In search of the New Politics

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad

Barisan Nasional (BN) won the Galas state seat not by a thin margin, as hoped by PAS/Pakatan Rakyat (PR), but with twice the majority obtained by the PAS’ candidate in the last General Election (GE) of March 8, 2008.

PAS was understandably shocked while BN visibly euphoric. While the euphoria has not subsided among the victors, neither, it seems, has the agony among the vanquished. The worse is yet to come for the losers — the post-mortem — a much disliked word for any party’s election strategists, especially after losing a by-election.

I am not about to provide a post-mortem of Galas. I relish doing so, but it wouldn’t be a difficult feat to accomplish, now that the scoresheets of all polling stations are available.


Number crunching is something I enjoy. Besides, not being part of the “strategic’ team”, I am perhaps in a better position to dissect. However, I will only reflect on N45 Galas by-election in the Gua Musang parliamentary constituency, in the larger context of national politics and the emerging trend of the “New Politics”.

Incidentally on the morning of polling day on Nov 4, before leaving for the walkabout to the various polling stations, I tweeted “Salam to all! Happy voting in Galas and Batu Sapi. Winning or losing is not the end of the world. The road to reform is still distant. Wake-up!”

That was strangely unlike myself, a colleague quipped. There was an inner voice withholding theusual whipping-up of the party’s die-hards and well-wishers, as if not to give too much hope as to make it more agonising should we fail to win. The nightmare turned true, to the chagrin of many a supporter and well-wishers.

Incidentally, my good friend and astute analyst Dr Ong Kian Meng got it wrong too. He was way off of the mark, while in Hulu Selangor it wasn’t too far off. As openly admitted by Kian Meng, predicting election outcomes is not at all a science, more of an art of sort.

I also made use of the econometric model to systematically analyse the outcome in the last general election based on some predictions of swings across various ethnic groups and sets of relationship (both macro-national issues and micro-local issues). The model’s accuracy and reliability were indeed commendable then. Macro or national issues dominated the equation while micro-issues featured as minor consideration vis-à-vis states and seats.

Seismic shifts or tsunami-like phenomenon were seen as a result of macro and national issues working in concert to trigger a nation-wide swing for the opposition and against the ruling BN in the last GE. Following this was the emerging configuration or construct of a New Politics which witnessed the opposition, now dubbed the Pakatan Rakyat, winning almost all by-elections after the 12th GE.

It, rightly or wrongly, gives the impression and perception that the PR is awesome and a very formidable force to be reckoned with, bent on forming the federal government come the next GE.

The New Politics, simply defined, is a democracy where voters are an informed citizenry and voters making informed decision, based on accessible knowledge and information from the empowering media (especially the new media). These become the bedrock and the cardinal characteristics of New Politics. These represent the anti-thesis of the Old Politics in the Old Order that had eroded and subverted the practice of democracy.

It wants to make the voters and the citizens  the immediate and ultimate major stakeholders and bosses of their own political destiny in matters of electing the government of the day and making others as opposition, at both the federal level and state legislative assembly.

Through democratisation and access to information, voters become an enlightened and discerning lot, so as to, in turn, make political parties and their leaders subservient to their needs, expectation and hopes.

Suddenly the BN government of the present also believes that the era of “government knows all” has passed. The semblance of a functional and a vibrant democracy is slowly yet surely put in place.

New Politics should, in time, herald a full-fledged democracy that exhibits three essential conditions.

First, an extensive political contestation based on policy advocacy from each contesting candidate and party through equitable access to the media; second, guaranteed civil and political liberties free of draconian laws and subversion of the practice of federalism; and third, the exclusion of intimidation and fear when expressing legitimate dissent.

Concomitant with the New Politics is the emerging shift from a one-party system to a two-party system. Although the new PR coalition cannot be assured of a long life, a top-most concern of political pundits, it must nonetheless be admitted that the PR-ruled states provide for a more exciting competition at the policy advocacy and implementation or delivery level. The annual Auditor General’s Report 2009 provides for a healthy contestation between BN-run states and the PR-run states.

Competing for the hearts and minds of the rakyat and the voters, the contestation would amply present better opportunities for the rakyat to discern between the two options of BN or PR. As both coalitions struggle to secure the support of voters, the rakyat are indeed the greatest benefactors in this healthy contest at all levels and aspects of life.

The New Politics similarly abhors political parties and coalitions taking extreme and “exclusive” stances, especially in acrimonious debates along racial-political-religious fault-lines.Eventually the New Politics dictates that contesting parties and coalitions assume a centrist ideological position — forcing every party to be moderate, inclusive and less parochial.