Archive for November, 2015

THE three original race-based parties in Barisan Nasional – Umno, MCA and MIC – the founders of the Alliance, are facing internal leadership crises and negative public perceptions. Unless they can quickly engineer an overhaul of their parties and the way they conduct politics, they may be heading for an implosion.

The Alliance secured independence without any bloodshed or collateral damage to the people and for that, the past and present generations have been grateful.

The May 13 riots took place in 1969 and in 1973, the Alliance was expanded to become Barisan Nasional (BN), to include other non-exclusive race-based parties such as Gerakan and regional parties from Sabah and Sarawak. But local politicking remains predominantly race-based until today though there have been some significant improvements such as the disdain against race politics among the younger and educated middle class.

The Alliance and its successor, the BN, has led the country and brought much socio-economic development, made our country a founder of Asean and adopted a neutral, moderate and pro-peace position.

It also suppressed the communist insurgency and ended it with the signing of the Hatyai Peace Accord in 1989.

But times have changed and the world has also changed with globalisation, open competition, the internet, social media and the way we do business and conduct our politics.

The leading and still the largest political party in the country, Umno is facing a leadership crisis. It is also caught in a no-win situation when it comes to dealing with its dissidents who may have significant grass-roots support in many states. Taking a hard or soft approach towards the dissidents has its pros and cons and the situation is more complicated than what many may seem to think.

Like Umno, MCA has also survived many power struggles but the party has been weakened over the last few general elections and it does not seem to be able to find the right formula to win over the support of the Chinese community.

MIC, also had a fair share of internal power struggles in the past and it just came out of a major leadership split with its president being kicked out of the party by default for taking the party to court.

As the big brother in the BN coalition and the ruling party in the government, Umno has a heavy responsibility to lead the way from race politics and to embrace multi-racialism. It should do so soon with a clear and positive conscience.

MCA and MIC are also facing similar dilemmas as Umno but because the power stakes held by these two parties are much less, what they do and what would happen to them have become less relevant to many in their communities.

Part of the problem and an important source of the leadership crises of these parties can be traced to their being exclusively race-based, which tends to encourage many leaders to play the race card to gain popularity and support.

These leaders tend to focus on the shallow or superficial aspects of issues and because of that, the quality of such leaders drops as they do not need to think critically and be analytical. They just take the easy way out to play the race card.

Race politics also tends to breed and cover up corruption, wastage and inefficiency.

I have written in the past that exclusive race-based parties must open up, adapt and change or they would become dinosaurs. They would gradually become irrelevant and incapable of addressing the complex local issues and external challenges confronting our country.

In the 21st century, looking inward and trusting or liking someone based purely on race or worse, being a racial extremist is more primitive than our early ancestors who lived in caves.

For example, our early ancestors used fire for keeping warm, cooking and fending off dangerous animals while racial extremists nowadays use fire for destructive purposes such as arsons to cause fear and divisions.

All political parties must open up their party membership to all Malaysians. The only criterion for those who wish to join a political party must be that they should agree to the objectives, philosophy, ideology or principles of the party.

There are two things that we do not chose when we are born — our race and sex, so no organisation should bar a person from joining based on race or sex.

It may be all right to be predominantly race-based or led mainly by one race but all political parties should make a principled stand to open up their party membership to ALL Malaysians regardless of ethnicity.

There should be a change in the law soon to bar any political party from restricting membership on ethnicity.

Why are some leaders afraid of opening their party to other races? That their parties would be swamped with members of other races? How insecure can they be? Why would the other races join a party just to cause problems and “kacau”.

It takes a lot of time, effort and money to engineer a take-over of a political party from outside and it is fraught with risks and uncertainties. No one in his right mind would do such a thing.

If some party leaders are so concerned about this fear, then they can perhaps set a quota of 30% for other races for the first five years and then abolish the quota.

It is not enough to just open up membership. They must also address issues relevant to all Malaysians and use a multi-racial approach at all times.

Open competition is good, even in politics.

While in the past, race-based parties tried to outdo the others on being more racial, the trend now and especially in the future, is for political parties to outdo the others on being more multiracial to gain more support, especially from the younger and more educated generations.

The multiracial approach is the only sustainable way forward for all political parties in an increasingly more-discerning, demanding, well-informed and educated electorate, living in a highly-connected world.

The writer is the CEO of a think-tank, management and strategic PR firm in Kuala Lumpur. Comments: