Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

The Opposition is Still Failing

Written by johnleemk on 1:24:00 pm May 4, 2007.

As is still fresh in the minds of many, the opposition recently lost two by-elections in Machap, Malacca and Ijok, Selangor. However, the point of this article is not to discuss those "failures".

Rather, it is to harp on particular issues which the opposition seems to remain reluctant to address. These issues are not new; I have brought them up before, and these issues were the impetus for brainstorming on room for a new opposition party.

Specifically, these two issues are the lack of thought given to how to form an effective government, and the ineffectiveness of the opposition's present message.

These two problems are actually intertwined, because of how they relate to one another. To show it has thought about how to govern, the opposition first has to change its message.

It seems quite apparent that the opposition is not really thinking about how it will govern if elected. To some extent, this is reasonable — I will gladly eat my cap if the opposition forms the government after the next election, or even in the election after that.

The problem is, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because the opposition cannot conceive of itself as governing the country in the long run, it does not bother to take steps towards forming the government.

The Democratic Action Party is a very good example of this. Its sole and whole focus is countering whatever the government has to spew out — simply looking at its press release titles is enough to tell you that. Similarly, the party's failure to reach out to non-Chinese communities shows that it has no plans to fight for the government — there is no way it can form the government by appealing only to Chinese voters.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat suffers from this problem as well. Although it is not as obvious, they are basically an anti-Barisan Nasional party. There is no real policy platform in Keadilan — the only tangible policy I have heard emerging from them is Anwar Ibrahim's suggestion to replace the Never Ending Policy (more commonly known as the New Economic Policy) with a more just economic policy.

I am sure both parties are working to remedy this state of affairs. I continue to have my doubts, though. I have been engaged in dialogue with people from both the DAP and PKR, and although I know they mean well and are looking to improve, my impression still is that they have nothing more to offer than a platform based on hatred of BN.

People are not going to vote for an ambiguous perubahan. They want tangible perubahan — they want to know what they are voting for, not against.

It is easy to list the offenses of the BN government. Practically any Malaysian can do it. What is difficult is to show how you intend to make things different, how you plan to run the country differently. This is the problem of the opposition's message.

People will not vote for perubahan if perubahan means the same old shit under a different name, or if perubahan is nothing more than voting for someone other than the BN fellow. People do not support change for the sake of change.

People are extremely skeptical of BN and what it can do for us, but they are just as skeptical of the opposition because it is basically anti-BN, and little more. (Consider that the opposition party with the largest share of the popular vote is the only party with a real uniting issue to base its platform on — an Islamic state.)

I have tried to persuade people of the opposition's few merits, but people refuse to trust in the opposition's promises because they don't see any difference from the promises of BN. Their thinking is, we got cheated by BN, so why will these other politicians be any different?

I once argued with this guy who was calling for people to vote for the opposition. The reason? I asked people to vote for the opposition; he was asking people to vote against BN. He did not believe the opposition to be any better than BN — he was just tired of voting for them, and thought the opposition deserved a chance to screw up the country, because this would at least teach BN a lesson.

And I don't blame him. But at the same time, it's his kind of thinking which seems to dominate many opposition voters or supporters — and it's this kind of thinking that the opposition seems intent on cultivating. But this kind of thinking is clearly not where we want to be going!

Why? Because it's simply impossible to nurture this sort of negative thinking beyond a certain class of people, and moreover, because this sort of thinking will not persuade all people to vote opposition. At best, it may convince them to stay home or vote for PUNDAK (Parti Undi Rosak — Spoilt Vote Party). At worst, they will continue voting BN because if they figure they will be getting the same kind of treatment from either party, they might as well stick with the devil they know (and get their vote bought for it as well).

There remains a lot of discontent with the opposition. Many people I know who intend to vote for the opposition are doing so with a heavy heart, because they are just fed up with BN — not because they like the opposition. But engendering this "fed up" sentiment is impractical as long as people have no reason to like the opposition.

That is why the opposition's message must change tack. The opposition must focus on how it wants to change the country, and why this change is necessary. It must relate this change to the lives of the people on the ground in very concrete terms.

Then, and only then, will people be persuaded that the opposition has at least thought out how it plans to govern the country. Then, and only then, will people be persuaded to vote for the opposition and to vote for change.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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