Is a third force the next step?

Merdeka celebration at dataran Putra Jaya yesterday.(31/08/2019/S.S.KANESAN/The Star)

By the people, for the people: People need to be prepared to hold their members of government accountable for their actions. — Filepic

In Scandinavian countries, the third force comprises citizens’ movements that elect representatives according to shared values and regardless of political parties.

GONG Xi Fa Cai! But what an inauspicious beginning we’ve had even before we could get started into the new decade.

There was a massive burst of patriotism and national pride shortly after the historic 14th General Election (GE14) in 2018. However, this has since been tempered by the realities of politics, and Malaysians are feeling distinctly less optimistic now.

Almost two years on after May 9,2018, according to a study by international research specialists Ipsos, slightly over half (57%) of Malaysians believe that the country is moving in the right direction. This number is much lower than the 75% that held the belief just after GE14.

While Pakatan Harapan has some encouraging results to show in terms of combating corruption and reducing the national debt, the government has been hamstrung by the sluggish economy and the continued racial politics. Former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, leveraging his strong social media presence, has also played up discontent on the ground.

For now, it appears that the GE14 euphoria has died down and the honeymoon period for the new leaders is over.

We are still stuck with a destitute education system full of religion which was piled upon with more religion in the guise of khat, which was then later spun off to become Jawi and whatnot, to the point finally that the clamour resulted in a minister being “asked to leave”.

Then we have muftis talking politics and going on racist rants. Racial politics has continued to rear its ugly head with Umno and PAS using it as a stick to beat Pakatan with. Unsurprisingly, this tactic has been quite successful.

At the same time, we have non-stop leadership tussles as if that is what the people want. No, we do not want you or you or you.

Charity begins at home, Pakatan. For example, do not harbour a foreign fugitive just like you do not want others to harbour yours. What was that Clinton era saying? “It’s the economy, stupid”? We’re offering sugar and sweets after pissing off world superpowers in return for them coming back to buy our palm oil. How much dumber can we get?

I have been going around this nation of ours and the din of dissatisfaction is beyond belief. It seems the only people who are oblivious to it are the people we voted in to make a change. They seem to think that catering to religious extremists and racist bigots is the only way they can hang on to power.

As a rough gauge, an assessment by opinion research firm Merdeka Centre reported in June last year that in GE14, Pakatan enjoyed up to 95% support among Chinese voters and up to 70% among Indian voters. Its support level among Malay voters was 30%. Do you think Pakatan still has that amount of support now? I doubt it.

For one thing, what kind of leaders does Pakatan offer? Whenever a controversy springs up, they are not there to quash it and show the right way; instead, they scurry away in silence and then appear when the dust settles with ambiguous pronouncements.

What kind of leadership do we have that the two biggest ministries in charge of revitalising the economy has done nothing for it except blame the previous administration. We already know that! Give us solutions. Tell us what is your big picture, what you intend to focus on in what timeline to make our economy boom. Have you heard anything like that or have I missed something?

And we have no Icerd (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination), no Rome Statute (of the International Criminal Court), no UEC (Unified Examination Certificate), but we still have highway tolls.

What do we get? Only the sound of silence from our august House. Have these elected representatives we put in place misunderstood the meaning of parliamentary immunity or have they just lost their individual and collective voices?

(Kudos to Klang MP Charles Santiago, you have my practically singular admiration.)

Let me womansplain. Elected representatives to Parliament are not in government unless they are ministers or any other executive in the government. You are a legislator and the civil servant elected to speak on behalf of your electorate. You are not obliged to agree with the government of the day. Speak your minds. Vote your conscience. Sit among yourselves and draw up legislations, whether the government agrees with you or not. Do your jobs.

But this is not happening. We have the same modus operandi that has been going on for the last 60 years. Follow the leader. Blindly. Shut up. Get ahead. You get sacked because you are incompetent? It’s OK, you’ve already played the race-religion divide and rule, now let’s run for party posts.

No, we do not want a return to the old way of doing things. But neither did we vote for power-hungry, position-jostling incompetents either. We expected, upon May 9,2018, a sense of urgency from a new, evolved leadership that realised the mistakes had been made and are humble enough to correct them – not to have the same arrogance and repeat those mistakes by surrounding themselves with the same kind of money men and religious charlatans masquerading as advisors.

Frankly, the way I see it, politicians are laying the gauntlet in front of the rakyat. They are betting that we the rakyat don’t have a choice. That we are fearful. Fearful of moving and fearful of change. That we are apathetic and selfish. That we go and vote if we are angry enough, get disappointed, give up and stay at home.

Is that what we, the right-thinking Malaysians who voted for change on May 9, are? Fearful and apathetic? I don’t think so because we did get up, throw caution to the wind, and make that change.

This, then, begets another question: Do we, the rakyat, have no other choice? Are we stuck with only one way to vote or is there another way? Is there, as some would put it, a third way or a third force?

I believe there is. Don’t forget that all we right-thinking Malaysians want is an equal-opportunity Malaysia for all Malaysians irrespective of race, religion (or no religion) or social status. We need a united country with a diverse heritage where people are accepting of each other, an education system that will ensure our children’s futures, and an economic system devoid of corruption and rent-

seekers but full of opportunities for individual and collective success, with civil liberties guaranteed for all. Is that too much to ask?

It seems that these are really difficult things for political parties to provide. Yet “intellectuals” keep telling me that without political parties we will fail. To which my answer is, “we have failed and we kept failing again and again with political parties even when we made a change”. Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Yet here we are, doing the same thing over and over again.

I believe the time for a third way has arrived. In fact, it has already been tested successfully for some decades now in Western Europe, especially in Scandinavian nations. The elected parliamentarians form what we call minority governments based on collective causes and values rather than political party alliances with big partners.

Their elected representatives originally come from what we commonly call “citizens’ movements” which are not even political parties. They may later morph into political parties but independents can go their own way and make up the numbers as well.

The most famous example would be the environmental movements that supported and fielded candidates that carry their values; any party, faction, or politician may be labelled “green” if they emphasise environmental causes.

In Malaysia, what is the most common bond for those who want a progressive nation? I believe it is the belief that Malaysia can only progress as a secular nation, with science-centric education and an equal Malaysia for all Malaysians. These are the most fundamental values distilled in the simplest terms.

Everything else flows from these values and causes, even the obliteration and then avoidance of the corruption culture that permeates our landscape today.

Hence, this is where our citizens’ movements must start and organise. We must band together and plan for the next round when it comes, way ahead of any political parties.

Our duty is to our citizens and our nation. We do not need to worry or care about party positions, party politics and kissing the boss’s ass. That is a big advantage.

We also need to change the mindset of the electorate so people elect Parliament representatives who must be capable of making laws that benefit citizens and the nation; and they must have the potential to lead the government in specific ministerial roles. They should not be expected to run “service centres” and the like. Those are the jobs of local governments, municipalities and state assemblies.

We need to focus on the nation as a whole, and that means Parlia-ment. Parliament is the target. Parliament has to be the focus of change by the third force, the citizens’ movements.

We need a disruption of politics as usual. We do not need to be beholden anymore to political party leaders being given ministerial posts or even the Prime Minister-ship. We need to send capable citizens with integrity to become Parliamentarians who also have a resume of real world experience and a track record to lead ministries or even be the Prime Minister – political parties and their leaders be damned.

It is time that we Malaysians take up the gauntlet famously laid down by US President Abraham Lincoln more than 150 years ago and build a Malaysia “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” and thus seize back a Parliament “of the people, by the people and for the people”.

People need to be prepared to hold their members of government accountable for their actions and remind them that they are not guaranteed votes in the next election.

Activist lawyer Siti Kasim is the founder of the Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity Foundation (Maju). The views expressed here are solely her own.

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Siti Kasim

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