Caught between Mahathir and the deep blue BN?

Photograph: Malaysiakini

We shouldn’t commit a false equivalence between the Pakatan Harapan led by Mahathir and the Barisan led by Najib, writes Lee Hwok Aun.

By all means have reservations about both Pakatan and Barisan or be disillusioned about politics and unexcited about the coming general election the Peninsula.

But by no means commit false equivalence that they are the same. They are not the same.

  • Najib and Mahathir, neither represent change, but one brandishes unchecked power in a coalition of kowtow-ing minnows while the other mustered transitory leadership of an even strengthened pact;
  • Barisan and Pakatan, both have ethnically constituted parties, but one is a house of ethnically constituted parties dominated by Umnolords that has no qualms decimating its minions in Selangor; the other is a marriage of convenience of both ethnically mixed (more than we’ve ever had) and ethnically focused (by default or design) parties;
  • Barisan and Pakatan, neither are squeaky clean, but one has closed ranks behind a kleptocrat who jailed his popular and charismatic adversary and fired his inquisitive deputy, while the other has resorted to being fronted by a reinvigorated nonagenarian who is semi-apologetic but unrepentant of past autocratic, oppressive and nepotistic deeds – and has agreed to play a caretaker role;
  • Both are vying for the expectedly decisive Malay vote, but only Barisan is doing so by gerrymandering to concentrate Malay voters in constituencies it fancies and instinctively preying on fear and anxiety (also condoning thuggish Jamal Yunos, its highest profile politician in Selangor, where it displays an astounding leadership vacuum despite professing to want to win).
  • Both coalitions present economic and social policies packed with welfare programmes, both sides bring benefits and boost popularity through these channels – with differences in government revenue structure. But when it comes to constituency funds for wakil rakyat, Pakatan-governed states allocate in a bi-partisan manner, and Barisan religiously clings to its petty, nasty, vindictive practice of providing millions to its MPs and zero for the opposition, and even throws tantrums against Pakatan’s overtures
  • Barisan guarantees the status quo, if not the regression, of Malaysia’s undemocratic system, while Pakatan has committed to change toward more democratic, transparent and accountable governance, backed up by some actions of its state governments. Barisan has backed down from, outright reneged on, promises to repeal draconian laws and legislate political financing
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Ideally we would like the options to be starkly different as day and night that we don’t even need to think.

Alas, think we must, and as we do, differences emerge. And there is a choice.

Lee Hwok-Aun is a senior fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore.

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