BBC: The final line of resistance

Raja Petra Kamarudin

I remember back in the old days when there were three opposition fronts or lines of resistance. The first was of course the opposition parties. Next was Umno Youth, a party within a party. Finally we had the Back Benchers’ Club or BBC, the grouping of ruling party Parliamentarians who were not holding any cabinet or ministerial position.

The opposition then was very feisty. In the May 1969 general election, it actually gave the ruling party, the Alliance Party — a coalition of Umno, MCA and MIC — a run for its money. Some states fell to the opposition outright while those that the ruling party retained it did so with a simple majority and no longer had its two-thirds majority in the state assembly.

Yes, those were the good old days. Then the Second Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, formed a new coalition called Barisan Nasional and the opposition parties, including the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), joined this ruling coalition. PAS of course left about three years later after it discovered it was duped and, since it had now joined the ruling government, had to without protest support government policies whether they agreed with them or not.

PAS found out the hard way it could not be part of the government yet at the same time oppose the government. It had to support government policies even if they went against the Islamic party’s principles. You could of course argue and debate behind closed doors. But publicly you had to speak as one voice and not give even the slightest hint that you disagree with what the government is doing.

PAS eventually left the ruling coalition to go back to becoming an opposition party again, where it belongs.

Nevertheless, whether the opposition is weak or strong, there was still another level of resistance within the lead partner of the ruling coalition, and that is Umno Youth. Umno Youth, for all intents and purposes, was a party within a party. Most of the Prime Ministers in fact started their rise to the top through Umno Youth. And they made it to the top because of what Umno Youth was, a pressure group within Umno and a force by itself. In fact, Umno used to be very wary of Umno Youth because, if it took the opposite view to the parent party, then there would be problems. Umno was always very careful about this and would take Umno Youth’s views in mind before doing certain things lest the youth movement voice out opposition to whatever it is that Umno or the government did.

But that eventually changed. The days when Umno Youth was feared, was a party within a party, and was a pressure group to Umno and the government came to pass. Many of the leaders of today are sons of those who led Umno Youth in its days of glory. Sadly, however, none of today’s leaders share the same qualities as their fathers before them. Umno Youth is certainly no longer a pressure group or party within a party. It does not check and balance what Umno and the government does. It just echoes whatever the government says and nods its head in silent approval.

Another potent force was the Parliament Back Benchers’ Club. Ministers and their ministries would be put before the firing squad and made to answer embarrassing questions on their ministries’ performance as well as its policies. Sometimes, the Members of Parliament from the BBC would be more vocal than the opposition MPs. All the opposition MPS had to do was just sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacle of the government MPs in the BBC whacking the government.

In short, Malaysia once had three opposition fronts or lines of resistance. First there were the opposition parties. Next, the youth movement in the ruling party (and this included MCA and MIC Youth as well, which once upon a time were as militant as their Umno Youth counterparts). Finally, we had the BBC in Parliament which would be the watchdog for the voters who voted them into office and gave them their job.

Sad to say, that is all now in the past. Malaysia Today has already spoken about the lethargic and pathetic opposition, so we need not go into too many details about this matter. Umno Youth is not even a reflection of what it used to be. Nothing can be done about all this though as it would take a long time to strengthen the opposition or change the present lembik (limp) culture of Umno Youth. But as far as the BBC is concerned, there is still hope and it is not too late to restore it to its old self.

The recent resignation of Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad as BBC’s chairman is a bit of a setback. Shahrir has always carried the image of a maverick or loose cannon and was certainly most suited to head the third line of resistance to the government. But he did mellow slightly over the years. Whether it was because of age or he felt that as the BBC Chairman he should not be seen too much as ‘anti-government’ is not that clear. But we would have thought that the BBC would be the best platform for him to speak out like he used to in the days before he became its chairman.

I suppose the recent episode where he opposed his fellow MPs opposition to the opposition could have been the reason he mellowed and did not whack the government too much. And this was a relatively minor issue mind you. Imagine what would happen if he took on a more controversial issue? Shahrir eventually had to resign. But even if he did not they would have thrown him out anyway, according to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

MPs may not vote according to their conscience, said Umno. They must support government policy. And they must automatically oppose anything the opposition proposes. Maybe the opposition leader, Lim Kit Siang, should table a resolution in Parliament calling for Malaysia to be turned into an Islamic state. Then all the government MPs would stand up to oppose it and ask that Malaysia be retained as a Secular state. Would this not solve DAP’s problems once and for all? And any government MP who supports Lim’s call to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state would be sacked or suspended. Good isn’t it? Lim can get the government backbenchers to oppose the Islamic state just so that they can oppose DAP.

Next month, BBC will be choosing its new chairman. In the running are Deputy Chairman, Raja Ahmad Zainuddin Raja Omar, Pahang MP Sarit Jusoh, and the sacked Umno Vice President, Isa Samad. All these candidates are totally unsuited for the post. We do not want a bodek (apple polisher) BBC Chairman, and certainly not one as tainted as those three. We want someone who can be the ears, eyes and voice of the voters. It will be a long time before the opposition can again be a strong force in Parliament. Umno Youth has been castrated and has become a eunuch. Our last bastion is the BBC. Let us hope they appoint a new chairman worthy of the job and someone who can restore the BBC to what it used to be, a government within a government.