Another of my column was published in Malaysian Insider this morning. It is titled : A square peg in a round Hole. My picture was posted on the main page of the web paper, for those who would like to see my ugly and haggard face, they can go to the link.
I will post the whole article here, and again would like to hear your comments in this:
A Square Peg in a Round Hole
AUG 18 — A grassroots member asked me recently about the role of Parti Gerakan in the Permatang Pauh by-election. I told him that this by-election would exert very strong pressure on the present Gerakan leadership to decide whether the party should continue to remain in the Barisan Nasional.
The recent call by Tan Lian Hoe, Gerakan national Wanita chief, for the party to pull out from the BN and the endorsement of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in Permatang Pauh by Dr Toh Kin Woon, a CC member, are just manifestations of the strong undercurrent that is flowing in the party even though what we usually see is the calm demeanour put up by the leadership since the March 8 general election.
This undercurrent is now threatening to come to the surface and if the leadership chooses to ignore it, a strong tsunami may rock its leadership in the coming national delegates conference in October.
A party’s root is in its ideology. Gerakan’s ideology is to fight for a fair and equal society where every individual regardless of race, sex or creed will be given an equal opportunity to realise his or her potential in the fields he or she chooses. The party believes in non-sectarian principles and advocates advancement of the people through policies based on social democratic ideals.
Under these ideals, the party advocates helping the less fortunate and the poor not along any racial or religious lines, but rather based on social strata and on a “needs” basis.
Going back to its history, Gerakan joined the BN in the early Seventies, mainly to bring development to the people in Penang. In the aftermath of May 13, it also wanted to reduce political friction and promote conciliation among the races. It was in fact one of the founders of the BN.
It has to be noted that at that time Umno was a much more respected party than now and money politics, as is widely practised in Umno nowadays, had not reared its ugly head yet. Even then, the ideology of Gerakan and most of the BN component parties were very different.
Gerakan is a socialist party, whereas the big brothers of the BN, namely Umno, MCA and MIC, are all race-based parties; and none are social democrats.
Nevertheless, it was possible then, in the early Seventies and in the aftermath of May 13, for the people to buy into the reason why Gerakan had to shelf its ideals of a fair and equitable society for a short term, join the BN and be supportive of affirmative action based on race, to enable the Malays to catch up in all the sectors.
This support was, however, not intended to be more than short term. Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, a founder of Gerakan as well as the BN and a former chief minister of Penang, was said to be not in favour of extending the NEP beyond its original designated term. (Unfortunately, Lim lost in the 1990 general election and retired from politics just before the NEP was supposed to come to an end.) In exchange for shelving its ideals, Gerakan managed to bring development to Penang and improve the living standards as well as the economy of Penang folk.
The leaders of Gerakan also hoped that by being part of the ruling BN, the party could exert its influence and correct whatever wrongs or anomalies from the inside.
If Gerakan has a strong voice or is in a position to dictate terms within the BN, it could try and change the direction of the whole coalition. Unfortunately, Gerakan is only a small party with not enough clout to really effect any changes.
In the process, instead of trying to change the other component parties, Gerakan’s ideology was hijacked. The perception is that it has become just another Chinese-based party, albeit one perceived to be of better conscience than the rest, which is impotent to bring about any significant policy change. The immediate past president of Gerakan, Dr Lim Keng Yaik, has even been quoted as saying that Gerakan’s role within the BN was like that of a beggar.
So in reality, Gerakan has become a square peg in a round hole. How can a square peg function in a round hole? Put it another way, how can Gerakan exert its “fair and equal” ideology within such a race-orientated environment?
To continue to hope so, after more than three decades inside the BN without any success, is really to lie to one’s own self and conscience. Only when the leaders can break out of this self-denial cocoon can there be objective re-evaluation of the future direction of the party. Hence the increasingly loud call from its grassroots to re-examine its role within the BN.
Gerakan was truly multi-racial in its early days, with luminous leaders such as Prof Syed Alatas, V. David, Tan Chee Khoon, Lim Chong Eu and others. Alas, it is no longer so. The whole multi-racial approach has to be sacrificed under the BN’s emphasis on race and the skewed NEP.
How to recruit Malay members when the big brother is a Malay-based party that views such an act as stepping over the boundary? Without any creditable Malay leaders, how can a party claim to be multi-racial, given that the Malays are the majority race in Malaysia?
As I told one top leader of the party, no matter how good the reform undertaken by Gerakan, if it is still perceived to be subservient to Umno and impotent to push for changes within the coalition, it is signing its own death sentence, given the perception that Umno’s present culture will only lead the coalition slowly into a self-destructive mode.
In a way, just one racist remark from an Umno party leader will negate all the good work done by Gerakan, no matter how hard Gerakan tries to reform and change within the coalition.
Pakatan Rakyat is not a bed of roses either, given the conflicting ideology of two of its components, the DAP and Pas. It was in fact unthinkable to even suggest that the DAP could work with Pas just a few years ago.
Pakatan exists because of Anwar, and even those who have reservations about him would have to give credit to him for realising many people’s dream of a two-party system, albeit an imperfect one at the moment. It is this dawning of a two-party system that has given many Malaysians a glimmer of hope that perhaps there would be better governance with lesser emphasis on race after the March general election. And Anwar is perceived to be key to this two-party system.
In this context, in the eyes of many Malaysians, the fight in Permatang Pauh is no longer about Anwar and Umno. It is no longer about Anwar the person, but about what he represents: A hope that finally raced-based policies can be done away with; a hope that there would be a better check and balance, the lack of which has been the main reasons why corruption and abuses have become so rampant; a hope that society would become more open, racial polarisation would be less and there would be more accountability and transparency.
It has become the fight for the survival of the still fragile two-party system. Many in civil society believe that everything must be done to nurture it so it will grow stronger and can play the role of an effective watchdog and be a counterbalance to the BN.
These aspirations are similar to that of many members in Gerakan, which has a similar ideology to that of PKR and DAP. It is therefore inevitable that Permatang Pauh would exert pressure on the leadership which has pledged to its grassroots after March 8 that it will go back to its ideology and the people. How it hopes to do this within a raced-based coalition would be the question most political analysts are asking.
Dr Hsu Dar Ren is a medical doctor and blogs on socio-economic issues; he believes that a fair and equitable society with good governance is the key to the future of this country.