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The myth of a two-party system in Malaysia

Posted: 31 May 2013 01:45 PM PDT

The absence of a two-party system in Malaysia would mean that the ruling party enjoys absolute power as a two-thirds majority is all it needs to amend the Constitution, with the exception of clauses pertaining Bumiputera Special Rights, the Monarchy and Islam as the Official Religion of the country. 

by Nicholas Chan & Koay Su Lyn,

A contention has arisen after the 2008 general election, be it academic in origin or generated by propaganda, that Malaysia will benefit greatly from a two-party system. 

It is a concept constantly thrown around but highly vague in its actual meaning, or at least in the public understanding of it. 
Hence, after all these years of political shakeup, did we achieve the two-party system? If yes, how far did it go? Are we enjoying the fruits of it or did it come at a cost, like the political gridlock that has been plaguing Washington?
In introducing the two-party system
By definition, the most commonly agreed feature of a democratic two-party system is that it is a political environment dominated by two major political parties, with either party winning in almost all the elections held.  
Although the system does not negate the existence of other splinter parties or independent candidates, it usually thrives in an "either-or" situation whereby the ruling party is just one or the other.  
The most notable example of a two-party system is the United States, as the Congress is populated by politicians from two major parties while the Presidency is always a tussle between a Republican and a Democrat candidate. 
A two-party system is not an engraved certainty as the United Kingdom, which had witnessed a two-party system between the Labour and the Conservative for decades (except for the case of a hung parliament in 1974), was struck by an embarrassing situation in its most recent 2010 elections, whereby neither party earned the simple majority to form the government, resulting in a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
Malaysia and its traditional single party monopoly
So, why is such a system much heralded in Malaysia?  The most obvious reason is that it offers an option to the people who do not agree with the governance of Barisan Nasional (BN), which reigned for 56 years and counting.  
Without a viable opposition to challenge the hegemony of the ruling party, BN has until recently enjoyed the monopoly of power without any serious checks and balances, to the point of being able to bulldoze through big detrimental changes to our Constitution, ala the 1988 Judiciary Crisis. 
The absence of a two-party system in Malaysia would mean that the ruling party enjoys absolute power as a two-thirds majority is all it needs to amend the Constitution, with the exception of clauses pertaining Bumiputera Special Rights, the Monarchy and Islam as the Official Religion of the country. 
The fact that Malaysian politicians tend to vote en-bloc as well as a diminutive and oppressed public sphere (back then) add to this convention of power without boundaries for the incumbent. 
Post 308: A monopoly broken and the birth of a two-party system
The status quo changed drastically after the March 2008 elections as Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has posed itself as a formidable foe to BN, winning close to 47% of the popular votes. No doubt PR has finally presented itself as a united and viable front in securing the confidence of the voters. 
It is noteworthy that this political tsunami also coincides with the social media boom, where the Internet became a congregational space for Malaysians to communicate, discuss and educate each other on national matters.  
Some would say that a two-party system in the country contributed to higher political awareness as well as greater participation in the political/decision-making process. 
But it is more of a synergistic process - as more people demand their voices to be heard, and BN does not represent those voices, they would gladly vow for the alternative. 
And if the alternative is capable of consolidating such voices or opinions, a two-party system is born. 
Today, politics in Malaysia is no longer business as usual. Public discourse and contention is rife and vocal; the media (or at least the alternative media) took Malaysian journalism to a new direction, and politicians are quick to compete for a place on the various platforms buoyed by public voices to gain political clout. 
With more states administered by the opposition, a comparison of governing standards is inevitable.  Everyone is kept on their toes. The existence of a resurgent opposition ensures that the government is not a mere 'talking shop' and promotes a sense of accountability and transparency, as in order to retain power, the government of the day will be pressured to be transparent in its governance. 
As long as better, more empathetic and accountable governance is what the rakyat wishes, a two-party system would ensure the continuity of such wishes.
How far did we enjoy the fruits of a two-party system?
There is a joke on how ironic our country is - when we had economic progress in the 80s, we lacked democratic freedom; now we have a greatly improved democratic freedom, but lack a robust economy.  
It is certain that economic progress and democratic expansion is not a zero sum game, but the saying amusingly highlights the kind of democratic freedom we have. 
Three Bersih rallies with a huge crowd have so far been organised, among the many smaller assemblies held by different political parties or NGOs. 
Public assembly or demonstration is the present norm of the day to the extent that the government has to acknowledge it by enacting the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, removing the need for police permits for gatherings as laid down in Section 27 of the Police Act. 
While these are mere baby steps towards a full recognition of freedom to assemble, such steps are nevertheless seen as taking strides in multiple directions. 
The ISA was repealed and replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA), the need for an annual printing licence under the Printing Presses and Publications Act was scrapped, the ban of student participation in politics in the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 was lifted among other legislative changes. 
While dissent against these legislative constraints existed long ago, it was not until the rise of a two-party system that such unimaginable reforms (why would the government do away with something that is beneficial to them?) were implemented. 
This paradigm shift to end the "government knows best" era happened only at the instance of BN sensing a tangible threat of losing power if they don't address the voices of the public. 
This also signals the role of a two-party system, as compared to one that has a government against multitudes of opposition, be it from the public or politicians, because it is vital for one party/coalition to pose itself as the second-in-line for the incumbent. The message is simple, if you can't do your job well; there is an alternative ready to take over.
A race exists whereby both parties not only seek to outperform each other, but also to outmatch each other in exposing the other's scandals and transgressions. 
Although this would lead to some gutter and vitriol politics, it keeps a proper check on the governments in power. Exposés like the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) scandal by Rafizi Ramli and the Talam Scandal in Selangor by the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) mark the fruits of a system where both parties attempt to catch each other red-handed, thus ensuring that the government runs its daily business in a clean, uncorrupted and dignified manner.  
The nation is also geared towards the frequent hosting of political and policy debates/forums aimed at keeping the public informed and engaged with government plans and dealings due to such competitive environment. 
This inadvertently promotes sufficient awareness and knowledge of the government's doings and thereby enabling them to keep a more efficient electoral check on the government. 
An extra bonus also exists where incumbents are no longer guaranteed a place in the government (be it state or federal) if they did not perform to the levels as expected by the voters. 
Although expectations vary over constituencies, this newborn uncertainty will foster competition between both parties to grab the best talents to field in the elections, thus effectively ending the 'warlord' culture, notoriously entrenched in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) as well as introducing new ideas, view and policies in the form of new blood/fresh faces to the parties. 
In the 13th General Election, one-third of the BN candidates were new faces. It would seem that the two-party system provides a mechanism for the renewal of candidates, which is good for ideas and the shedding of old bureaucracies. 



The ‘five-year hitch’

Posted: 31 May 2013 12:18 PM PDT 

If we want to restore our authority and make this nation great again, GE-14 is not the answer.

Mariam Mokhtar, FMT

Many couples go through a seven year itch; a "rough patch" in their marriage, caused by boredom, when some spouses desire the freedom of being single again.

In Malaysia, one can recognise the least productive and incapable BN politician by his "Five-Year Hitch"; the time frame needed to implement the tasks they promised to complete if they were to win GE-13.

Interestingly, these politicians have chosen an interval of five years, which is when the GE-14 would be called. The rakyat can see through the politicians' tricks and yet, the Election Commission (EC) has denied claims that the electoral system would mean BN would rule in perpetuity.

These politicians have not shown evidence that they are capable of carrying out their tasks, but they are already canvassing for re-election in five years time, in GE-14.

Despite the promises they made when campaigning for GE-13, they have already come up with excuses. They have learnt from their mentor, the leader of Umno-Baru, Najib Tun Razak, that words speak louder than actions and the best phrase is "You help me, I help you."

This year has yet to see the usual Malaysian election phenomenon, when turncoat politicians – "frogs" cross over to the 'other' side. They will probably make their moves soon.

Men who have lied to the rakyat, now have very senior roles in the Cabinet. Some of these men were not elected by the rakyat but secured a place in the Cabinet through deceit. Others who were once guilty of money politics, now draw a salary which is paid for by the taxpayer.

Both these sorts of men, have one thing in common; they are in charge of policies which will affect the rakyat.

The first to make his debut performance, barely two weeks after GE-13, was Hindraf's P Waythamoorthy, a deputy minister in the Prime minister's Department (PMD).

After his hunger strike, which he used to embarrass and weaken the opposition, Waythamoorthy announced that he would need five years to resolve the issue of stateless Indians. He made it clear that Hindraf had a mechanism to solve the problem and yet declined to give details. Does a plan even exist?

Is Waythamoorthy's time to be spent resolving only the issue of the stateless Indian? In the five years that Waythamoorthy claims he will need to resolve the problem of the 300,000 stateless Indian, a few hundred thousand people from Bangladesh, the Philippines, Pakistan, Myanmar or Indonesia will have become fully fledged Malaysian citizens, without any problems.

Does Waythamoorthy realise that many Orang Asli, Penan and other indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak are also stateless? These people cannot afford the long and expensive journey to town to register the births of their children. These people are also denied education, health and other benefits.

Illegitimate children of Muslim parents are also disenfranchised and might as well be considered stateless. They cannot attend school, or have a passport or enjoy the benefits all children should be entitled to.

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