In an interview with New Sunday Times today, PBS President Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan implied that the PBS decision was triggered by “patriotic” feelings as a result of the September 11 events although it was the outcome of “nearly six months of negotiations and bargaining”.
In the interview, Pairin said that the PBS’ pull-out of the Barisan Nasional on the eve of the 1990 general elections was a “mistake - the result of being ill-advised”.
He said: “But suffice it to say that what occurred at that time was because we were ill-advised by some of the leaders. But everybody actually agreed to the decision and that was it.”
But what was this “ill-advice”? DAP was a full member of Gagasan Rakyat, but DAP leaders were completely caught by surprise by PBS’ pull-out from the Barisan Nasional to work for the common cause with Gagasan Rakyat in the last few days of the 1990 general elections campaign.
I was campaigning in Sungai Siput for the late Sdr. P. Patto, who was then contesting against MIC President Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, when I was told at a ceramah of the news of the PBS’ pull-out from the Barisan Nasional and throwing its lot with Semangat 46 and the Gagasan Rakyat from a radio news broadcast.
PBS was “ill-advised” to pull out from the Barisan Nasional 11 years ago because its leadership believed that PBS could be the “king-maker” in Malaysian politics in the toppling of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and the election of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah as the new Prime Minister in the 1990 general elections.
The PBS leaders who came over to Peninsular Malaysia to assess the political climate in the run-up to the 1990 general elections were led by Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, then PBS Deputy President and Datuk Yong Teck Lee, then a PBS Vice President.
From their political assessments, both Dompok and Yong believed that Malaysia was on the cusp of unprecedented political change, and that the 1990 general elections could see the downfall of Mahathir and the rise of Razaleigh to take over the Federal Government as Prime Minister.
For reasons which both Dompok and Yong are the best persons to explain, both of them believed that there were the “numbers” for such a change of government, that Gagasan Rakyat could win over 60 parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia, that a Barisan Nasional party in Sarawak was on the verge of defecting from Barisan Nasional to Gagasan Rakyat involving over 20 parliamentary seats and that PBS with control of over 15 parliamentary seats could be the “king-maker” in Malaysian politics in deciding the toppling of Mahathir and the election of Razaleigh as the new Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Hence, the last-minute and completely unexpected decision and announcement of the PBS pull-out from Barisan Nasional on the eve of the 1990 general elections.
The misreading and wrong forecast of the PBS leaders about the 1990 general elections results in the few days before polling was most astounding as the DAP never regarded the toppling of Mahathir and Barisan Nasional in the 1990 general elections by Gagasan Rakyat as within the realm of practical possibility - and that the best results which Gagasan Rakyat could achieve was the traumatic result for Mahathir and Barisan Nasional of losing two-thirds parliamentary majority.
Be that as it may, the PBS’ return to Barisan Nasional has created new waves in Malaysian politics. Barisan Nasional allegedly operates on the principle of unanimity and if this is true, then there is no chance of PBS being accepted back into the Barisan Nasional fold, for the Sabah breakaway parties from PBS now already in Barisan Nasional would have vetoed PBS’ return.
However, the BN principle of unanimity on admission of new members operates only when Mahathir allows it to operate - and this is why I feel great pity for M.G. Pandithan and the Indian Progressive Party as they have not been able to overcome this elastic BN principle of unanimity in their quest for membership of the Barisan Nasional. But PBS should not find this principle any obstacle to its return to BN, as no BN party will be recalcitrant enough as not to know when this BN principle of unanimity is not meant to apply.
With PBS’ return to BN, many are expecting a landslide win for the Barisan Nasional in the next parliamentary general elections, which should be held in 2003 in 18 months’ time. This will be a great boost to Mahathir and UMNO, as together with a landslide victory in Sarawak (as indicated by the recent Sarawak state general elections), UMNO and Barisan Nasional fears of being voted out of office would be greatly diminished.
In the 1999 general elections, UMNO suffered its worst electoral defeat in its party history, winning only 72 Parliamentary seats as compared to 89 in 1995, and for the first time, having fewer seats than all the other Barisan Nasional parties combined.
It is precisely because of Mahathir and UMNO battling with PAS to win back the Malay heartland that the Prime Minister had announced on Sept. 29 that Malaysia is an Islamic state, in total disregard of the 44-year fundamental constitutional principle and nation-building cornerstone of Malaysia as a secular state with Islam as the official religion.
With PBS back in the BN fold, Mahathir is even more assured of his power base for the next general elections. Even in the worst scenario, and UMNO could only win half of the 104 seats it contested (based on 1999 data), UMNO would have 52 parliamentary seats and together with the 48 seats in Sabah and Sarawak (bar losing a few to the Opposition), and the wins of the other Barisan Nasional component parties in Peninsular Malaysia, UMNO and BN would have secured the simple majority for another five years of Federal rule.
The PBS return to Barisan Nasional creates a political vacuum in Sabah and a great challenge to DAP, which had four Sabah Members of Parliament from 1986-1990. The DAP is poised to play a greater role in Sabah politics with the DAP again becoming the the most articulate voice of the people of Sabah for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance in the first decade of the new century.