply not be happy if their every attempt to impose an Islamic state is blocked, while the other opposition parties will not allow PAS to further Islamicise the country.
And perhaps most terribly, if PAS is not courted sufficiently, they may end up in the BN camp. For political expediency, this is something very conceivable; PAS was a BN member once, and it is closer to UMNO (which is basically the only BN party with any power) on many issues than it is with the opposition parties.
The only logical conclusion, then, is that PAS has to be jettisoned by the DAP and PKR if they want to form a government which can effectively carry out their platform of liberal democracy. (Or, alternatively, PAS has to jettison the DAP and PKR if it wants to form a government which can effectively carry out its platform of Islamic theocracy.)
But the question is, how many of the opposition politicians have thought this far in advance? This simple conclusion is not hard to escape for many non-opposition politicians and members of the public, but there seems to be little sign that any opposition members are thinking hard about the fact that the three main opposition parties cannot possibly form a united coalition government.
Should they come out in the open and say "Well, yeah, we're working together in a marriage of convenience and we don't really agree with one another on many issues, so just ignore the other fellas' for now, because they won't be working with us when we win?"
Of course not. That is a recipe for political suicide. In a very bitter irony, to acknowledge the truth, the opposition parties must refrain from explicitly acknowledging it.
Instead, they should explain that although they are aware they have their differences, they lend each other support because they are all working for change. They are all working to end the oppression of the BN government.
Because of this, it makes no sense for them to work apart. They should instead pool their resources and utilise economies of scale to drive an agenda of change forward.
This ought to be the standard line in response to any queries on why the ideologically diverse opposition parties pool their efforts. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the DAP and especially the PKR should be planning how to stand on their own without the aid of PAS.
At the moment, the DAP and PKR have no way of reaching out to the rural Malays. PAS is their only way to make a connection with this demographic, who are the most politically important demographic because of our electoral system's bias towards rural constituencies.
But this tie with PAS should not be allowed to become permanent, and the opposition parties should be working as frantically as possible to establish their own links and bases in rural communities so as to become independent from PAS.
If the opposition parties do not make such plans, they can never break free from PAS. And because of this, if they ever win an election, they will almost certainly have to grapple with the unpleasant consequences of forming a coalition government with a strong party bent on establishing an Islamic state.