The Role of the Opposition After May 13

Speech by DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, at a forum at the Sixth Student Leadership Training Programme organized by the University of Malaya Students’ Union on Thursday, 27th April 1972 at 7.30p.m.

The Role of the Opposition After May 13

The subject tonight, ‘The Role of the opposition after May 13’, has assumed great topicality with yet another opposition party surrendering to the deathly embrace of the Alliance Party.

Firstly, I would like to clarify the phrase ‘the Opposition’, which normally refers to the registered political parties. But we must not forget another Opposition Party in Malaysia, which has a longer history than anyone of the legally constituted political parties – the Malayan Communist Party.

Secondly, I do not claim to speak on behalf of ‘the Opposition’, or any other opposition party, for recent events have shown that there is no such thing as ‘the Opposition’, but only individual Opposition Parties. In fact, in Malaysia, we have also half-breed Opposition parties.

For us in the DAP, we see our tasks as fundamentally three-fold:

1. To strive for a genuine multi-racial Malaysia, where every Malaysian feels, thinks and acts as a Malaysian and not as a Chinese, Malay or Indian; and where every Malaysian, regardless of his race, language and religion, has a place under the Malaysian sun.

2. To strive for a socialist Malaysia and abolish the glaring inequalities between the ostentious affluence of the haves and the extreme deprivation of the have-nots;

3. To uphold the cause of parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, for without a democratic system, a multi-racial, multi-culture, multi-lingual and multi-religious nation cannot survive.

After May 13, it has become more and more difficult to pursue these objectives.

May 13 has highlighted one political reality which until then was known by a few: that in Malaysia, apart from the Malayan Communist Party which wants to do away with parliamentary democracy, there is another group of people of like mind. These are people who now profess democracy, so long as the democratic process confirms them in power and give them the stamp for national and international legitimacy. But if the democratic process should threaten their loss of power, then they are prepared to destroy democracy to continue holding the reins of power.

After May 13, the ruling party resorted to a variety of measures to consolidate its power base.

It curtailed criticism and dissent, amended the Malaysian Constitution to ban the discussion of curtain sensitive issues, and removed the parliamentary immunity of Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen.

It did away with local council elections to deny Opposition parties a chance to administer the local councils and show their caliber.

It applied all forms of pressures to silence, break or buy over opposition leaders and members, measures ranging from outright detention without trial, police persecution, political bribery and personal blackmail.

But despite these measures and the much-vaunted Second Malaysia Plan, the government has failed to resolve the deep-seated economic, social, political and cultural discontents of the people.

In fact, these ground discontents have deepened and intensified, whether in the kampongs, towns, new villages or estates. The Rukunegara has failed to arrest racial polarization, and begin the vital task of nation-building. In fact, there is today not only a highly enhanced consciousness of race by the people of all races, this consciousness of race has reached down to the students and school children at primary level where we are supposed to rear a new generation of Malaysians.

Realising this, it would appear that the Alliance has embarked on a new political strategy – and we can discern a tendency towards the establishment of a one-party state through the elimination of all opposition parties, either by absorption or suppression.

So far three opposition parties have been absorbed by the Alliance, leading to the formation of coalition governments in three states. Although these opposition parties still retain their independence, and should they leave the Alliance embrace, would immediate collapse and die.

Alliance strategists are working on the mistaken premise that if they absorb an opposition party, they would also be able to secure the political support and following of the opposition party being absorbed.

What invariably happens in such a case is that the opposition party being absorbed loses all its public support and following, unless the deep-seated economic, political, social and culture grievances are resolved.

The ruling party should realise that the mere absorption or suppression of opposition parties will not solve the basic problems in the country, and the establishment of a one-party state with no room for legitimate opposition is the surest way to plunge this country into a racial conflagration.

The greatest disservice those opposition parties which allow themselves to be absorbed by the Alliance in return for a few official positions is to lend credence to Alliance belief that by parleying with Opposition leaders and converting them over, the people have been appeased, and basic problem resolved.

There are a variety of reasons why Opposition leaders and members defect to the ruling party.

There are firstly the opportunists, who use opposition politics as a lever to catapult themselves into the attention of the ruling party, and offer themselves to be bought over at a handsome price. This art is most perfected in the State of Sabah, where we often read of fly-by-night Opposition Parties being formed and very soon after, disbanded

Others do not have firm political convictions, or the stamina for a long political struggle. Others are dazzled by the glitter of office and glory. Yet others may be cowed and intimidated by the strong-armed tactics of the government.

For without doubt, there is today in our land a pervading fear to express one’s views and discontents. Deception has become a national virtue, and people do not say what they feel.

But if these discontents are bottled up, and cannot find peaceful and constitutional expression, then they will go underground to await violent and unconstitutional outlet.

The task of the constitutional opposition is to consistently and fearlessly represent the suppressed grievances and discontents of the people, educate them as to their basic political rights, mobilise them to strive for a genuine multi-racial Malaysian nation and the elimination of economic and social injustice, and convince those who are minded to attempt undemocratic and unconstitutional methods that it will not pay, either for themselves or for the nation.

If we fail to do his, then the constitutional opposition in Malaysia will have no role whatsoever, and the field is clear for the unconstitutional opposition, for those who have advocated that the armed political struggle is the only salvation.

This will be a great tragedy, for violent political struggle in a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual Malaysia will see this country of ours razed as a wasteland.