Yesterday, the world’s longest-governing party, Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had been in power for 71 years, suddenly found itself in the opposition when outgoing President Ernesto Zedillo publicly conceded the victory of opposition National Action Party and its presidential candidate Vicente Fox.
With more than half of all voting stations reporting, Fox won 45.22% of the vote while Francisco Labastida of the ruling party had 33.1%. Cuauthemoc Cardenas of Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) had 16.7%.
Sunday’s vote signalled a historic watershed in Mexico in its transition from virtual one-party state to what Zedillo said in his concession speech "a mature democracy, with solid and trustworthy institutions and especially with a conscientious and civic-minded citizenry".
The Mexican election results is particularly significant for Malaysia as the governing party of Mexico, the PRI, had used fear and favours to maintain ironclad control over almost all aspects of Mexican political life for most of its history.
The question uppermost in the minds of Malaysians is when UMNO and Barisan Nasional will make international headlines by joining the ranks of the ruling parties whose myth of uninterrupted mandate to rule is shattered by the democratic vote of the people.
There are at least five pre-conditions if Barisan Alternative is to send UMNO and Barisan Nasional go the way of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, the world’s longest-governing party which has lost power after 71 years.
As I stressed during my speeches at the DAP dinners at Pulai, Gua Musang in Kelantan last Friday and in Kemaman in Terengganu on Sunday, there are two things in combination which UMNO President, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad fears most, firstly, the continued co-operation between DAP and PAS in the Barisan Alternative and secondly, PAS’ ability to liberalise and convince Malaysians that it is more just, open, tolerant, democratic and progressive than UMNO.
More and more Barisan Alternative supporters are concerned that seven months after the recent general election, the Barisan Alternative has been unable to project an united sense of purpose and that PAS is not winning the battle to demonstrate to all Malaysians, especially those who had not voted for the Barisan Atlernative last November, that it is more just, open, tolerant, democratic and progressive than UMNO.
At the PAS Melaka forum on 25th June 2000, I had called for "a conscious effort to promote inter-religious and inter-civilisational dialogues throughout the country so as to reach as large a section of the population as possible, to promote a greater understanding among Malaysians of different races, religions and cultures, firstly, that the Political Islam represented by PAS has nothing to do with violence, extremism or fanaticism, that it is not oppressive against women and minorities, compatible with religious and cultural pluralism, respect for human rights and tolerance in general, that it espouses political liberalisation and democracy and secondly, that the secular governance espoused by the DAP is not atheist, anti-Islam, or anti-religion but trans-religion."
When I spoke at the PAS Melaka forum, a dialogue had already been scheduled in Kota Bahru between DAP leaders who would be visiting the East Coast states for DAP activities in Gua Musang and Kemaman with the Kelantan Mentri Besar, Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and the PAS Kelantan leaders last Saturday.
When the DAP leaders met Nik Aziz on Saturday as part of the ongoing dialogue among Barisan Alternative component parties, it was on the same day that the mass media carried the report giving the impression that Nik Aziz was calling for separate restaurants for Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia, as well a stating that such segregation was already enforced in the Kelantan state.
DAP leaders took the opportunity of the dialogue to discuss the mass media report with Nik Aziz, who explained that he had not phrased himself accurately as to give rise to the impression that it was illegal for Muslims to patronised premises that serve liquor or non-Muslim restaurants. But when Nik Aziz repeated the clarification to the press, there was the further impression that the DAP had to send a top delegation to Kota Bahru specially to clarify the controversy on the ban on Muslims visiting non-Muslim restaurants and that this was the only issue discussed at the dialogue, when it was a wide-ranging one lasting some two hours.
Although the "separate restaurants" controversy had been put to rest, it has not been possible to undo all the harm done.
UMNO and Barisan Nasional can only be defeated and be sent following the footsteps of the PRI of Mexico if the Barisan Alternative can convince Malaysians that in at least five regards, the BA is better than the BN, and in particular that PAS is more just, open, tolerant, democratic and progressive than UMNO.
This challenge must be addressed with great urgency, as the Barisan Nasional has started a systematic psy-war to try to deeply entrench in the Malaysian mind by the next general election that PAS represents a political Islam which is obscurantist, extremist, fanatical, oppressive against women and minorities, incompatible with democracy, human rights, political tolerance, cultural pluralism and economic development. A good example is the "On the Record" article today by former Deputy Information Minister, Abdullah Ahmad entitled "Facing militant Islamic orthodoxy in Malaysia".
DAP will continue to engage with PAS in dialogues on the important question as to whether its political Islam is compatible with justice, democracy, human rights, cultural pluralism, modernisation and development, which is the prerequisite for Barisan Alternative replacing the Barisan Nasional.