Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mamak-style mee goreng and the real thing

Recently we heard from the prime minister that the Barisan Nasional supreme council has broached the matter of possibly instituting direct membership for individuals in Barisan Nasional in order to create a multi-racial party rather than one consisting of a coalition of race-based parties

Shortly thereafter another seemingly novel idea gets floated. This time it’s the prospect of adding another deputy president of Barisan Nasional to be essentially occupied by an MCA member. Here’s part of what was reported in a Malaysiakini article:

MCA Youth has called for the Barisan Nasional leadership composition to be restructured, demanding that an additional No 2 post be created and held by the Chinese-based party.’   

Perhaps you too see the apparent anomaly with these ‘reform’ ideas circulating within Barisan Nasional. Wow! Did I utter the words ‘reform’ and ‘Barisan Nasional’ in the same sentence? What’s wrong with this picture, you ask? Well, let me tell you.

I’m sure many of us must be truly in awe about the level of activity within Barisan Nasional associated with rethinking the coalition’s structure and hierarchy. Now, I suspect you know all too well why this is happening. In these truly historic months that just passed, we’ve seen the beating and battering of Barisan Nasional. But it hasn’t been just that. Of course, Barisan is trying to reinvent itself after waking up to the reality that millions of Malaysians are far ahead of them in transcending the parochial, sectarian, and communitarian style politics the former seems to be deeply mired in. Yes, we all see through this agenda; Barisan, like a ‘Johnny-come-lately,’ wants to get into the ‘multi-racial party’ action as well. Yes, of course it wants to steal the thunder away from Parti Keadilan Rakyat, by trying to reinvent itself.

Now, how do you suppose this specific ‘multi-racial’ proposal will do alongside the MCA Youth proposal for, yes, a racially-based deputy president of BN seat? On the one hand, there is talk about getting past the racially based coalitions, and on the other, we see the desire to further deepen the racially based character of the coalition.

Talk about an identity crisis! Well, this sure is it if I ever saw one. Now I’m by no means suggesting that both these proposal are likely to be implemented. However, one thing is clear: BN is struggling with itself; seemingly undergoing a ‘mid-life crisis’ of sorts.

Then, of course there is the conciliatory tone being struck through claims such as ‘UMNO is not a bully’ in the Barisan coalition and ‘we are all friends.’ Oh, my. Two observations about this: First, why do you suppose the prime minister has felt compelled to sound so defensive? You don’t suppose he sounds like someone guilty of some misdeed, who feels compelled to go out of his way to deny the obvious – and the more he does it, the less convincing the denial? Second, you don’t suppose there’s a tad bit of trepidation being felt within the BN that perhaps the grassroots of these coalition parties may be just too fed-up with the arrogance of UMNO, coupled with the fact that the BN is detecting a steady erosion of its support among grassroots non-Malays?

And why might this be so? Competition. Yes, it’s amazing what a little bit of genuine competition in the political arena can do to make arrogant politicians to sit up, listen and take notice. As Parti Keadilan Rakyat began to offer itself as a real alternative to Barisan Nasional, and we begin to exercise our will as a people – thus making the political landscape more competitive – we begin to also hear murmurings to try and teach an old dog new tricks. Which bring me to my concluding point.

We all know the futility of trying to teach an old dog new tricks. If the aforementioned kinds of proposals to reform Barisan are any indication, it should be amply transparent that this exercise in reinventing itself is about as authentic as eating mamak-style mee goreng in a five-star hotel – it might be served on a fancy plate - but it’s just not the real thing.  

G. Krishnan