Coalition Politics in Malaysia

Coalition politics seems to have become the latest political fashion and trend in Malaysia. It has become the talking point of the country – as confirmed by this evening’s forum – especially with the impending coalition negotiations between UMNO and PAS, and today’s press report that the Gerakan may dissolve itself to join the MCA.

Coalition politics is not new in Malaysia. In fact, the Alliance Party is itself a coalition of three communal political parties, or to be more correct, between UMNO on the one hand, and the MCA and MIC on the other.

What is new in post-May 13, 1969 politics is that the UMNO, the master of the Alliance, is looking for new partners in the coalition.

The UMNO has shown that it is not eternally wedded to the MCA and MIC and is prepared to take on new partners as the SUPP in Sarawak, the Gerakan Ra’ayat Malaysian in Penang and the People’s Progressive Party in Perak. There is now courting of the PAS in Kelantan.

The Alliance of UMNO, MCA and MIC is only a marriage of convenience. Although the UMNO in the past had sworn eternal love and fidelity to the MCA and MIC, recent events have shown that for its own political interest, the UMNO has no second thoughts about being unfaithful to them and look for new wives and concubines to enlarge its political harem.

What is the reason for the UMNO’s pronounced polygamous tendencies?

In my view, the UMNO’s interest for new coalition partners is motivated by three reasons:

1. UMNO has absolutely no faith and confidence in the ability of MAC and MIC to regain non-Malay support which they lost in the 1969 general elections;

2. UMNO is itself unsure about its traditional power base in the rural areas, particularly among the Malay peasants.

3. The tendency towards the establishment of a one-part state through the elimination of all opposition parties, either by absorption of suppression.

We will now examine each of these reasons:

1. UMNO’s absolute loss of faith and confidence in the ability of the MCA and MIC to regain non-Malay support

Firstly, let me state the obvious. The Alliance Party is not a coalition in the true sense of the word. The MCA and MIC are not equal partners in the coalition as they are mere winder-dressing to give a façade of multi-racial composition and character to the ruling party.

Secondly, Alliance politics is basically politics of race, and their calculations and considerations are based on racial grounds.

The function of the MCA and MIC in the Alliance is solely to muster non-Malay support for UMNO’s policies.

The 1969 General Elections was a shock not only to the MCA and MIC, whose candidates fell like nine-pins, but also to the UMNO. The 1969 General elections verdict was loud and clear: the MC and MIC are thoroughly discredited parties in the country.

Desperate efforts were made in the last two years to revive the MCA and inject new life and credibility into it, including the shock treatment by Tun Dr. Ismail who warned the MCA to stop being ‘neither dead or alive’.

The MCA went to great lengths to try to regain lost ground, including the unscrupulous attempt to launch and make use of the so-called ‘Chinese Unity Movement’ for MCA political ends. For the last two years, there was endless propaganda about the new blood, new political style and new leadership in a brand-new MCA.

But apart from hitting the headlines and grabbing newspaper space, nobody is impressed, not even the UMNO. This was why the UMNO went ahead, despite strong MCA opposition, to form coalition governments with the Gerakan Ra’ayat Malaysia in Penang in February and with the Perple’s Progressive Party in Perak in May.

The UMNO’s lack of confidence and faith in the ability of the MCA to regain its political ground was confirmed recently in the Parliamentary by-elections in the Ulu Selangor and Rambau-Tampin. Although the MCA candidate, Mr Michael Chen, won the by-election, he did not secure more than 30 per cent of the Chinese voters who turned up at the ballot box. As for Rembau-Tampin, again although the Alliance candidate won, the MCA could not deliver more than 20-25% of the Chinese votes cast on polling day.

Propaganda is one thing, and reality s another. This is why the UMNO has decided, in utter disregard of MCA views, to form the coalition governments with the Gerakan and the PPP. For if the UMNO is confident of the MCA ability to win back its previous power base, then it would never have entered into coalition governments with two of the weakest opposition parties in the country, whose days are already numbered.

In this connection, the utter inability of the MCA to gets its opposition to such coalitions with the Gerakan Ra’ayat Malaysia and the PPP prevail in the councils of the Alliance is the most recent proof of its utter impotence in the ruling party.

2. UMNO itself unsure about its traditional Malay power base

The UMNO’s preparedness to negotiate with PAS on the possibility of forming a coalition government stems from its own uncertainty about its own rural Malay base at the next general elections.

If the UMNO is supremely confident about its rural Malay base, it would have continued to treat the PAS with contempt.

The 1969 General Elections have, however, shown an awakening among the Malay masses in protest against their continued poverty, backwardness and exploitation.

Felda settlers were promised as income of at least $300 a month, but found that it is not uncommon for a number of them to get $50 or $60 after the deductions of monthly debt repayments to the government.

The government boasts of 30 million acres of virgin land which are suitable for agriculture, but hundreds of thousands remain landless, homeless and jobless.

The government boasts about the hundreds of millions of dollars which they are spending on rural modernisation projects, like the Muda Irrigation Project, but more and more small formers are being dispossessed of their land, and more and more temend-operators and form hands thrown out of jobs.

The government boasts about the Second Malaysia Plan which will ed rural poverty, but rural backwardness and poverty are on the increase, aggravated by the collapse in the proce of rubber and the spiralling increase in the price of daily essentials.

More and more rural Malay peasantry are realising that the fruits of Merdeka have benefitted only a new class of Malay rich, but not the general Malay peasantry.

This is why in both Ulu Selangor and Rembau-Tampin by elections, although the DAP did not get substantial Malay votes, we did get a good reception with our arguments that poverty is a problem which transcends race, language and religion. We had entered the Rambah-Tampin parliamentary by-election, although it was a predominantly Malay constituency, because we wanted to sow the seeks of our message in the rural areas. We did not expect the seeks to bear fruit within two weeks of campaign. This is just like planting a tree. You do not get a full-blown tree within two weeks.

But the UMNO is not unaware of the response in the rural areas, which must have strengthened their sense of uncertainty about their own traditional rural Malay base.

3. Tendency towards establishment of one-party state through the elimination of all opposition parties

The third reason for the coalition trend sets in motion by the UMNO can be traced to a discernible tendency towards the establishment of a one-party state through the elimination of all opposition parties, either by absorption or suppression.

May 3, 1969 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 of 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.

Independent criticism and dissent were curtailed and suppressed, through the amendment of the Malaysian Constitution which banned discussion of certain issues classified as ‘sensitive’; Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen lost their parliamentary immunity; privilege of local elections were killed; tighter control was imposed over the press, trade unions, farmers’ organisations, even student organisations, as through the enactment of the 1971 Universities and University Colleges Act.

The government stepped up in its campaign to apply 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 of any Opposition leader’s human weaknesses, whether it is for women, wealth or status.

But none of these measures have been able to arrest the deepening and intensifying discontent in the kampongs, new villages ad estates.

The Rukunegara has failed to arrest the racial polarisation in the country and begin to vital task of national building. There is only superficial unity and harmony, but beneath the surface, antagonism and distrust abound. The University of Malaya campus itself is an example in point.

In fact, in our country today, there is a double polarisation – the growing vertical polarisation between the haves and the have-nots; and the horizontal polarisation along lines of race.

The situation is even more explosive and unsettling than before 1969.

Some Alliance strategists think that one way to counter this turn of development is to establish a one-party state through the elimination of all opposition parties – either by absorption or suppression.

UMNO strategists hope that by coalescing with the Gerakan and the PPP, the UMNO will also be able to get the political following which these two parties commanded in the 1969 elections.

Nothing of course is further from the truth. The people supported the Gerakan and the PPP in 1969 General Elections, not because of the party’s sake, but because of their opposition to the whole range of political, economic, social, cultural and educational policies of the Alliance.

The UMNO can only get these supports if it is prepared to change its political, economic, social, cultural and educational policies to meet the wishes and aspirations of those who voted for the Gerakan and the PPP in 1969.

This is precisely why both the Gerakan and the PPP have become very unpopular parties in their home states.

Another by-product of such a coalition is that both the Gerakan and PPP have become completely dependent on the UMNO for their political furutre and survival.

Once outside the embrace of the UMNO coalition, both the Gerakan and the PPP will collapse and die, having forfeited the ground support which they had earlier won but which they had betrayed for some illusory sense of occupying the seats of power.

Thus, the least the UMNO can achieve in such coalition-makings is the effective elimination of the Gerakan and the PPP as opposition groups. They will be able to exist so long as they remain inside the satellite orbit of the UMNO, or alternatively, be absorbed into one of the Alliance units. Thus the report today that Dr Lim Chong Eu and the Gerakan are negotiating with the MCA to dissolve and join them is completely logical from such a development. Similarly, I will not be very surprised if the PPP will be dissolved and absorbed into the various Alliance units – for the PPP will not have any inherent political power to last as a separate and independent political party. This will contribute to the eventual establishment of a one-party state.

The impending negotiations between PAS and the UMNO are of a different character as that with Gerakan and PPP. As the talks with PAS is partly prompted by the UMNO’s sense of insecurity about its rural hold, the PAS can bargain from some position of strength.

Furthermore, while Gerakan and PPP had entered into the coalition to ensure a longer spell of political life, the PAS is under no such compulsion as it could survive without the artificial respiration of a coalition with the UMNO.

Thus, although the Gerakan and the PPP will collapse and die outside the UMNO coalition embrace, the same thing cannot be predicted for PAS – which may grow weaker or stranger in the vent of a break-up after a coalition, depending on the circumstances.

Coalition Politics No Solution to the Basic Problems of the Country

The rash of coalition governments has not solved the basic problem in the country, which is the promotion of national unity and evolution of a Malaysian consciousness among our people, the combat against poverty and backwardness, and the building of a more just and equal order in Malaysia.

It has been argued that the formation of coalition governments will end the criticisms of the opposition parties, focus the energies of the people on development, and harness the talents of all political leaders to the tasks of national construction.

Thus, the Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, said that with the formation of the coalition government in Perak, the State can now get on with the development tasks.

A study of one-party states in other countries does not show that the suppression of opposition has resulted in the employment of the talents of the oppositions. Even in the Perak Coalition, the talents of Dato S.P. Seenivasagam has not been fully employed. Thus, his main task in the Perak State Government seems to firstly, look after cows in Ipoh and secondly, to look after the Ipoh Library.

Coalition is not the answer to Malaysia’s basic problems of national unity, economic development and social justice unless the UMNO is prepared to accept a complete change in its whole range of national policies, whether in the political, social, cultural or educational fields.

I must warn the government, however, not to make use of coalition-makings to suppress all opposition parties and lead to the establishment of a one-party state.

Opposition and criticism cannot be eliminated from any society in which mean have different ideas and interests, and are affected differently by social change. This is particularly so in a plural society like Malaysia.

The only question is whether they will have democratic outlets, through which they can be expressed peacefully, or whether they will be driven to successive acts of violence and armed struggle.

(Speech by DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr Lim Kit Siang, at the Forth Great Economic Debates organised by the University of Malaya Economics Society held at Dewan Tuanku Chanselor, University of Malaya on Friday, 25th August 1972 at 8.00pm)