Recently in the last 10 years, Penang has seen an influx of new political parties filled with interesting personalities flooding the political landscape. All of them seem to claim that they are there to “strengthen democracy” but they all seem to be united in one cause, to criticise the Pakatan Harapan Penang State Government while completely ignoring the seemingly “immaculate” Barisan Nasional who last I checked, are still in power on the federal level.
These seemingly “independent” political parties along with some disgruntled former members of PH parties claim that they do not represent nor side with either BN or PH and want to be the “third force” in the Malaysian political arena. They claim to be the true voices of the Penang people and will give Penangites an additional option in the coming elections. Strange as prior to 2008, there seemed to be no interest in these groups to form their so called “third force” and only seem to pop out only within the last five years.
Many of them are now proceeding to go all out to either promote a vote for the “third force” or a “spoiled vote”. What many do not actually know, is that they are merely promoting the chances for the BN to recapture Penang in the coming elections. Now I know, many of you reading this would probably think that I am writing this as a DAP member but let us explore this concept of the “third force” first in the Malaysian context.
I am first and foremost, a believer in democracy. It was because of my faith in democracy that I chose to become politically active. Many countries around the world have vibrant democracies with multiple parties contesting for power and the direction of the country. Some like the United States of America have a strong two party system which presents two candidates that have almost equal chances of being elected President. Some like the United Kingdom have moved on beyond the two party system with multiple new parties gaining ground and forcing established parties like the Conservative Party and the Labour Party to often have to form coalition governments with smaller parties in order to have a majority in Parliament.
Malaysia on the other hand, has seen the complete domination of one party in the last 61 years. Some argue that the BN is not one party but a coalition of multiple parties each representing their own interests for a balanced system. This is however inaccurate as each BN party does not have an equal say as the other. It can be argued that in the BN, while their “dacing” symbol claims that their parties are equal, after 61 years, it can be seen that one party is “more equal than others”. Yup, 73 years after it was first published, George Orwell’s Animal Farm book’s political allegories are still very much relevant today especially in Malaysia.
Anyway, back to my point. The ruling BN has been in federal power for so long that they have comfortably entrenched themselves in every vein and artery of government body giving them absolute unchecked power. This has also led to the BN being able to completely centralise power into the federal government by slowly stripping away power from state governments that were ruled by their own members. This has effectively made Malaysia a unitary state while maintaining the facade of a federation in name only. Real federations are countries that usually strong elected State Governments that control most of the administration and law makings of those individual states while having a weaker federal governments to control matters like joint security, foreign relations and defence.
Unitary States are countries that have strong central governments while having weak to almost non-existent state or provincial governments. Last I checked, Malaysia was a federation as we are officially known as the Federation of Malaysia but in practice, unchecked 61 years of one party rule has led to the complete amalgamation of party and government.
Malaysia is still a federally dominated country and has not achieved the two party system that we all want. Yet, these so called independent groups are calling for a “third force” already. With the “first past the post system” election system based on party symbols that the country has practiced since independence, voting this so called “third force” can only achieve one thing, the complete electoral victory of the BN in the coming elections. The reason is rather simple; Malaysia is too used to voting either for or against the BN. Hence the votes are either for or against establishment without regards to the different political parties out there. Add that to the earlier fact that the BN is in complete control of the government’s machinery and use it to their full advantage, it is easy to say that the path to victory for the PH is indeed an uphill battle.
So when the votes that are against the establishment are split between different rival political parties, the victory will be handed to the BN automatically as their establishment votes will be able to have a majority over the split anti-establishment votes. The BN knows this and hence encourages financially, the establishment of as many political parties and individual personalities to contest to coming elections in an attempt to confuse and split the voters. The BN does not care if they truly have the mandate of the people to govern, it is a “win at all cost” to recapture Penang. BN and in particular Gerakan and MCA knows that they have to impress their UMNO bosses as much as possible or they will lose all their privileged perks. UMNO themselves want to destroy any possible formation of a two party system or their entire gravy train will be permanently derailed.
So let us really ponder upon the realities. A vote for the so called “third force”, abstaining from voting or spoiling your vote will only achieve one thing, the return of the BN with a supermajority and the permanent elimination of a possible two party system. We have to stay the course and establish that two party system first before talking about a possible multiparty system. The so-called third, fourth, fifth, sixth or whatever forces that are present today are just BN supported parties and individuals that the BN is using to ensure their continuous rule and the end to all possible future threats to them.
Chris Lee Chun Kit is a City Councillor at the City Council of Penang Island (MBPP) representing the DAP