Don’t jump, we need a strong Opposition — Thomas Fann

DECEMBER 14 — With the announcement that almost all of Umno Sabah’s elected representatives and heads of divisions leaving the party and declaring themselves supportive of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) Government, the disintegration of the once mighty Umno is accelerating and may eventually lead to its political demise. 

Many who support the ruling PH coalition may be rejoicing as they see PH’s rule strengthened further, ensuring political stability and increase the possibility of it securing two-third majority in Parliament, enabling it to amend the Federal Constitution to bring about much needed structural institutional reforms. 

Beside the legitimate concern of such mass party-hopping that not only betrays the trust of the voters who voted for their parties, these hoppers are likely to bring the DNA of Umno into PH, when they are eventually absorbed into the component parties of PH. 

When that happens, it would betray those who voted for change during GE14 who had hoped that they will have a government that is substantially different in accountability and integrity from the old government. 

But the greater concern for democracy in Malaysia is the question, ”Who is going to be left to play the role of Opposition in Parliament if everyone wants to be part of the government?” But some may even ask if we need an Opposition. Wouldn’t a government run smoother without pesky Opposition members? 

Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century Prime Minister of Britain, once said, “No Government can be long secure without a strong Opposition.” This sounds almost oxymoronic but the logic is sound. 

If we use the sporting analogy of boxing where a champion boxer in training has to constantly spar with another boxer, he would only be able to improve if his sparring partners are also strong boxers. If all he sparred with are weak boxers who do not push him to the limits, he will eventually become slack and grow weaker. 

A strong and responsible Opposition would hold the ruling Government in check and hold it accountable to the promises it had made to voters. They will scrutinise legislations and policies to find weaknesses. They may do it to score political points but in doing so, it forces the Government to put forth good and robust policies in order to win over the public.

Each political party exists to represent a certain ideology that is shared by their supporters. They compete with each other by promoting their idea of a better society and try to win over the middle ground so that they can form the Government during elections. 

In a democracy there will be parties that win more seats and others less. For the winner, they get to implement the laws and policies that best reflect their ideology but they cannot do it in totality if there is a strong Opposition. They would be forced to be more measured and inclusive as they consider the interest of those who didn’t vote for them as voiced out by opposition politicians. 

Lest we forget, the Opposition has a legitimate right to be heard for they do represent voters who has the same rights as those who voted for the parties who happened to be the winner of the last election. 

In GE14, it should be noted that PH won only 48 per cent of the popular votes with the remaining shared among the losing parties. Thus, any disenfranchisement of Opposition representatives is the disenfranchisement of the 52 per cent of voters. 

But for democracy to bear fruits that benefits us all, we need both responsible Government and Opposition who spar with each other for the betterment of the country, to bring about unity, not disunity; to build up the country, not tear it down. 

Identity politics and populism that demonise minorities are tearing our multi-cultural society apart. We need to return to civility and promote public reasoning. 

Political parties need to find other non-communal ideologies to compete with each other for the right to govern us, be it capitalism, socialism, conservatism, environmentalism, liberalism, social democracy or even theocracy. 

Every Opposition parties should see themselves as Government-in-waiting and should act like one, even as they sit on the opposition bench. If the people cannot see them behaving maturely and responsibly, why would they even vote them in as Government at the next election? 

It took the Opposition over six decades before they became Government and this despite an uneven playing field. It won’t be that difficult for the Malaysian voters to change their Government again if the current one disappoint them but would they have an alternative to choose from? 

My humble advise to Opposition politicians who are thinking of switching party or allegiance is to please reconsider. Instead, prepare yourselves to be the real alternative to the current Government. 

Be the check and balance you are supposed to be, be the voice of the Rakyat that you can be and surely, in time to come, you would earn our respect and earn the right to govern. Don’t jump, we need you to be a good Opposition. 

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.