On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Waking up to new politics


LET’S get used to some things. The likelihood is that the DAP secretary-general will soon be known as Yang Amat Berhormat Lim Guan Eng and in Selangor, possibly his Parti Keadilan Rakyat counterpart will be known as Yang Amat Berhormat Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim.  

In Selangor, Perak and Kedah, the former state government heads – Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli Ghazali and Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid – will be opposition leaders in the state legislative assemblies.  

That needs a lot of getting used to for the political establishment but it is the result of the political tsunami that hit Malaysia on Saturday.  

And 24 hours later, as Malaysians still recover from the shock, the players are still trying to make sense of the results.  

Still coming to terms with the worst electoral results for the Barisan Nasional, the top leaders huddled at the 39th floor of the Putra World Trade Centre in the early hours yesterday and appeared briefly for a press conference.  

There was really not much to talk about for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.  

In a rather ironic situation, the media asked Pak Lah to pose for photographs by raising Najib’s hand when Barisan achieved a simple majority to form the federal government. But there was nothing to celebrate.  

It was a close call and, until the winds of change stopped blowing, no one dared to even predict the final outcome.  

Yesterday, there was unusual silence on the political front. The opposition victors wisely stayed away from any celebrations, so as not to create unnecessary misunderstanding.  

Clearly, even the opposition politicians could not believe that they had landed the two jewels of Malaysia – Penang and Selangor – while winning Perak and Kedah and retaining Kelantan.  

Winning elections is one thing but now comes the more difficult part – running a government, with the Barisan still holding on to the federal government.  

There is the complexity of the government structure, from the state secretariat to state-owned agencies and government-linked companies to the many city and district councils.  

Many of these people involved in the machineries are Barisan personalities, or more precisely, Umno members. 

No doubt, it would be a challenge to make the new state governments function smoothly. 

That’s not all. The business community, long used to dealing with the mentris besar or chief ministers, would have to start all over again. The judgment will be at the Bursa Malaysia.  

With Penang and Selangor as the most industrialised states, the economic implications will be enormous, especially with the Trade and Industry Ministry is still under the Barisan federal government.  

There are more implications in the tsunami’s aftermath. Clearly, all eyes will now be on Abdullah and his next step. 

The Barisan now has to take a serious review of itself. The Old Politics is over, that is a fact.  

The Opposition, especially PKR, has managed to offer a more multi-racial outlook, with younger candidates. As a product, it worked, and its appeal seemed to reach across to all races.  

Even with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim openly saying that he would do away with affirmative action for bumiputras, the party continued to get the Malay votes. Issues on economic opportunities and education have always been sore points with non-bumiputras and it needs to be addressed. 

A new Barisan Nasional, possibly even a one-party multi-racial organisation, is an option for the leadership to consider. 

Old parties, all over the world, have always faced such identity problems, and Umno, the MCA and the MIC will be no exceptions.  

In the years to come, convincing younger voters to support a party purely on communal grounds will become tougher, even as Barisan has advocated multi-racialism as a coalition.  

In the age of Barack Obama, who is only 47, the Barisan component parties need fresh faces to appeal to the young voters of the coming years.  

Barisan needs to reinvent, rebrand and re-examine itself to stay relevant. It has to be bold enough to admit its mistakes if it wishes to be accepted by the people.  

The next round will be even tougher for Barisan.  

The opposition parties, with Penang and Selangor under their control, will have stronger financial muscles for the next fight. 

A two-party system seems likely to evolve from the outcome of this general election. The first page of the new Malaysian political era opens today. Certainly, the elections may have ended but the drama has only just started. Stay tuned.