The numbers tell a story if you are able to see them

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Where are the women?

With the MCA, the MIC and Gerakan securing only 12 seats in the 2013 general election, the non-Umno parties are sliding into increasing irrelevance, says K Haridas.

The early 1970s was a new beginning with the Barisan Nasional (BN)concept of national unity and a new social contract as outlined by the New Economic Policy. Many of us looked forward to the possibilities that lay ahead.

Some of us even hoped that this coalition would coalesce into one party that was representative of the diversity of this nation. The ethnic parties that make up the coalition would then be less significant than the coalition itself that held them together.

But this was not to be. The ethnic parties were bigger than the sum of all their parts, namely the BN. Ethnic chauvinism by all the coalition members each reacting to the chauvinism of the other created so much disillusionment. Citizens were called ‘pendatang’; kris was opened at general meetings. Each coalition member spoke to their own ‘ghettos’ at the expense of the other.

Umno could not provide the leadership for a united Malaysia. They were more focussed on Malay rights and entitlements. They had little moderation when it came to religious issues and very little consultation. This lack of leadership has seen the growth of religious institutions that speak insensitively about Malaysians of all faiths.

Over the last 48 years, Malaysians have given the BN chance after chance, and the last three election results tells a story of disenchantment, of a loss of faith and any hope that the BN could make a difference in the lives of Malaysians as a whole.

In the 2004 general election, Umno won about 96 seats in Peninsular Malaysia, the MCA 31, the MIC nine and Gerakan 10 in Parliament. Excluding Umno, the others contributed 50 seats.

The tide changed in 2008, with Umno securing only 67 seats in Peninsular Malaysia, the MCA dropping to 15, the MIC just three, and Gerakan only two. The overall contribution by the smaller BN parties dropped to 20 seats.

In the last general election in 2013, Umno secured 74 seats in Peninsular Malaysia, MCA dropped further to seven, MIC inched up to four, and Gerakan bagged only one. The tally by the smaller BN parties plunged to a mere 12 seats.

What does this reveal? Is this not a coalition only in name? With the MCA, the MIC and Gerakan securing only 12 seats in the 2013 general election – a drop from the 50 they secured in 2004 – the non-Umno parties are sliding into irrelevance.

Why did the electorate reject them? There was little soul-searching by these parties; neither was there any attempt to devise people-friendly strategies to win back the electorate. It seemed to be all about money, titles, payouts and handouts.

Umno’s overwhelming dominance has led to hardly any soul-searching. This seems to be the new normal. There are no real attempts even to ask relevant questions as to why the BN has failed.

The MCA, the MIC and Gerakan have not come out with candid reasons either. Their singular failure is subservience, and they lack the moral fibre to speak truth to power and hold Umno accountable.

With great power comes great responsibility. Umno leaders have failed Malaysia with the opportunities they have had by eroding the credibility of institutions of governance and accountability. They have played with race and religion to sustain their own hold onto power at the expense of the larger good. Visionary leadership with conviction remains sadly lacking. The goal of the BN now seems to be to hold on to power at all costs.

This is best expressed in the way party elections are often postponed, positions are protected, and mainly those who have connections are able to move up the political ladder. There is little if any space for new leadership to even step up except for those who are mainly mediocre, cronies and blind supporters.

This begs the question, what does the BN stand for? What cause do they champion? Perhaps there are many answers to this question depending on which coalition partner you ask. The other alternative is to spew glory on the latest slogan – TN50!

The political fragmentation which results when the parts are bigger than the whole leads to party members working for their own selfish interests.

Just consider the retired leaders of the MCA, the MIC and Gerakan, not to mention Umno itself and where they are today. With titles and money, they have done well for themselves despite being shunned by the electorate in the recent elections. Umno leaders implicated in money politics are nominated to lead organisations like Felda. No one takes responsibility or are held accountable for their wrong choices.

Serving and promoting ethnic interests is not a big enough reason to manage and provide leadership to a nation as diverse as Malaysia. When mediocrity becomes the basis for leadership, what else can we expect. Umno must be held accountable and responsible for the continued fragmentation in our nation today.

Without self-reflection and an honest appraisal of the state of leadership within the MCA, the MIC and Gerakan, it will be life as before. How are we to trust their nation-building aims and goals when they seem comfortable with the status quo?

Umno is the leader of the pack, and the others coalition partners are just subservient. These smaller parties are even reliant on Umno for support. Their irrelevance is so striking that it emboldens Umno to not only lead them into disarray but also exploit them to showcase a multi-ethnic front for tourism purposes.

The opposition also have their chunk of problems. But I do know that Keadilan stands for justice; the DAP stands for social justice and democracy; and Pas pushes the religious line. They are at least clear about their positions and standpoints, whether you agree or otherwise.

When elections come along, we hear of the Indian blueprint as though the BN has now after decades just awakened to the need for such a blueprint. Race is not a cause that unites.

Justice like fairness and equity, fighting poverty, better healthcare and accountability are issues that concern all Malaysians and need to be tackled.

The Malay votes will be splintered further in the forthcoming elections, and if the MIC, the Gerakan and the MCA are mauled, then we have the option of a new future. There is nothing else in the horizon. We have to regain the fundamentals of our democratic state, our constitution and the rights of all citizens.

Twelve seats amongst three coalition members of the BN do not reflect an effective coalition. Yet, with gerrymandering, questionable delineation, the disparity of voters among the constituencies, the setting up of army camps and other tactics encompassing a range of unethical methods, this coalition would do its utmost just to hang onto power.

So many embarrassing events – scandals ranging from the judiciary, the government-linked companies, Felda, IMDB and MAS, to mention a few – have damaged the international reputation of the country I love. These cannot be wished away for the sake of future generations. Even the auditor general’s report on 1MDB is classified. How long are we going to live this lie?

Our fate to some extent lies in the hands of voters in Sabah and Sarawak. Their votes and determination to save this nation will make a difference. It would be humbling for us in Peninsular Malaysia to realise that they hold the key votes. They have a sense of being Malaysian unlike our polarised society in the peninsula.

Those who value their privileges above basic acceptable principles will eventually lose both. The power of individual choice is the cornerstone of democracy, and you and I can exert this choice to get rid of what has become irrelevant in our politics. No Malaysian leader has been so insulted by the International media as a kleptocrat, and the nation’s standing brought so low in the international arena.

We need more than integrity pledges. Who are the BN leaders who walk the talk and stand for what is right even at the cost of their political future? Will any right-thinking person cast a vote in favour of the present leadership based on their performance?

Serious questions to consider as we look ahead to 2018. Vote for a better Malaysia than the Malaysia of 2017.

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K Haridas, an Aliran executive committee member, is the current honorary secretary of the Business Ethics Institute of Malaysia, chairperson of the Association For The Promotion Of Higher Education In Malaysia and chairperson of the Malaysian chapter of Initiatives of Change International.
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