In October 2016 President of the MCA, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, said that the opposition’s desire to ensure a straight fight against Barisan Nasional is just “empty talk”. He was quoted as saying that members of the opposition coalition have big differences between each other and this will lead to them fighting each other.
Liow is exactly right. The opposition coalition has no clear leader today and their leaders send conflicting messages to the public. Since the breakup of Pakatan Rakyat, and despite the formation of the new Pakatan Harapan, they have not been able to come up with a coherent and unified policy platform. That may very well lead to multi-cornered fights, just as Liow predicted.
The weakest point for Pakatan Harapan is when they are asked to name their candidate for Prime Minister. The answers that they have given so far has been weak and unconvincing.
One side of Pakatan wants to have Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as the Prime Minister. In their desperation to show loyalty to Anwar, some Pakatan leaders have suggested that once they win, they will get Anwar to be pardoned by the Agong so that he can contest and eventually become Prime Minister. For this to happen, they also suggest that Datin Seri Wan Azizah should be appointed as interim Prime Minister, warming up the seat until her husband is freed.
There is another group who wants Pakatan to move beyond Anwar. They are not saying Anwar should be forgotten. But they feel we cannot have a puppet interim Prime Minister. The premiership is not something that can be tossed around between husband and wife as they wish. Hence they insist that someone else should be named as Pakatan’s candidate for Prime Minister. Several names have been proposed, including Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
There is also another group who simply wants to avoid the issue altogether. They found it too difficult to give a straight answer, and, rather than working it out, they skirt the issue. As an excuse they claim that it is too early to think about who will become Prime Minister because, according to them, Pakatan should focus on issues that are more important to the people.
In short, Pakatan is so divided and they can’t even unite on one of the most fundamental questions that any rational voter would ask. Surely Pakatan leaders realise that the whole country is asking the question.
So Liow was absolutely correct when he implied that Pakatan may find it difficult to ensure a straight one-to-one fight in the next elections. But even though I agree with Liow on that point, I disagree with the insinuation that he is making.
Liow is insinuating that the disunity in Pakatan is a bad thing. Yes the disunity may make them lose the election even before the parliament is dissolved. But I believe if you look at it from the perspective of longer term national interest, that disunity is actually key the maturation of our competitive democracy.
Liow was obviously comparing Pakatan to Barisan Nasional and that is where he went wrong. He thought Barisan Nasional is a “united” coalition. That is false. Barisan Nasional is not united as such. They are merely subservient.
Barisan Nasional today has become a coalition of many irrelevant parties dictated by one supreme overlord. They are no longer equals. The big brother is free to entertain or ignore other minions as they wish.
For example, when Chinese schools were having difficulty to access their funding recently, Liow was only able to say that he will “follow up” with the Prime Minister on this issue.
Worse, MCA’s Senator Chong Sin Woon who is also Deputy Minister of Education was reported to say “MCA insists that Chinese primary schools should receive the full allocation.”
When a Deputy Minister can only “insist”, and a full Minister can only “follow up”, you know how influential the party is.
Of course the MCA may eventually get the money but the rule remains, namely, MCA can beg but they must obey. If they disagree with a decision, all they can do is just “insist” and “follow up”. The relationship in Barisan Nasional is more like a master and a servant, not a relationship between equals.
I personally do not like the policies that was offered by the previous Pakatan Rakyat and I suspect many of the policies that will be offered by Pakatan Harapan will follow the same streak. But when it comes to the way the coalition is managed, I still prefer the division and disunity of Pakatan.
They are a coalition of equals, and when everyone is equal, unity is not easy to get because there is no big brother. No one party is more supreme than the other. If any component party has an idea or a suggestion, they must propose, persuade and win the public debate rather than bulldoze it through. That is a much more democratic and unauthoritarian way of making decisions.