(Kuala Lumpur, Sunday): We are living in stirring times. There is in the air a political ferment and effervescence for change and reform never experienced before in the history of Malaysia.
A conjunction of events, in particular the incarceration of Lim Guan Eng for being the first political leader to cross the racial and religious divide to sacrifice his personal liberties to defend the honour, women rights and human rights of a Malaysian underaged victim of statutory rape, although of another race and religion, and the gross injustices perpetrated on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his sacking as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, his arrest and treatment while under police custody leading to the infamous "black eye" not only to Anwar, but also to Mahathir and Malaysia on the world stage, his prosecution and trial, and the suppression of the right to free speech and assembly of "Reformasi" followers, have given a new definition and dimension to this political ferment and effervescene in the country.
It is important however that we should not misread this political ferment and the aspirations of the people, which are varied, multi-faceted and at times contradictory. We should be bold to grasp the historic opportunity but we must not be carried away by irrational exuberance or we may miss the chance to initiate a historic process of change and reform in our nation which can sustained in the new millennium.
What does this political ferment and effervescene for change and reform mean in the coming general election. Does it mean the unseating of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister and the toppling of the Barisan Nasional Government?
I personally agree with Professor J. K. Jomo when he said in Sydney
a few days ago that Mahathir should easily win Malaysia's next general
election and the reasons given by Jomo are:
Although I agree with Jomo that Mahathir should easily win the next general elections, I also believe that the ruling coalition will suffer its worst general election defeat in the nationís history - losing its traditional two-thirds parliamentary majority, which will be a political development of catacylsmic proportion in Malaysia.
If the proponents for change and reform in Malaysia misread the political signs and go for Federal power, then there is a danger that it could lead to a reaction which may shore up Barisan Nasional support to the extent that it could even salvage its two-thirds majority in Parliament - which will be a great setback to the whole cause for political change and reforms in the country.
This is why I regard the denial of two-thirds Parliamentary majority of the Barisan Nasional government in the next general election as a major stride in the long-term battle to restore justice and freedom to the people of Malaysia.
Even to deny the Barisan Nasional its two-thirds parliamentary majority, there must be unprecedented co-operation among opposition political parties and forces for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance, requiring boldness both of vision and action.
Until recently, PAS and DAP leaders have been avoiding each other like the plague for fear of being misunderstood by our respective grounds and being exploited by the irresponsible and malicious propagandist and leaders in the Barisan Nasional.
We have however moved out of our respective cocoons and are prepared to work for the good of all Malaysians on national issues of common concern, encompassing justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
We must promote a greater maturity of the Malaysian political process, and greater respect and confidence in the integrity of the political leadership where PAS and DAP leaders can sit down, meet and discuss without PAS leaders being immediately suspected by PAS members of having betrayed the PAS cause or DAP leaders being suspected of betraying the DAP principles - allowing Barisan Nasional propagandists to confuse and mislead the people on the matter.
In fact, we should work towards a greater maturity of the democratic political process whereby the party political lines will not stand in the way of greater co-operation among Opposition parties, or even opposition parties with government parties, on issues of common national concerns, whether it be unfair highway privatisation, unfair highway tolls, prison reforms to ensure Malaysian prisons comply with minimum international standards, responsible journalism, accountability, transparency or the fight against cronyism, nepotism and corruption, etc.
Both DAP and PAS leaders have taken calculated risks and we must be prepared to continue to take these political risks to promote the larger cause of political change and reform to bring about justice, freedom, democracy and good governance in Malaysia.
This is why DAP and PAS have been working together in various coalitions, whether Gerak, Gagasan or the Coalition Against Toll (CAT).
We must expand these areas of co-operation, broaden the participation of all these coalitions to include more political parties, NGOs and concerned Malaysians including Barisan Nasional component parties if they are bold and visionary enough to work with us for the cause of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance and even to establish more coalitions.
Although there is a school of thought that we should form an electoral alliance, and even work to overthrow the Barisan Nasional in the next general election, the conditions are not ripe yet for any such electoral arrangement of opposition parties.
For such an electoral alliance or arrangement to be formed, many hurdles have to be cleared.
One such hurdle is of course the issue of Islamic state. Is the Islamic state to be the objective of the electoral alliance, or whether there could be an agreement that this is not so.
This brings to the fore the differences between PAS and DAP on the question of Islamic state. The DAP is not anti-Islam when we take the position that an Islamic state is inappropriate and unsuitable for a plural society like Malaysia with a diversity of races, religions, cultures and languages - for we would take a similar position with any proposal for a Christian state, a Buddhist state or a Hindu state.
There is a view that it is ignorance or bias which is the cause for non-Muslims unable to accept the objective of an Islamic state. This is not the case and PAS leaders must understand the reasons for such views, among them, the inability of non-Muslims to exercise their full citizenship rights in an Islamic state, the place of women and hukum hudud.
We must respect each otherís political positions: PASí goal of an Islamic state and DAPís stand that an Islamic state in unsuitable and inappropriate for multi-religious Malaysia.
We can only begin to talk about an electoral arrangement and alliance involving both DAP and PAS if we agree as a starting basis that the battle for the next general election is not about an Islamic state, but how to restore justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
If we cannot arrive at such a starting basis, then we should continue with our present efforts to co-operate in the present coalitions and others to be formed in the future to work for specific objectives for the larger good of the people and country.