On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

A new age of politics

On The Beat

FOR decades, the first thing DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang did every morning was to read the newspapers over breakfast. That included the evening edition of Chinese newspapers from the night before. 

He would then spend the morning writing his daily press statements.  

Today, not much has changed. If the former journalist once used his typewriter, he now relies on his computer. He has embraced all the new tools of communication, including setting up his own blog. 

The veteran politician hits hard at his targets: every issue, from his perspective, is almost a scandal and he is fond of calling for the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry.  

An orator, he still pulls the crowd at every ceramah, as evident during the recent general election. 

It’s a hard life, but even Cabinet ministers privately acknowledge that Kit Siang is an institution in Malaysian politics.  

This time around, he did not contest in any state seat, choosing to defend only his Ipoh Timur parliamentary seat. 

If he had contested, he would probably be part of a state government, whether Perak or Penang. 

But it seems fated that he remains in the Opposition bench and, this time, not even as the Opposition Leader as the DAP-PKR-PAS coalition has decided to let Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail take that role. 

Changed roles 

His son, Guan Eng, has been luckier. He is now the Penang Chief Minister and his aides joked that he can stop writing press statements every day, like his father. They want him to act like a Chief Minister and stop being the Opposition man. 

But being in Opposition may be tough for the previous Mentris Besar of Kedah, Perak and Selangor: Datuk Seri Madzhir Khalid, Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli and Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo will certainly have to start afresh. 

Former Penang Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon may have had a Gerakan CM-in-waiting but the results have totally obliterated the Gerakan presence in the state assembly.  

Still, it can be expected that his views will be sought, as though he were Opposition leader, on issues regarding the performance of the state government. 

What is clear is that, for a start, all these Barisan stalwarts will have to accept the political reality after the March 8 political tsunami. Without the privileges of power that come with holding the reins of government, they have to start carrying out their functions with party backing. 

They have to think and act like opposition figures, to scrutinise the performance of the new state executive councillors and to jump on them like good oppositionists. 

As state opposition leaders, they would also need to create issues that can seize the imagination of the people, and hope that these can be translated into votes in the next polls.  

They also have to convince their followers, and possibly even themselves, that there is now a new age of Malaysian politics. 

The political tsunami did not happen without the combination of Malay, Chinese and Indian voters who wanted change. There was cross-ethnicity voting, with Malays voting for DAP and the non-Malays readily backing PAS.  

In short, issues relating to protecting Malay rights such as the New Economic Policy did not strike a chord. Neither did the PAS’ agenda of implementing Islamic laws frighten the non-Malays. 

PAS has been quick to reinvent itself. Its young leaders have put aside religious issues, making its president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang seem out of place with his hudud talk. Even Kit Siang has talked of an arrangement with PAS. 

The last thing these Umno state opposition leaders would want to talk about is any issue that smacks of race. They should also ask their leaders to stop any form of protest gatherings. 

With the Umno party elections just months away, there would be the temptation to project the ethnic slant but a lesson to learn is that certain instances of such posturing, such as the keris-wielding incident, have cost the Barisan massive damage. So did the fiery speeches. If they had helped, the Barisan would not have got into this mess. 

It’s the same with the MCA and MIC. They have to be cautious with the issues and projects that they want to impress on their delegates. It may earn applause with the middle-aged delegates but not necessarily with the younger voters, who make up 53% of Malaysians aged 24 years and below. 

Five years is just a short time away. Barisan component parties have begun serious assessment of themselves, even hiring independent analysts, to find out the causes within and outside for the setbacks. 

Wake-up call 

The Barisan may have been punished at the recent polls, much more than even the voters could have imagined or wanted, but the coalition has not been rejected entirely.  

It would not be presumptuous to say that the voters want them to wake up and to think hard. 

How the new Cabinet ministers perform, how the various Barisan component leaders behave, and how the Umno state opposition leaders conduct themselves – all would be crucial for the future of Barisan and the country.  

Even how the mainstream media carry out their role need to be scrutinised. 

The old ways do not work any more. 

The New Politics of Malaysia has emerged with Malaysians demanding changes, not just from the Barisan, but from the new state governments they installed. 

Malaysians have spoken loud and clear. They have tasted the power they have to shift the political landscape in just 24 hours. They will be more demanding than ever before, and that’s good for a more dynamic Malaysian civil society.