Head hunt for candidates, and do it now! (UPDATED with Chinese Translation)

It is time the opposition looked outside the party. Party loyalists can revert to party un-loyalists if the price is right. So who cares about party loyalty when it comes with a price and loyalty can be bought and sold? I would look at those who have proven themselves as champions of the people rather than champions of the party — the party that pays them the most money.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

The policy was to contest every single seat, parliament as well as state. Barisan Nasional must never be allowed to win a single seat uncontested. No menang tanpa tanding (walk over) for Barisan Nasional. They would be given a fight even in constituencies where Barisan Nasional can easily win without any effort.

For example, in Gua Musang, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah would be able to win whether he contested as an Umno candidate, on an opposition ticket, or even as an independent. There was no way the opposition can dislodge Ku Li from his ‘kingdom’. Whomsoever contests in Gua Musang against Ku Li would be committing hara-kiri. It is a suicide mission and ‘sure death’.

Nevertheless, an opposition candidate would be fielded against Ku Li — even though it was a futile exercise and ‘the Prince of Kelantan politics’ can retain his seat with both eyes closed and two hands tied behind his back. Someone would be ‘sent to his death’ in Gua Musang. He will be the sacrificial lamb, the kambing hitam to be slaughtered by Ku Li. Ku Li would definitely win and the opposition candidate would definitely be defeated, maybe even lose his deposit as well if the loss is that great. But a candidate will still be fielded against Ku Li, not with the possibility that he could win but just for the heck of it.

This strategy almost worked if not for the fact that some opposition candidates went MIA (missing in action). Something happened on the way to the office, the stand-up comedian would normally say. In this case, something happened on the way to the nomination centre. Some opposition candidates were paid off to disappear and to not turn up at the nomination centre. A few Barisan Nasional candidates did win uncontested after all when the opposition could not find their missing candidates.

When the nominations closed, Barisan Nasional got in with a few seats uncontested. However, except for these few, the majority of the seats were going to be contested. Barisan Nasional would win many more come polling day. A handful of the opposition candidates would win, of course, but a mere handful. Maybe Kelantan would remain opposition. The other states would remain Barisan Nasional. And Barisan Nasional would come in with a two-thirds majority in Parliament with, at best, 30 or 40 seats going to the opposition.

There are those who questioned the logic of contesting every single seat, knowing that the opposition could never win every single seat. Why not pick and choose only the ‘winnable’ seats to contest? Why contest those seats that you know you can’t win? After all, the opposition does not have enough candidates, or money needed to finance the many candidates. So why not just contest the seats the opposition can be assured of winning? Why also contest the seats you know you are going to lose, or spend all that money you do not have?

That was the other school of thought. And this was what people like Dr Chandra Muzaffar too believed, at the time when he was still an opposition leader of course. Select the winnable seats and contest only those seats. Forget about the seats that Barisan Nasional will never lose. It costs money to contest the general election. So why waste money you don’t have? And why field candidates in sure-lose seats when, in the first place, do you do not have enough candidates?

But no, the ego of the opposition would never allow Barisan Nasional to win any seat without a contest. Even if we lose we must still fight. We fight not only when we can be assured of winning. That is a coward’s strategy. We fight even if we know we are going to lose. That is what a ‘real man’ must do.

So it does not matter who the candidates are. After all, they are not going to win anyway. Send anyone. It does not matter who that person is. No need to choose our best man. We are going to lose that seat anyway. So why send our best man? We just want someone who is prepared to ‘die’, as he surely will. So why send our best man to die? Send someone not that good. We are sending him not to win but to be sacrificed.

That was the strategy. It was not a strategy to win. It was a strategy to make up the numbers. It was a strategy to send our best candidates to constituencies which we can win and the not so good to constituencies we can never win in a million years.

It was a good strategy. It was a good strategy if we are assured of winning a few seats and assured of losing many seats. The good candidates would be saved for the sure-win constituencies. And the not so good candidates would be sacrificed in the sure-lose constituencies.

It is not that easy to get good candidates anyway. Who would want to contest the general election on an opposition ticket? Who wants to make a fool of himself or herself by contesting the general election just to lose? Why contest when you are guaranteed of losing?

So the opposition lacked the ability to attract good candidates. And this was quite understandable. Those with any brains would never back a loser. Only brainless losers back losers. And the opposition is far from being the winner. The 2004 general election proved this. In 2004, many opposition candidates not only lost the election but lost their deposits as well. That was how disastrous it was in 2004. And why should 2008 be any different?

But the unexpected happened. What no one thought would happen did happen. The opposition won the seats they never expected to win. And lo and behold, they had fielded their ‘Grade B’ candidates in these seats. Some were not even ‘Grade B’ but ‘Grade C’. These are seats they thought they were never going to win in a million years. But these are seats they did win in 2008.

The opposition was caught with its pants down. It won many seats in 2008. And many of these seats were seats it did not think it could win but did win. And the candidates in these seats were not their best candidates. They were candidates who were supposed to lose. They were candidates sent out to ‘die’. They were candidates selected as sacrificial lambs, to be eaten by the Barisan Nasional lions.

But the lions did not eat the sacrificial lambs. Instead, the sacrificial lambs ate the lions. And the opposition ended up with many seats it never figured it would end up with. And the people now holding those seats are people the opposition would rather do without.

It was a good strategy. Field the best candidates in the winnable seats. Simply field anyone in the non-winnable seats. Pick whomsoever happened to be around that day and slot them in the seats you know you are going to be massacred. Just give an appearance of challenging Barisan Nasional in every constituency. It is only an appearance. You are not really giving Barisan Nasional a fight since you did not field your best candidates in those seats.

Yes, it was a good strategy. But it was a strategy that went wrong. You ended up with more seats than you thought you would end up with. And you ended up with more state assemblypersons and parliamentarians than you thought you would end up with. But not all are people whom you would have liked to have as state assemblypersons and parliamentarians. They were supposed to have lost the elections, the sacrificial lambs to be slaughtered by Barisan Nasional.

And now that strategy gone wrong has come home to roost. The opposition is seeing these candidates leave for greener pastures. They were not supposed to have won in the first place. They were supposed to have lost. But they did win. And now that they have won they want to leave the opposition to join Barisan Nasional where the pickings are better.

This is both good and bad. It is good in the sense that the opposition has now learned not to take things lightly. Don’t contest half-heartedly what you thought were non-winnable seats by fielding the worst candidates in those constituencies. You never know. You might end up winning those seats instead.

It is bad in that Barisan Nasional has also learned its lesson. If they can get enough opposition parliamentarians to cross over to Barisan Nasional then they will regain their two-thirds majority in parliament where they can redraw the election boundaries so that 2008 can never be repeated.

The opposition can, again, win 50% of the votes in the next general election. But the opposition’s share of 50% of the votes would translate to less than one-third of the seats in parliament while Barisan Nasional’s 50% will give them two-thirds. This is what they can do if they can get enough opposition parliamentarians to cross over before the next election.

Fine, looking at what happened in 2004, no one can blame the opposition for thinking that 2008 would be no better. However, against all odds, it was better. And this is why we are seeing the current exodus of crossovers. It is because of a good strategy that backfired, which means it was not that good a strategy after all.

Who do we blame for this? On hindsight, the opposition is to be blamed. But it is always easy to be an expert on hindsight. What about on foresight? If we feel that the opposition made a mistake in fielding bad candidates, whose fault is it? The opposition was begging for potential candidates to come forward and offer themselves as candidates. But not many were prepared to offer themselves as candidates. So the opposition was forced to select those not worthy of being candidates to field in the election.

Next time around, those of calibre must come forward to offer themselves as candidates. And the opposition must, on its part, be prepared to select people from outside the party. Never mind if they are not party people. Never mind if they are from the NGOs, civil society movements, activists, academicians, writers, Bloggers, or whatnot. Select them as candidates even if they have no party track record but are qualified and capable. This is what must happen the next time around, if there is a next time.

Head hunt for candidates for the next general election. And do it now rather than later. Identify good potential candidates and start talking to them now. And if the government suddenly holds a snap election you will not be caught off-guard. You will have your list of potential candidates ready. Then you won’t scramble to fill in the slots and be forced to field half-past-six people as candidates like last time.

I have my own list of some possible candidates. There are of course many more. These are not party people. In fact, some may have even been critical of the opposition, and even more critical of Barisan Nasional. These are people with qualifications and calibre. These are people with integrity and commitment. These are people who could become rich if they went into Barisan Nasional but choose not to even if they remain poor. These are people who not only know how to serve the country but also can never be made to change sides even if millions were at stake.

It is time the opposition looked outside the party. Party loyalists can revert to party un-loyalists if the price is right. So who cares about party loyalty when it comes with a price and loyalty can be bought and sold? I would look at those who have proven themselves as champions of the people rather than champions of the party — the party that pays them the most money.

Is the opposition ready to break away from tradition? Is the opposition ready to abolish cronyism, the very thing they accuse Barisan Nasional of but which exists in the opposition as well? Has what is going on of late taught the opposition the lesson it dire needs?

I hope to see at least, say, 20 candidates for parliament and, say, 50 candidates for the state seats come from the ranks of the NGOs, civil society movements, activists, academicians, writers, Bloggers, or whatnot. That is only 10% or so of the total number of seats. Is 10% too much to ask? Is it not better to ‘lose’ 10% of the seats to these types of ‘non-party people’ rather than lose ‘party candidates’ to Barisan Nasional due to crossovers?

The ball is now at the feet of the opposition. I just hope they know which direction the goalpost is. I can forgive the opposition for its disaster in choosing candidates in the 2008 general election because I know why that happened. But there is no excuse or forgiving if it happens again after we now know what must be done. If they do this again even I might leave the opposition in disgust and go into retirement.


Translated into Chinese at: http://ccliew.blogspot.com/2010/03/blog-post_02.html