MALAYSIA is a small country but the number of political parties competing for federal power in the general election is one too many.
With nearly 30 political parties and four political coalitions, one would think this is robust democracy in motion as the voters are spoilt for choice.
But the numbers game does not count much. What can this ragtag group of parties offer to substantially change the political landscape for the better?
How much more distinct can they be from one another so that voters can discern what each party is fighting for, its goals and ideologies?
For decades, the country had been ruled by one coalition until its overthrow in the 2018 general election. The dramatic change of government gave hope that finally, a kind of two-party system has found roots in Malaysian soil.
But this ideal scenario did not last long. The opposition did not have enough time to prove that it is a viable, creditable alternative government.
However, the seeds of an inchoate two-party system have been planted in the public mind. People now know that it is possible to elect another government from a different party to chart a new course.
Breaking down to only two
But, first, Malaysia needs a vigorous shake-up. It needs to discard the slew of parties and coalitions and get them whittled down to just two main parties.
In short, there will be no more UMNO, MCA, MIC, PAS and other minor irritants. All will come under one umbrella and one new race-blind name. Perhaps, one party can call itself Parti Konservatif and the other Parti Buruh or Parti Democrat.
Or Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH) can be transformed from coalitions into political parties of the same name.
When there are two major parties, it is easier for the voters to make their choice: either vote for A or B. They will not be confused by a sea of parties and a forest of symbols littering the political highway. They will not be distracted by mosquito parties with their own worthless agenda and parochial outlook.
But in Malaysia, ethnic-based coalition politics is here to stay. There will still be BN and PH for the long haul. Yet they can have a leaner shape by trimming down the number of component parties that go to make up the parent body.
If Malaysia cannot have a purely two-party system, then it has to make do with the current coalition formula. Given its size, the country only needs two coalitions and not four or 10 or 100 to vie for power.
Once the two major coalitions have taken firm roots in Malaysian politics, the days of the political monopoly of power will be over.
Come every five years, voters can boot out BN if it misrules. Likewise, if PH goes astray – and betrays the trust of the people – it will be shown the exit in double quick time.
Thus, both coalitions will always be on their toes and will have to correct whatever mistakes they had committed while in power. Both will have to improve themselves after they have tasted defeat.
No more mosquito parties
With the experience gained in governance, both coalitions are ready-made governments. One can take over should the other fall from power, or play a vigorous opposition role under the aegis of a shadow government.
But how can this two-coalition system be a permanent feature of Malaysian politics?
It cannot be left to the politicians to decide to discard forming new parties and alliances. They would prefer to set up new parties and trumpet their credentials rather than join one of the main coalitions.
If not the politicians, then who? Voters. Only the voters have the power to put into practice a two-coalition system that will permanently be part and parcel of the Malaysian political landscape.
Only the voters have the power to decide the form of government they want every five years. Only they hold the key to the working of a viable, enduring two-coalition system of government.
The 15th General Elections (GE15) will give voters the chance to throw every other mosquito party into the dustbin of history, sending a clear message that the people will no longer tolerate the proliferation of parties or coalitions set up merely for their own gratification.
Malaysia is a small pie and for far too long too many grasping politicians have been cutting it up to get a slice of the action to enrich themselves or to lust for more power only to use it to abuse their power.
This political misbehaviour has been made possible because there was no strong challenge from the opposition parties before 2018.
Now, with PH around, there is hope that the 2022 general election can produce a lasting coalition government that can save the country from the further depredations of rapacious politicians. – Nov 12, 2022
Philip Rodrigues is a former journalist.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main photo credit: CNA