Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sarong Politics

September 2008 came and went; there was no mass crossover from Barisan Nasional to the Pakatan coalition. All the noise about crossovers, which had consumed the political limelight for many weeks came to a deafening silence. Yes, there were probably some who were seriously in the fray to strip off their BN sarong and put on one with Pakatan's colours. There probably was also lots of behind the scenes pressure in BN to forestall such potential defections. Of course we all know about the infamous ‘field trip’ that all those BN members of parliament were sent off to in Taiwan.

But then came some relatively big news that Zaid Ibrahim had been sacked from UMNO. He of course goes on to leave no doubt that he finds more harmony identifying with the opposition. The defection of the Bota assemblyperson Nasarudin Hashim seems to have spearheaded more speculation about two Perak exco members who may possibly defect from Pakatan. And let’s not forget the other on-going speculation surrounding the possibility that four Negeri BN representatives may crossover and say ‘good-bye’ to BN.

At one level, I’m convinced that this kind of switching around, as if one was simply changing one’s sarong, at least shows that the political landscape has become less predictable – and more competitive. And I for one and am all for a more competitive political scene. We all have seen far too much one way political domination. Aside from the recent by-elections, these speculations of defections – especially, of course, where these developments make the political landscape more competitive – do at least change the climate of politics, if not actually transform the balance of power.

Obviously, such sarong politics is not widespread and deep. This changing of allegiance is clearly the exception rather than a frequent occurrence. But it is hard to deny two specific facts. First, as noted above it has made for a less predictable political reality. Second, given the breakdown of political balance in states such as Perak, Selangor, and Negeri Sembilan, relatively small shifts are obviously enough to potentially create a massive shift in balance of political power in these states. Of course, then there are those who, after having their sarong, or in this case, their veshti, stripped-off of them, are able to go back and wear it again. Either way, these shifts in party allegiance do not need to be deep to be consequential.

But, oh, does it make for interesting times.

These potential and actual switching of party allegiance also leave little doubt that some politicians are less motivated by the quality of the fabric the sarong is made of and more interested in how attractive the sarong they wear may be. The latter might be too superficial a motivation for changing sarong, but it if adds more colour to our politics, I’m all for it.

At least we don’t have to put up with the same old stale and boring sarongs.

G. Krishnan