Indeed, nobody needs to shut up

Let us welcome internal disagreements on both sides. Show us your weaknesses and show us how you will patch it up. Antagonise, challenge and provoke your rivals, and see how they react and rejuvenate.

By Koh Lay Chin, The New Straits Times

“HUSH”. “Don’t let them see us fighting.” “Shut up.” “No, I won’t shut up. You shut up.” “I’ll say what I very well like!”

Thus goes the usual routine when members of the opposition alliance disagree with each other. Rightly so, they get flustered when internal contradictions happen, knowing that their rivals will pounce on their weaknesses and try to tear their fort down.

It all sounds very sinister but if this is a game, it is a dance-off one can’t take their eyes off. After all, if a couple should falter, or take a misstep, that just means less points for them, and more points for their competitors.

But lest opposition cheerleaders bitterly accuse Barisan Nasional for trying to drive the wedge or nudge dissenters further apart, two things should be remembered. That Pakatan Rakyat members pounce just as eagerly on BN’s flaws and disharmony, and sometimes one should not give too much credit to outsiders for internal squabbles.
A third party can only affect a marriage if there wasn’t too much holding it up in the first place.

In a long line of “shut up” appeals, Parti Keadilan Rakyat deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali pleaded with PR leaders at the end of last year to stop taking their differences and conflicts to the media, “especially the BN-controlled ones”.

DAP stalwart Karpal Singh was told to put a lid on it after he told PR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to resign over the party-hopping and Perak debacle earlier this year.

And now Pas spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat snaps that he will not shut up even if other members want a lockdown on dissenting views within the party on unity talks with Umno.

Accompanying these pleas for silence comes public defensive snarls or threats to bar mainstream media, some so bitter that they are counterproductive in their quest to be as open as possible.

This worry and antsy attitude about one’s enemies attacking them during moments of weakness can seem a little misplaced.

After all, BN, 36 years old and all, still has plenty of moments of weaknesses and glaringly so.

It’s not even ideological in nature any more. Here we have PPP’s Datuk M. Kayveas and Senator Datuk T. Murugiah enacting Perak-inspired histrionics all on their own, while the inner disgruntlements of MCA, MIC and Gerakan are laid bare for all and sundry to mock. The sulks, the rumours of flight, threats, rumours of bargaining and deals, as well as actual party-hopping have been so frequent since last year it’s almost boringly normal.

The thing is, for all the criticisms against Barisan allies for their backroom dealings, and public stances which are regarded as not strong or pure enough for their individual membership, this is precisely the spirit in which the 1951-formed Alliance, or Parti Perikatan, took up struggle for our independence.

The united force that freed us from British rule was a political alliance that obviously had differing views within them but trudged on united, engraving what was to be our most treasured principle — ruling with consensus and compromise despite the divergent colour of skin, religion or background.

The idea of the Alliance and its practical realities have had more than five decades to grow and learn. People lambast it as a fragile marriage of convenience but PR has just begun its journey more than a year ago.

It goes without saying that at the heart of every single party is its own defined vision for the country, with most believing that they are the only ones with the best and most appropriate version.

Opposition parties at their core oppose the ruling alliance because they believe it prevents the necessary transformation for Malaysia by stubbornly adhering to the status quo, among many other reasons.

Jamaah Islah Malaysia president Zaid Kamaruddin once said in an interview that PR was a difficult coalition to hold because of its differing political ideologies.

The Islamic non-governmental organisation acknowledged that a viable and credible opposition was important for the country and that PR still had enough similarities that could be agreed upon for governing.

He said it was important for “real statesmanship“ to steer such an alliance, and that “the key would be in moderation, avoiding extremes and letting common sense prevail”.

Indeed, that is the point that ruling BN has had to take into account ad infinitum.

At the end of the day, real statesmanship is the real battle which must be fought in both political blocs. BN detractors say it is a dinosaur so corrupt and entrenched that the only way for it to go is out, while PR detractors say the fledgling marriage is still on shaky legs, devoid of the necessary strength a ruling Malaysian alliance needs.

Eitherway, let us welcome internal disagreements on both sides. Show us your weaknesses and show us how you will patch it up. Antagonise, challenge and provoke your rivals, and see how they react and rejuvenate.

Why not, as long as people keep it above the belt and free of adhominem attacks.

Impress us with your arguments, we’ll take notes. Post-2008, both sides of the divide and the public pride themselves on a maturing democracy.

If it is indeed maturing, then coalitions will find that they need to go through the pains and pangs of engagement, marriage and/or divorce.

The ruling coalition, present and future, will have to be top notch. This is the survival of the very best, the fittest, the ones that convince Malaysian voters that the highest principle of our land is not just some oft-repeated slogan on tourist buses.

That we can, with our differences, run this kaleidoscope of a country with the workable formula and consensus carried out by the best statesmen to do it. Malaysians decide on the better, nay, the best coalition. Let the games begin. Oh wait, they already have.

May the best men and women win.