My column in the Malaysian Insider: Let’s Perfect the Two-Party System First

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad

I am currently visiting Britain for a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference. Part of my trip will also include meetings with Malaysian students and expatriates all over the country.

As you probably know, I’m a UK graduate — from King’s College London — and so it’s always good to meet other young Malaysians who are pursuing their studies abroad as I did, or starting their careers. Back then, opposition-leaning students had to organise meetings covertly out of fear of reprisal.

It’s good to see therefore that the various Malaysian societies who host me now do so openly. As a matter of fact, the talk I gave in Warwick was hosted by the local Umno Club!

The young Malaysians I met, like their compatriots back home, are bright, talented and passionate about their homeland. One can only wish them well and hope that they will someday return to enrich our nation in turn.

Many of them have asked about the state of Pakatan Rakyat, and the troubles we’ve had lately. Their questions often remind me that I have to be at my best at all times. They also remind me that Pakatan has a long way to go on the road to Putrajaya.

That the last couple of months have been hard for Pakatan, especially Keadilan, is an understatement. We’ve suffered from several by-election losses and no small amount of internal problems.

Keadilan’s decision to hold its party elections on a one-member, one-vote system was historic but it has been hit by various technical problems and overinflated egos. It must also be admitted Pakatan hasn’t yet offered up a dynamic alternative to the comfortable, but ultimately fatal mediocrity that characterises Umno/BN’s style of government.

Also, it doesn’t help that certain establishment figures are determined to find fault with whatever we do. When Malaysians complain of state governments “not doing anything”, one sometimes wonder whether they are aware of how centralised power has become in Malaysia.

Most financial, security and oversight powers reside in the federal government. If it chooses to withhold its co-operation from certain states — as it has for those served by Pakatan — the ability to effect substantive reform there is severely limited. Such a situation will continue until and unless Malaysians elect a government that is willing to respect the spirit of federalism.

But I digress: Pakatan has been able to achieve much since 2008, but we ought to be doing much better. We definitely need to pull up our socks and realise that the wave that brought our candidates to office more than two years ago can just as easily knock them back. Believe me when I say that Pakatan is not unmindful of this and are working to improve ourselves.

For all the attacks on us by the establishment media, Pakatan has made great strides forward as a coalition. Keadilan, DAP and PAS are all committed to centrist, multi-racial politics: there will be no going back on this for us. We realise taking back Putrajaya for the people requires the support of all Malaysians, and not just our core supporter bases.

The initial problems aside, Keadilan’s elections have and will in the future provide our party leadership with greater legitimacy: better than any party that relies on backroom negotiations and “money politics.” Our leaders are truly elected, unlike certain politicians.

The party elections have brought out better grassroots leaders, of all ages, genders and ethnicities. They will provide us with candidates for the next elections, and will more than make up for the defectors and non-performers Malaysians have had to put up with. The decision of our leadership to trust the wisdom of the ordinary members has paid off.

Despite the sabotage and obstruction, Pakatan has achieved a lot in the states we serve. We’ve had a convention and launched a Common Policy Framework that clearly sets out the agenda of a Pakatan federal government. We stand by this document and it will form the basis of our manifesto in the next general election.

It will take time but Pakatan is well on the way to shaping up as a viable alternative to Barisan Nasional, towards the two-party (or rather two-coalition) system of politics we’ve all been waiting for.

The problem, however, is that people get impatient. Taking a leaf from Britain and Australia, there’s been a nascent movement in Malaysia’s blogsphere to forge a third party to contest the next general election in order to become kingmakers.

Romantic notions notwithstanding, it’s not clear, at least to me, how much difference a “third party” could make in Malaysian politics. Third parties are supposed to draw support away from both “established” parties.