The politics of compromise

MARCH 8 — A vote for PAS is vote for the DAP, says Umno. A vote for the DAP is a vote for PAS, says MCA. The implication being that the Malays should be worried if a Chinese-majority party benefits from their votes and the Chinese should be worried if a Malay party benefits from theirs.

Tun Daim Zainuddin says: “ PR’s greatest folly in Selangor was the state government’s sacking of former state executive councillor Datuk Dr Hasan Ali, and it showed how the state’s decisions were influenced by DAP.”

Whether in the UK, Australia or in India, coalition politics are increasingly a fact of life, mirroring the rise of single-issue activism like the Greens or the Neo Nazis alongside more holistic worldviews such as Liberalism and Conservatism. In such an environment, voters actually enjoy more bang for their buck.

Having seen the dangers of parliamentary majorities that are too large which allowed the government of the day to bulldoze their policies through without any public consultation has led to gradually weaker mandates. Having seen the wholesale plunder and disregard for ordinary human rights that characterise dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, citizens are restoring democracies through popular uprisings as seen in the Arab Spring

Even democracies with long-serving ruling parties like Singapore and Malaysia have seen their majorities weakened, as voters attempt to put the brakes on untrammelled power and restore a system of checks and balances by giving greater diversity of opinions a voice in government.

In Malaysia, some voters have realised that excessive power can lead to excessive abuse. The erosion of the independence of the judiciary, a largely supine mainstream media and the pushing through of palpably unpopular projects such as the 100-storey mega tower or the reversal of the PPSMI could arguably be laid at the door of a ruling class unused to consultation and basking in its uninterrupted mandate.

In addition, persistent allegations of cronyism and corruption in government decision-making can also be ascribed to a closed system of patronage where stakeholders in the business of government realise that their economic interests lie in furthering the interests of those in power.

Proponents of the current political reality argue that narrow majorities and hung parliaments lead to instability and paralysis in decision-making, which in turn leads to lower rates of economic development. While there is merit to these arguments, in the larger system of things these choices are best left to the wisdom of the voters.

Modern-day coalition governments may be slower in their decision-making and may lead to short-term instability, but they also promote greater deliberation in the process of decision-making. Competing voices and ideologies get a chance to be heard, a free, analytical media promotes calibrated policy responses and citizens get a greater say in the working of government that impact their daily lives.

While a vote for the DAP may be a vote for PAS, if they get to power, the hope is that a real debate on the future of multicultural Malaysia can ensue, where differing paradigms of development and the overall future of the country are decided in full view of the citizens who voted for them.

The mandate of the people is a powerful responsibility that will force the members of PR to try their level best to find common ground, or at least a compromise that allows them to carry on, much in the way of the Hasan Ali episode, or the “agree to disagree” hudud law compromise. Even for those politicians in it for purely material selfish purposes, their self interest can be pursued best from a position of power. In which case the voters would have a much more informed view of the coalition and how they use power than they have now.

The real question that will be answered in the upcoming general election, irrespective of who wins, is whether the Malaysian voter prefers decisive authoritarian government to a more deliberate, consultative model with more moderate outcomes.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.


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