Sunday, December 14, 2008

Walking Backwards

The Gerakan website states the following about the party: ‘Gerakan…has since its founding in 1968, been committed to the pursuit of a non-ethnic approach as the basis of its political struggle, be it in politics, economics, education and culture. Parti Gerakan has never relented, and will never relent, in our struggle for a truly Malaysian non-racial approach towards the attainment of a united, secular and socially just Malaysia.’

Similarly, the People Progressive Party’s website claims that it seeks economic, social and political progress by promoting ‘a national multi racial outlook’ instead of ‘parochial and narrow party interests.’

Rather lofty and commendable ideals these are, if I may say so. Even all the more striking, I might add, considering for some years now, these two parties have been so closely aligned with the parochial, communitarian, and race-based political alliance known as Barisan Nasional. To an outsider, there are many things about Malaysian politics that will be peculiar and even incomprehensible. Some things just don’t quite make sense; but sometimes even we Malaysians are caught dumb-founded by the oddities in our society.

For me, having Gerakan and the PPP be aligned with UMNO and the other race-based parties in Barisan Nasional has to rank right up there as one of the more glaring contradictions of Malaysian politics. We all know that politics can often make for strange ‘bed-fellows.’ But to have these two parties – whose stated ideologies, and indeed, histories, seem so contrary to the race-based parties – go down the path of legitimating race-based politics and acquiesce to practices and policies that undermine the secular institutions of the country does make one wonder how far some might go in compromising one’s principles. Then, of course, it seems reasonable to wonder what the price is for such compromises.

Now there may be some who might want to deflect the attention from this strange bed-fellows phenomenon by suggesting that, after all, DAP and Keadilan – as multi-racial parties - are also no better for ‘jumping in the sack’ with a ‘ethno-religious’ party like PAS. On one level, the two scenarios seem comparable. After all, both situations reflect odd alliances. Yet I would submit that the two situations are fundamentally different.

The Barisan alliance, as we have seen for decades now, is centred on UMNO domination. It resembles a master-servant relationship with a substantial patronage culture which affirms the race-based ideology and agenda promulgated and perpetuated by UMNO. In this sense, ideologically multi-racial parties such as Gerakan and PPP and fundamentally subservient; and they know it. Not even the other race-based are ‘equal partners’ in this marriage of convenience. From this unequal relationship, of course, emanates all the dictates and mandates of UMNO, which collectively, the other subservient partners of Barisan become accomplice to.

In so far as we have seen thus far, nothing resembling the above scenario is prevalent in the Pakatan Rakyat coalition. The DAP and Keadilan are certainly not subservient to PAS. In so far as this ‘three-legged stool’ remains balanced, those of us who cherish the vision of a democratic and secular Malaysia can rightly be confident that some parties seem more true to legitimately defending these values – even if they have to work along with one or another ‘race-based’ party.

Certainly when it comes ‘walking the talk,’ Gerakan and PPP – have, for all practical purposes, been walking backwards.

G. Krishnan