Conditions for a Workable 2 Party System

By batsman 

It seems that Malaysians like to copy the west blindly. For a 2 party system to work, it is not just necessary to have 2 opposing parties. If it were, Malaysia would have fit into such a workable model long ago. So it seems that there must be a balancing of power and capability and just in case the governing party plays dirty and uses government assets and resources to fish for votes, there must be at least one or even 2 referees to ensure fairness such that the final vote represents the true wishes of the people and not just vote buying or use of a partisan bureaucracy, unjust laws and the resources of the government for party political purposes.

Once the equilibrium is lost and there is no referee to ensure fairness, the governing party can stay in power forever since it is able to use the resources of the government to maintain itself in power. So it seems a 2 party system cannot work unless there is at least one referee. 

So why did activists raise the banner of the 2 party system in the first place? I think it was because the opportunity of the 2008 tsunami offered a fleeting chance for equality or balancing of opposing forces. 

Unfortunately the PR began shooting itself in the foot in an obsessive manner. So the question had to be asked whether this is just a series of accidents, or plain incompetence or is it a natural consequence of the socio-political and economic structure of Malaysia? 

Some people with limited brain power accuse leaders of multi-party systems of over-weaning ambition to be the PM. If this can apply to small parties why cannot it also apply to bigger parties – in fact the leading party in the PR itself? So it would seem such people only suck up to power, but why not the BN which has more power? 

I suspect these people no longer have this option to suck up to the BN, so they leech on to the next best option – the biggest party in opposition. This stinks of opportunism to me. Worse still, they try and destroy all small organizations that they think threaten their rice bowl. 

Why is the PR sabotaging itself? To answer this question, there is a need to understand the socio-political and economic structure of Malaysia where it pertains to power – i.e. the class analysis of Malaysia. Unfortunately such an analysis does not exist or if it does, is still not well developed. 

Such an updated analysis does not even exist for the west anymore. However there is an old analysis that I believe still has some relevance to us such that we may understand political systems better and hence make better decisions. 

The 2 party system works in the west because there is at least one referee (in fact 2 or more). Such a referee are the people with money and control of the economy. Some of these actually donate generously both to Labour and Tories to hedge their bets. Their aim is to find the best opportunities for their money to grow and the political party that provides these opportunities best get their support for the elections of the moment. It is natural that the Tories would be their natural allies, so the Tories win more elections than Labour until of course Labour reforms itself to become New Labour and sucks up to money even more than the Tories. It so happens that in Britain these days, neither Tory nor Labour is able to provide a good way out for Britain to get out of the recession, so the Lib Dems have been promoted as a likely source of ideas for getting Britain out of the recession. 

Of course the other referee is the working people or employees of all sorts. The moneyed classes in actual fact are good leaders unlike our Ketuanan Melayu types who ride rough shod over others. The moneyed classes are intimately knowledgeable of the needs and wants of the working people and take these into account. But the working people are at the bottom of the political process. Only after all the machinations, the negotiations and the dirty deals have been done are the people asked to cast their votes. Only on rare occasions or on very uncertain economic or political times do the working people get to make their true wishes felt (without the influence and direction of the media) and then fruitlessly because the situation is really too dire for anyone to work any magic. 

Such a situation does not exist in Malaysia and there is no impartial referee (as far as political parties are concerned). The people who are supposed to be the referee have been bought over with money and goodies bags as well as development promises. BN controls the economy with a very tight fist even when UMNO continues to make the Malays feel threatened by the Chinaman bogey (for those who don’t believe this silly fairy tale, there is the concept of Ketuanan Melayu to ensure that UMNO continues to get Malay support i.e. buy the majority of voters to its side). 

BN controls banking, transport, oil & gas, utilities, communications, health care, construction, plantations, agriculture, fishing (at least the diesel part), land use, licenses, approvals, investments, loans, contracts – you name it. They even boast openly of having the ability to create as many millionaires or cronies as they want to suit policy or political purposes. 

So if the BN is all powerful with regards to political power, judicial power, bureaucratic power, economic and financial power and even legislative power, how is it possible to have a referee to ensure fairness? Even the people have been subjugated by vote buying combined with repression. How is it possible to have a workable 2 party system? 

What we have now is a communist style system combined with apartheid. The political party in power is inextricably intertwined with a partisan bureaucracy and judiciary. This makes it communist styled. However instead of going after the capitalists, the political party in power goes after non-Malays with the excuse that non-Malays control the economy. This makes it racist and practitioner of apartheid, especially so when it trots out the new concept of Ketuanan Melayu to make it a genetic thingy. 

Once Ketuanan Melayu is ensconced, it can safely do dirty deals with the rich non-Malays with the excuse that it is Tuan and the Malays are not being betrayed. Everything falls into place except that it is now effectively a 1 party state that can indulge in abuse of power, corruption and sin at its whim and fancy. 

These days, however, under NTR’s leadership UMNO seems to favour the 1Malaysia concept rather than Ketuanan Melayu. This does not mean it has abandoned Ketuanan Melayu. It has just kept Ketuanan Melayu in the back-burner in case it is needed again later on. Why is this? 

I think that because of the tsunami effect, UMNO realizes that rich non-Malays are still a force to be reckoned with even if they seem completely demoralized and over-powered. Further, the Malays themselves no longer buy the idea that non-Malays are a threat to them and Ketuanan Melayu seems too extreme. Everyone yearn for an end to racial quarrels and to concentrate on improving their lives without fear or insecurity. 

Does this mean then that the 1 Party State is over and done with? What do you think? 

How then can the PR turn such a 1 Party State into a 2 party system if it insists on treating non-party activists as outsiders – effectively excluding ordinary people from the political process? It would seem that the phenomenon of the PR continually shooting itself in the foot is not a series of accidents or even plain incompetence. It is part and parcel of the social, political and economic structure in Malaysia. The Malaysian structure forces the PR to begin to act as a 1 Party State even as it challenges the BN for power. If it does get into power, it will just take over the 1 Party State and use it to suppress the BN. 

Well, that is the scenario anyway, but I am not a prophet and what I foresee has none of the guarantees of a prophecy. The crucial thing is to have an impartial referee and since none exists in Malaysia, organizations such as the MCLM can play a vital role. 

It may be such that the MCLM will not have enough influence for it to play an effective role as a referee. This is to be expected, but it is a beginning. Hopefully in time, there will be enough independent organizations with enough strength to play the role of a referee to make sure that any 2 party system will not lose its equilibrium and slip back into a 1 Party State. 

All such hopes are dependent on the socio-political and economic structure of Malaysia being able to support a working 2 party system – most of all it depends on financial strength being equally balanced. 

UMNO must have its sources of revenue (has anyone really done a really good investigation of UMNO’s sources of revenue, both direct and indirect for it to be able to run its very expensive machinery – maybe PwC has but are they talking?). But all such sources must be legitimate and not arising out of its control of government to make it fair and balanced. If UMNO uses RTM for biased reporting and party political purposes, the RTM’s budget must count as part of UMNO’s revenue. 

Similarly the PR must have its sources of legitimate revenue and this must be roughly equal to what BN gets or controls for it to have a chance to challenge the BN in a working 2 party system. As it stands, I suspect the current revenue it gets from the public is not enough to run even a few of its branches. 

It is no accident that in the US, donations to political parties are very strictly controlled, so is the ability of the party in power to use the power of government to fatten it bank accounts or to use the government’s power for party political purposes. 

So the PR is dependent on its major donors. I do not think they are ordinary members of the public – otherwise the PR will not treat members of the public like outsiders and excluded from the political process in Malaysia. 

I would think too that the MCLM has its donors. How much it is influenced by its major donors, I cannot say. Still, if it can exist and run its operations effectively, then there is hope that independent referees are beginning to form in Malaysia. This gives us hope that a working 2 party system is possible after all, but the question now is how long before we can achieve this successfully? 

It would shorten this process a great deal if the PR had not acquired the habit of shooting itself in the foot so early on. If the PR had been able to build it sources of strength from the people itself and not from major donors, the people would have been brought into the political process and would have become at least one of the effective referees. 

Sadly this does not seem to be, so independent organizations such as the MCLM have a vital role to play in Malaysian politics and government. 

But all is not lost. While the religious fanatics of the 2 party system insist on continuing to fly the flag of 2 party political system, I am still willing to grant them this only such a flag should not be flown at full ma