It is heartening to see a few politicians from both Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional ready to embrace the concept of bipartisanship on issues of common interest, writes Anand Raj Markandu.
Shamsudin Lias’ recent resignation as opposition leader in the Selangor State Assembly speaks volumes about the status of bipartisan politics in Malaysia.
The Umno man resigned after refusing to accept the chairmanship of the state’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The Sungai Burong assembly member stated that accepting the post would amount to being a “puppet” of the Pakatan Rakyat-dominated state assembly.
As pointed out by Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali, the appointment of an opposition member as the chairman was necessary to provide “check and balance” in the state government’s administration. Shamsudin’s subsequent snub, however, points to a wider problem of extreme partisanship in Malaysian politics.
What is bipartisan politics?
Bipartisanship refers to political actions done on the basis of cooperation from both sides of the political divide. For countries, like the United States, that have a definite two-party legislative system, it is an essential tool for governance.
Bipartisanship forces both parties to compromise and come to a common ground to pass legislation. Although recent developments in the US point to an increasing cynicism of the effectiveness of bipartisanship, historically it has brought the whole country together in times of external scrutiny, such as during World War II and when facing the threat of terrorism.
In parliamentary systems such as Malaysia, however, bipartisanship is unnecessary as legislation is only written and endorsed by the party in power.
On the other hand, as a tool to gather ideas and evaluate opposing views for the greater good of the nation, shouldn’t it be encouraged?
Bipartisan voices in Malaysia
It is heartening that a few politicians from both Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional are ready to embrace the concept of bipartisanship. In 2013, for instance, a representative from the MCA reached out across the aisle, beckoning political adversaries to join in and vote against a proposed law that would allow the unilateral conversion of minors to Islam.
More recently, the BN’s Saifuddin Abdullah and Parit Buntar MP Mujahid Yusof Rawa decided to collaborate and publish a book called New Politics.
“We hope to change the local political climate to a more mature one,” Saifuddin said at a press conference. “We must start considering bipartisan politics for the good of Malaysia.” The former Temerloh MP also said that the present political situation greatly encouraged MPs to vote on matters along their respective political lines.
PAS central committee member Mujahid agreed, added that it is now pertinent that issues are backed based on their importance and not party stance of elected representatives.
The case for bipartisanship in Malaysia
The 2008 elections marked a shift in the political dynamics of Malaysia. Voting patterns revealed an electorate that is well-informed and has access to a wide variety of news and information. With the internet making it easier for information to reach voters, the days of a landslide election victories are long gone, as shown in the results of the 2013 general election.
Unfortunately, this shift in voting pattern has not been reflected in governance, as the winning party continues to serve the interests of the voters who voted for them. This in turn causes dissatisfaction among the huge minority (40-50 per cent) who voted for the losing party.
As the global economic, social and political outlook remains turbulent, Malaysia can ill afford for this internal fracture to remain unattended. Bipartisanship remains an attractive path to heal the rift and bring about a government that is issue-driven instead of party-driven.
The people are ready, and so are a few politicians. It is now a question of whether all stakeholders in power are ready to bring historic transformation to governance. If they are, then this could be the breakthrough in Malaysian politics that the nation is crying out for.
Anand Raj firmly believes that good planning, precise communication and a hint of chaos are essential for a productive and positive end result. His favourite quotes are “Well begun is half done” and “Bring Some Method to the Madness”.
Anand recently participated in Aliran’s Young Writers Workshop on Good Governance and Democracy, supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives. “The Aliran workshop has rekindled a passion within me to put down in words the issues that I care about, instead of reverting to the usual coffee-shop chatter,” he says. “Thank you for the guidance, advice and experience!”