On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

The old ways must go

LET’S give credit where credit is due. With a stroke of the pen, Perak Mentri Besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin has approved permanent land titles for new villages and planned villages.

True, the villagers may not get their titles overnight because surveys have to be carried out to determine land size before the titles can be issued. But the point is the people will be more secure now that the new state government has made a decision about their homes, which they have lived in since 1948.

The populist move by the Pakatan Rakyat government will surely make the fight for the hearts and minds of Malaysians with Barisan Nasional more competitive.

The new governments of Perak, Selangor and Penang, in particular, have also given power-sharing a new dimension among the major races.

The three parties of Pakatan Rakyat have come out with well-accepted line-ups, reflecting representation of the main ethnic groups. In one or two instances, the formula was more meaningful than under the previous Barisan state governments.

Fair decisions

In Penang, an Indian state assemblyman is a Deputy Chief Minister and there is talk that a Chinese may even be made Speaker of the Selangor State Legislature.

In Perak, PAS has been given the powerful Mentri Besar’s post although the other two parties have more seats combined.

In short, if these new state governments continue to make fair and popular decisions, the task of wresting these states back will become more difficult for Barisan, especially when there is no racial backlash to these decisions.

The March 8 election results serve a lesson not just for Barisan, which suffered a massive setback, but also to Pakatan Rakyat.

One, PAS has now adopted a more realistic approach by putting aside its agenda of setting up an Islamic state and implementing hudud laws.

Younger leaders such as party secretary-general Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar are good moderating forces, and would wrestle with the party elders to meet the new demands of Malaysians.

Given the acceptance of the Islamist party by non-Muslims and vice-versa, and the Malays to the DAP, these opposition parties would have to adopt politics of accommodation, which Barisan parties have long practised.

For Barisan, the three main parties of Umno, MCA and MIC must accept the fact that they can no longer be too fixed on communal interests.

Umno, for example, should not be too constrained with Malay concerns to the point that its other loyal partners in Barisan are put in a spot. Sometimes, these concerns are merely imaginary.

Take the case of the Perak new villages, which was a bold decision by Nizar. In a pre-March 8 scenario, Umno could possibly be reluctant to be so generous and would have taken into account Malay concerns on such concessions.

The result is that the Barisan parties ended up tying themselves in a knot for being over-sensitive for no reason.

PAS MP for Shah Alam Khalid Samad, for example, reportedly visited the Church of Divine Mercy in Shah Alam to thank the congregation at the community hall and promised that PAS would be fair to all.

The challenge now is whether Umno politicians would be open-minded enough to do the same, as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has done.

Of course, these could be dismissed as mere political expediency by PAS, especially to project a moderate approach. But Barisan leaders can no longer assume it is business as usual. These are unusual political times and the ruling elite had better wake up.

Young Malaysians do not find it appealing when parties merely champion the rights of their communities. They prefer a Malaysian response to issues that affect everyone.

Perceptions matter

The days of fiery speeches – with politicians expounding their narrow communal stance and pushing the political temperature with subtle threats – are over. The racial bogeyman no longer exists.

That’s why Barisan politicians must be careful when they focus their time and attention on their internal party polls so soon after the March 8 results. They must realise that Malaysians will question their commitment to the people.

Instead of rebuilding and reinventing their parties to meet the challenges ahead, some party members are only talking of contesting in polls that are scheduled for the end of the year.

These politicians should not portray themselves as being merely interested in securing party posts. Perceptions of the ordinary folk are equally important.

With PKR, DAP and PAS having already announced the formation of an alliance, Umno as the backbone of Barisan cannot afford to remain in a situation of perceived uncertainty.

Umno must reinvent itself and reinforce its leadership role in Barisan because the political equation has changed.