Towards left of centre
JULY 24 — The ultimate and only game plan of Barisan Nasional (BN) is to destroy the alternative, Pakatan Rakyat. Without a viable alternative, BN will be perpetually in power. But the moment there is a credible alternative, no one can rule out the possibility of a change of government.
BN is attempting three very different acts at the same time: to put Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim behind bars in the hope of finishing off Pakatan Rakyat and Parti Keadilan Rakyat; to get PAS to form a unity government with BN; demonise DAP on one hand and yet on the other hand, strangely enough, hoping that DAP will join BN.
BN strategists are an increasingly confused lot. They have alternately accused the DAP of being the spokesman for Chinese, Christians, or chauvinists, in an attempt to stoke Malay hatred against the DAP and turn the Malays against Pakatan Rakyat.
Since Umno’s July 2005 General Assembly, the party continues to move further away from the centre and is taking extreme positions.
In the 14 years between Mahathir’s 1991 announcement of Vision 2020 and the July 2005 General Assembly when it resurrected the New Economic Policy, Umno’s gentle stand towards non-Malays won it much support in the 1995, 1999 and 2004 General Elections.
Post-2005 Umno and its mouthpieces Utusan Malaysia and Perkasa have already given up winning over non-Malays, especially after the March 8, 2008 general election.
But playing the racial card may not win Umno too many votes. BN’s most successful election performances in 1995 and 2004 were not riding on the back of increased Malay votes, but were attributed to its successful portrayal of opposition parties as extremists, while portraying Umno as centrists in a race-based political universe.
While claiming that it defends the Malays, Umno has been powerless to solve the problems plaguing the Malays including corruption, poverty and inflation.
The most important issue in the next general election is whether non-Malays can accept PAS, and whether Malays and Bumiputeras can embrace DAP.
DAP’s political stand has always been to speak up for all Malaysians. In the history of the party, DAP not only has elected representatives from three major races, it also is the party with the highest number of Indian elected representatives in this Parliamentary session.
Admittedly, there was a time when the party’s supporters mainly comprised Chinese, and many party events seemed to have a more Chinese flavour.
Our next challenge is how to broaden the DAP’s national appeal and reach out to all races with the DAP’s message.
Lim Guan Eng’s launch of the Malay-language website Roketkini.com was premised on this purpose. It is hoped that this website will attract more young, urban Malays and readers of the Malay language from all races to create a new political culture and build a common political ground.
The economic reality of contemporary Malaysia requires Pakatan Rakyat and the DAP to take a left turn as far as our economic vision is concerned. Equality and solidarity should be placed at the forefront of the economic discourse.
The Singaporean electoral upset and the uprising in the Middle East since early this year share three common factors, namely inequality, inflation and the Facebook generation.
It is not that there was no growth in Singapore or Egypt. Far from it. In fact Singapore experienced a record 14.5 per cent growth in its GDP in 2010 while Egypt and Tunisia had a growth rate that averaged 5 per cent.
It is fair to establish that growth alone is not sufficient to generate social cohesiveness. Failure to address issues concerning distribution and equal access to opportunities literally brought down these governments.
In short, it is inequality that fuelled anti-establishment anger. A system that privileges a small group of well-heeled elite over the others is tolerated either because growth spilled over sufficiently to keep everyone happy or the prevailing oppressive nature of the regime kept the people in fear most of the time.
But the spike in global inflation since the global financial crisis in 2008 is felt more keenly in societies that are hugely unequal economically than those that are more equal. The poor and the middle-class saw their living standards fall rapidly as inflation rose.
And the presence of the Facebook generation tilted the balance as the state is no longer able to monopolise the spread of news and communication channels to organise mass civil disobedient actions.
The lessons that all governments need to learn are these: that investors, either foreign or local, are not voters; tourists are not voters and real estate developers are not voters either. Economic growth alone without fairer distribution of the fruits of growth is not politically sustainable.
Our economic agenda needs to prioritise jobs and wages in our discourse. It is pointless if we have a huge influx of investments without generating decent jobs for the locals.
While checking inflation sounds noble, it is almost impossible to curb it especially as the latest wave of inflation is to a large extent a result of rising wages for workers in the eastern seaboard of China.
It is time for us to re-look at Malaysia’s low-wage policy, set a minimum wage, and also put a stop to the massive influx of unskilled foreign labour. We must end the vicious cycle of low wage, low skill and low productivity.
Beyond jobs and wages, we need a paradigm shift in housing, public transport, healthcare and sustainability.
While the private sector can remain a player in these sectors, the public sector must play an active role to ensure that private speculation and profiteering would not result in the majority not having a roof over their heads, those who do not own a car become immobile, and those who can’t afford healthcare suffer or die miserably. And, our environment is not to be compromised either.
Hence, a “left turn” in our approach to the economy is required in order to ensure that all Malaysians regardless of race and ethnicity live a decent life with equal opportunity in the face of global inflation.
Malaysia is at a crossroad in which a change of the federal government in the next general election is no longer deemed impossible.
But for that change to happen, PAS and DAP must both win across the ethnic divide while Pakatan Rakyat needs to provide a new and creative economic alternative premised on left-of-centre ideas of equality and solidarity.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.