Multiethnic and two-party politics creates opportunities for reform

With 446 member bodies, the KLSCAH is an umbrella group that includes various Chinese guilds and clan associations in the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur and the state of Selangor. Since the 1980s, the KLSCAH has been actively involving itself in politics, as evidenced by the “National Culture Memorandum” in 1983 of the 15 Chinese Associations and the “Joint Declaration of the Chinese Guilds and Associations” in 1985 respectively, both of which affirm the pioneering role of the KLSCAH in promoting civic rights and benign competition between political parties.

The KLSCAH is deeply heartened by the outcome of the 12th General Election, which indicates strong desires on the part of the people for political reform. Now that the country’s political landscape has been redrawn and the shadows of one-party dominance cast out, the conditions are ripe for a positive development of democratic and multiethnic politics as well as two-party system. One the other hand, it is encouraging to witness the new political frontiers created by the opposition parties, which also herald separate state rule and local autonomy from the central government.

In light of this, the people ought to press on confidently and courageously with reform in order to achieve the ultimate goal of multiethnic politics and a system of checks and balances, which is vitally important. This consensus is key to laying the foundation for the future development of a healthy political culture.

There are, however, daunting tasks ahead, as the suppression of the freedom of the press, abuse of power, corruption, the rot in the judiciary, and mismanagement cannot be put right overnight. One thing is certain: the arbitrary authority of the over-powerful government has resulted in serious institutional flaws that are badly in need of reform. The decades-long rule of the Barisan Nasional coalition has given rise to two major evils, ie. racism and authoritarianism, and they are the two sides of the same coin that have severely weakened constitutional democracy of this country since Merdeka.

The race-based political parties that appeal to race as a mobilizing factor only serve to entrench racist mindset and split the society down the middle. Politics is no longer about policy formulation but appeals to sentiments at the expense of justice and administrative procedure. Meanwhile, authoritarianism manifests itself in the suppression of social freedom. Hence, politics ceases to be reflective of the will and need of the people, but a terrain for the political parties to pursue their various interests.

In the just concluded General Election, the opposition parties have made tremendous gains and are now in power in five states, having radically changed the political landscape. Most significantly, the rise of the multiethnic parties signals that racial politics is at an end, while the close to 50% of the parliamentary seats won by the opposition could be a harbinger of two-party system. This positive development no doubt poses formidable challenge to BN hegemony and ensures the materialization as well as the strengthening of democratic checks and balances.

The forming of new governments by the opposition parties is bound to have profound implications for the states, as it has broken the monopoly of the centralized authority of the federal government. Now that separate administrations are in place in several states, it will encourage the development of bottom-up democracy, and pave the way for the restoration of local autonomy. We therefore urge the newly formed state governments to honour their promises by restoring local government elections but also promulgating policies that are beneficial to the weak minorities.

Now that the new state governments are in charge of land, local planning is vitally important. In the past, local development was haphazard due to the lack of check-and-balance mechanisms and transparency, aggravated by rampant corruption. For instance, many squatter settlements were demolished in Selangor on one hand, while white–elephant projects only bred corruption and serious wastages. As such, both state and local politics needs to be vigorously restructured. We must first pay our attention to squatter homes and provide more low-cost housing in order to meet the needs of the weak minorities. This aside, the new governments must handle the sensitive issue fairly, ie. Pig farming, an area which should be assisted through public funding, land allocation and logistical support, so that it could be centralized and the environment safeguarded. This will also affirm the value of the pig farming industry.

By Dato’ Bong Hon Liong,
President of KLSCAH

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