Why I voted for Pakatan

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From Dr SK Teoh, via e-mail

For many years I was a Barisan supporter even though I was born and bred in Penang, a strong opposition stronghold. In all the elections from 1974 to 2004 I voted for Alliance/Barisan. For a while, I was even a member of MCA, though not very active being non-Mandarin speaking. However after voting Barisan in seven elections, I voted for the opposition in 2008.

I realised the importance of multiracial harmony especially between the Malays and the Chinese. I was proud that for many years our country was ruled peacefully by a multiracial coalition. In the 70s to early 90s, the opposition was mainly socialist and had a strong following among the urban Chinese and Indians. Most of the Malays however were strongly identified with Umno although there was a significant minority with Islamist leanings especially in the Kelantan and Terengganu.

If the Chinese voted for the opposition, then it could have led to a racial divide. This situation happened in May 1969 when the Malays felt threatened by the strong opposition which was predominantly non Malay. It was a measure of Barisan’s success that 15 parties of various ethnic groups, including those from Sarawak and Sabah opted to join it.

In the earlier years, politics was not so obviously unjust and unbalanced. The first Governor of Malacca was a Chinese and the earlier Governors and Chief Ministers of Sarawak and Sabah were non Muslim natives. The Admiral of the Navy was an Indian. Many departmental heads, senior police officers, university deans had fair representation from the various races. Corruption then was not so blatant. Tan Siew Sin was a firm Minister of Finance who kept a strong control of how money was to be spent.

However by the 90s, things became to change. Umno became more domineering. The NEP, which was to provide more opportunities to the Malays, became an excuse for corruption, with vested interests and an inefficient way of income distribution. The other prong of NEP, to reduce poverty, did help to a certain extent by uplifting many Malays into middle class. However it ignored the poor non Malay population. This was made worse by Dr Mahathir, who was brazen enough to push through his schemes against sound economic factors.

When Mahathir first took over, I was quite impressed by him. He was a visionary and had no fear of the feudal powers in the country. He was able to peg down the unlimited privileges of the royalty. He was willing to counter the extremist Islamic views. He was dynamic enough to stir up the inefficient civil service. For some years, there was no issue of corruption linked with him.

He sat in the Proton Perdana instead of imported luxury cars. Of course one could disagree on his national car policy. He even had his heart surgery in Malaysia unlike many VIPs who would fly to the US or UK for lesser illnesses. His failing came when he tried to shortcut the NEP with privatisation (or piratisation) to a select number of his cronies. Millions, and even billions of ringgit, became easily available to use and abuse within the Umno political system with crumbs to the other parties. Racial discrimination became too blatant. Junior Malay officers were promoted over very senior Chinese and Indians leading to resignation and emigration.

There was much unhappiness among the Chinese and Indians especially those who were professionals. Business people somehow could still survive, if they knew who to grease. The poor were able to earn a living by petty trading. We did not have much choice in political parties. By the 90s the socialist parties were gone.

PPP and Gerakan were silenced by being part of the Barisan. The vocal Dr Tan Chee Khoon could not thrive with his truncated Pekemas party. DAP had a following but appeared to be Lim Kit Siang party. MCA appealed to the Chinese to give it a bigger voice to act as an “internal” opposition to the Umno as overt opposition may not be good for interracial harmony.

When Umno split in 1999, it offered us some new hope for a multiracial opposition coalition. Tengku Razaleigh was a respected Malay leader, with a considerable following from the disgruntled Umno members. Unfortunately he was outmaneuvered by the wily Mahathir with his Machiavellian tactics. Still the loose “coalition” between S46, DAP and PAS managed to do reasonably well.

However this arrangement did not last long. By 2004, many of S46 leaders may have missed their “opportunities” for self-gain and returned to Umno. PAS with its religious fervor was uncompromising on its Islamic hudud laws. For the post 9-11 scenario, non Muslims were frightened by this stand. Unfortunately, DAP realised too late and was almost decimated by its association with PAS.

However in spite of the increased representation from non Malay MPs in the Barisan in 2004, the Cabinet was lopsided overwhelmingly in Umno’s favour. The Barisan continued its discriminatory policies, though sometime called by many new acronyms to give the appearance of new policies. Obviously the MCA’s claim that non Malay interests could be looked after with more MPs from MCA was not realised. On many issues, their voice was either ignored (assuming they did voice up) or even ridiculed and threatened by extreme Umno leaders.

Fortunately, by 2008 with the release of Anwar, PKR was revived. DAP had many new professional members who were vocal yet appeared to be reasonable. PAS made the biggest change with its “Islamist” agenda being replaced by “people’s welfare” platform. Their new leaders were more professional and able to reach out to the non Muslims.

By 2008, with this scenario of a united Pakatan coalition, though of different races and religions yet without partisan racial politics, was a beacon of hope compared to the Umno dominated Barisan with its baggage of corruption, cronyism and communalism. No wonder Pakatan was elected to rule five states and received more votes than the Barisan in Peninsular Malaysia. Only the “fixed deposits” in Sabah & Sarawak kept Barisan in Putrajaya.

However, these two states are now also showing pangs of frustration. If the ruling Barisan components begin to break down and the opposition parties learn to compromise, then the coming election will definitely see a change in Putrajaya. At worse, it would still be a formidable opposition, ready to check the excesses and expose corruption which were covered up by the Barisan coalition. With a strong opposition, the Umno Barisan has to tone down its rhetoric and its dominance. Ironically, many longstanding issues such as Chinese schools, Christian Alkitab and Hindu temples, received better response than in the past.

Even they “apologised” over “waving the keris”! It is obvious that with a strong opposition challenging it, many of its policies and actions have to compete to win the hearts of the people of all races. Never should we allow an overwhelmingly dominant political party or coalition to rule. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!

*This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of  The Kuala Lumpur Post.