The 911 terrorist attacks have been a boon to incumbents in government, especially authoritarian regimes not only to justify their undemocratic and repressive laws but to introduce even more draconian legislation and policies to further clamp down on democracy and human rights which have nothing to do with the war against terrorism – as the Malaysian government has intimated.
Australia’s John Howard is the best example of how incumbent governments benefit from the 911 terrorist attacks by playing the terror card in general elections. Until mid-August, Howard's coalition appeared headed for certain defeat. A nationwide swing of just 0.8 percent would be enough for Kim Beazley’s Labour to topple Howard's coalition and at one time, Australian Labour had a 10 per cent lead over the ruling coalition, which would be translated into a parliamentary majority of 30-40 seats in the general election.
But Howard was able to achieve a dramatic recovery and turnaround, thanks to the aftermath of the 911 events and his hard line on the Afghan boat people which drowned out the key issues which had figured heavily in Australian public debate in recent years, such as reconciliation with Australia's indigenous Aborigines, the move to become a republic and relations with Asia.
Just as the post-911 global political scene had been misunderstood as a vindication of the Huntington thesis of a clash of civilisations when it is more a clash of ignorance of civilisations, there are those in Malaysia who postulate that the post-911 political aftermath to the run-up to the next general elections, whether 2004, 2003 or even next year, would be a contest of two misplaced “triumphalisms ” – UMNO vs PAS. The latest edition of Chambers Dictionary defines “triumphalism” as “an attitude of righteous pride and self-congratulation in the defeat of perceived evil”.
Two days ago, the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi showed such a “triumphalist” spirit when told Nanyang Siang Pau that the Barisan Nasional would not call for snap polls as the coalition is “back at its peak now”. He said the Barisan Nasional had overcome and recovered from “some problems” in the past few years since the 1999 general elections.
There is no doubt that UMNO, after suffering the worst electoral defeat in its party history in the 1999 general elections, is now riding the crest of a political wave – and if the Lunas by-election in Kedah had been held in November 2001 instead of November 2000, its outcome would have been very different as the Barisan Nasional would most probably win with a thumping majority instead of losing a blue-ribbon seat.
But UMNO’s political turnaround has nothing to do with UMNO addressing the root causes of its worst electoral debacle in party history, viz the deep-felt aspirations of Malaysians, particularly the Malay heart-land for the restoration of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance, but due completely to external political forces, especially the 911 terrorist attacks followed by the controversy over the Islamic state and PAS’ jihad call.
The same 911 political effects are being played out in Malaysia, as
could be seen by the following salient developments after the terrorist
attacks on the World Trade Centre:
THE CRIME OF FONG PO KUANThese three developments, the declaration by the Prime Minister at the Gerakan national assembly that Malaysia is an Islamic state, the appointment of Gani as the new Attorney-General and the six-month no-pay suspension of MP Fong Po Kuan would probably not have taken place if the 911 terrorist attacks had not occurred to vest the UMNO leaders with misplaced “triumphalism” that there was no way they could not do better than PAS in the next general elections – because before that fateful day, UMNO had lost all confidence as to how to win back popular support and nobody in UMNO and Barisan Nasional would have dared to behave in such an arrogant, overbearing, insensitive and unaccountable way highlighted by these instances.
The crime of Fong Po Kuan was not that she had brought down the dignity of the House. Can there be any dignity left of a Parliament that has been reduced to a mere rubber-stamp by the all-Supreme Executive?
The crime of Fong Po Kuan was not that she had insulted Parliament. Can there be a greater insult to Parliament than by those who play truant and treat the House so lightly to the point of making it "irrelevant"?
The crime of Fong Po Kuan was not that she had tarnished the good name of the House. Can there be any good name left of a Parliament tainted by the lewd comments of MPs such as the Minister in the PM's Department?
The crime of Fong Po Kuan was not that she had disparaged the Speaker of the House. Can anyone do it better than Rais Yatim, who publicly ridiculed the Speaker and now insults him further by being so patronising to him?
The crime of Fong Po Kuan was not that she had shown contempt. Can there be anything more contemptuous than the abuse of BN majoritism -- thereby rendering Parliament subservient to the Executive?
The crime of Fong Po Kuan is that she is young, a woman, and an opposition MP -- and the old man in Putrajaya who perpetuates his power through his many parrots and puppets, cannot tolerate such independence.
The crime of Fong Po Kuan is that she is dedicated, determined and daring and the sedated and the serviled of the Executive together with the spent and overly-sensitive Speaker -- cannot stomach such a free spirit
The crime of Fong Po Kuan is that there is no "file" on her, no skeleton in the cupboard that would make her indebted to the old man -- unlike the "grateful" who have to beg, to bow and to bend at the bidding.
The crime of Fong Po Kuan is that she has convictions and the courage to carry them out without compromise -- unlike the office-boy in the PM's Department, who abandoned his convictions in the University of London.
The crime of Fong Po Kuan is that she is principled enough not to apologise for political expediency's sake, and in spite of a majority, who, in reality, do not really care about Parliament or its dignity.
But UMNO is not the only victim of misplaced “triumphalism” – as PAS, the main beneficiary of the establishment of the Barisan Alternative to present an unprecedented opposition challenge to the Barisan Nasional in the 1999 general elections seems to be afflicted by the same disease – that they are poised to inevitably win greater victories against UMNO in the next general elections.
This was why PAS leaders violated the Barisan Alternative common manifesto for a Just Malaysia committing all component parties to honour and uphold the fundamental principles of the Malaysian Constitution – which would mean the defense of the democratic, secular and multi-religious basis of the nation with Islam as the official religion.
Immediately after the 1999 general elections, PAS leaders openly and freely admitted that the biggest cause for the PAS victories, including winning the Terengganu state government, was because of the Anwar factor and effect, and not because of the Islamic state issue.
But this acknowledgement does not seem to have a lasting effect, as PAS leaders began to publicly declare their commitment to establish an Islamic state when this was a violation of the Barisan Alternative common manifesto, leading to the 922 event – when DAP pulled out of the Barisan Alternative on 22nd September 2001 after failing for nearly two years to resolve the issue of an Islamic state in the Barisan Alternative – such as getting PAS to prove that its concept of an Islamic state is compatible with democracy, plural society, human rights, women’s rights, social tolerance, modern development and progress.
From now till the next general elections, whether 2004, 2003 or even next year, the two trump cards which 911 has given to Mahathir are firstly, to conduct a “terror” election campaign which would make the past May 13 scare tactics trotted out in every general election campaign pale into insignificance; and secondly, to create fear of PAS Islamic state, reinforced by PAS call for jihad over the United States air strikes against Afghanistan and association of PAS with the overturned Taliban regime.
Mahathir will be able to fully exploit these factors to the advantage
of UMNO and Barisan Nasional to the detriment of the Opposition and Malaysian
democracy in the next general elections if come polling day, the voters
can be dragooned to believe that their votes are important to decide two
critical issues in the country:
Both are false choices but unless the Malaysian voters can see through the falsity of these two questions, then Mahathir and Barisan Nasional are poised for a resounding victory in the next general elections transforming its misplaced to actual triumphalism because of the maze of fear, anxiety and confusion among Malaysians in the aftermath of the 911 events.
The defence of the 44-year-old constitutional principle of a secular Malaysia is not anti-Islam and DAP is prepared to work with progressive Islamic forces in Malaysia to expand the space for justice, democracy and pluralism in the country in the 21st century.
DAP is prepared to form new Opposition front with KeAdilan, PRM and other political forces to defend the Merdeka Constitution principle of democratic, secular, multi-religious and progressive Malaysia to strengthen the hard centre of political and religious moderates in the country.
It is for KeAdilan, PRM and other political forces in the country to decide whether they want to make common cause with the DAP to protect and promote a democratic, secular, multi-religious, tolerant and progressive Malaysia, with Islam as the official religion, which is the social contract agreed by our forefathers on the nation’s Independence some five decades ago.