What is the most effective counter to the Barisan Nasional - the Barisan Alternative or another  format of opposition co-operation?

-  Klang DAP 35th anniversary dinner
Lim Kit Siang

(Klang,  Saturday): Twenty-one months after the last general election, DAP and Malaysians are faced with the stark question as to what is the most effective political counter to the Barisan Nasional to restore democracy, justice, freedom and good governance in Malaysia.  Is it the Barisan Alternative or another format of opposition co-operation?

The Barisan Alternative which the DAP formed with PAS, Parti Keadilan Nasional and PRM before the 1999 general election was not an opportunistic front to wrest power and share the spoils of office  but a most principled one to break the political hegemony of the Barisan Nasional to restore justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.

The  BA  Common Manifesto “Towards A Just Malaysia” was concluded with  BA leaders fully  aware of the deep ideological differences among the component parties especially on the issue of Islamic State.

DAP knew of PAS’ ideological stand for an Islamic State and PAS knew of DAP’s ideological opposition to any theocratic state, but we decided to put aside our differences for the sake of the immediate task of saving Malaysian democracy and justice from savage attacks by the Barisan Nasional government.

The reasons for the establishment of the Barisan Alternative was principled and honourable as support for BA was support for democracy and justice and not support for an Islamic State.

When DAP leaders signed and endorsed the BA Common Manifesto , “Towards A Just Malaysia” before the 1999 general election, DAP leaders felt  that the DAP could defend it to the electorate and withstand the attack that the DAP was teaming up with PAS to advance its Islamic State objective, for four reasons:

Firstly, there was no mention of the Islamic State issue in the BA Manifesto;

Secondly, there was the important agreement in the BA Common Manifesto committing all the component parties to uphold the fundamental principles and basic structures of the Malaysian Constitution - which means an Islamic state cannot be established.

Thirdly, PAS would not have the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to amend the Constitution to establish an Islamic State.

Fourthly, DAP was convinced that the most the BA could achieve in the 1999 general election was the denial of Barisan Nasional’s two-thirds parliamentary majority and not the toppling of Barisan Nasional from power.

DAP’s participation in the BA was not an opportunistic one made with the hope of topping the Barisan Nasional from power and sharing in the spoils of office, in utter disregard and betrayal of the party’s founding principle of a democratic, just and secular Malaysia, but a highly-principled one to be a catalyst for unprecedented political change which would ensue when the ruling coalition  loses its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time in Malaysian history.

DAP took calculated risks to form the Barisan Alternative to bring about a paradigm shift in Malaysian politics by ending the political hegemony of the Barisan Nasional, but as events had proved, DAP paid a heavy price for the decision as the non-Malay and non-Muslim voters succumbed to the Barisan Nasional propaganda campaign, exploiting their baseless fears that a vote for DAP is a vote for PAS and a vote for Islamic State, and the end of non-Muslim cultural and religious freedoms like no pork, no temples, no Chinese primary schools, etc.

The DAP launched a campaign  to debunk these baseless fears, encouraging busloads of non-Muslim Malaysians from various states to visit Kelantan and Terengganu to see for themselves the lies about no pork, no temples, no Chinese primary schools under the two PAS state governments.

However, DAP also sought to convince PAS and BA leaders of the urgent necessity to address the legitimate concerns of non-Muslim Malaysians over an Islamic State, not because they are anti-Islam, but because an Islamic State in multi-racial, muli-religious Malaysia is not compatible with democracy, pluralism, human rights, cultural diversity and social tolerance, women’s rights, development and modernity.

This is because the Islamic State issue would become an even bigger issue in the next general election, as Malaysians would not be focussing on BA’s  denial of two-thirds parliamentary majority to the Barisan Nasional but toppling it from power altogether.

The political scenario altered drastically in the past 21 months, however, when  various  PAS leaders publicly reiterated their pursuit of an Islamic State, where the principle of the sovereignty of the people in a democracy will be replaced by the principle of the sovereignty of God based on the Quran,   based on  a model Islamic State established 15 centuries ago, and pronouncements misinterpreting   the BA Common Manifesto as leaving the door open for the setting up of an Islamic State, death sentence for apostates, etc.

These are  major departures from the BA Common Manifesto committing the component parties to the fundamental principles of the Constitution and the present system of democratic governance, rendering the position that a vote for the Barisan Alternative is a vote for democracy and justice and not a vote for an Islamic State completely unsustainable.

Even the bus-loads of visitors encouraged by DAP to visit  Kelantan and Terengganu and who were then outraged about the baseless lies spread by the Barisan Nasional about the PAS government in the two states were very upset over the Islamic State issue, as they felt that they had not been given the full picture.

The question now is whether  BA leaders can find a formula to convince Malaysians that a vote for the BA is not a vote for an Islamic State, not just for 2003 or 2004 but even thereafter - and whether the political ground scenarios had altered so radically that it is not just a mere form of words for all the component parties to reach agreement, but must carry persuasive force and conviction.

Is PAS prepared for instance to concede that although it is ideologically committed to the Islamic State concept, an Islamic State is not suitable or feasible  for a democratic plural society like Malaysia?

If the BA leaders cannot find a formula to convince Malaysians that a vote for BA is not a vote for an Islamic State, which could carry the most weight with non-Muslim voters although it would also be a considerable factor for Muslim voters as well, then BA leaders would have to consider whether the BA is still the most effective political counter to the Barisan Nasional or whether it is time to consider another format of opposition co-operation to overcome such a fatal weakness.

I for one would not want to see the co-operation and good relations which had been built up by the BA parties, including between DAP and PAS, in the past three years to go to waste - for we can still co-operate on the common objectives of restoring democracy, justice and good governance which brought us together in the BA in 1999, and we can continue to co-operate if not in the BA format then  in another form.

The BA in bringing different political opposition parties together transcending race and religion had been a benign and positive factor in nation-building, as in checking  racial polarisation when desperate UMNO politicians tried to play the racial card, whether on the Suqiu or Damansara Chinese primary school issues.

However, if the fatal weakness of the BA over the Islamic State issue cannot be resolved, then the time has  come for BA leaders to look at other alternatives and options.

This issue is definitely more important than my personal issue.  One  question and concern uppermost in many minds is   whether the DAP is in the throes of another party crisis.  The answer is a firm no.

I can confirm what the DAP Secretary-General Sdr. Kerk Kim Hock told the press yesterday, that in the past 21 months since becoming DAP National Chairman, I have retreated to the background as the Secretary-General is the  CEO in the DAP, vested with the greatest powers and responsibilities under the party  constitution for all  leadership, organisational and administrative matters.

I had not interfered and do not propose to interfere with the SG’s CEO responsibilities.

This was why in the past 21 months, I provided advice,  back-up and support but was otherwise not involved whether in decision-making or implementation of the party reform programme after the 1999 general election. I am not even a member of the party reform committee, which comprised the other principal office bearers in the party headed by the Secretary-General.  This is also why I had many times declined giving newspaper interviews.

I thank Sdr. Teng Chang Khim for his views and his kind words.  Diversity of views are welcome.   However, I will leave my political future in the hands of DAP delegates at the DAP National Congress on August 18/19 through the democratic process as to whether I am still useful to the party and the DAP’s political mission.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman