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TAKING THE CENTRE STAGE
by Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad

 

The September 11 tragedy has shifted the political pendulum worldwide to the right. President Bush, who was second-placed in popular votes and won by a Supreme Court decision in the Presidential election, preaching 'compassionate conservatism', now has the backing of most of the American people and the bipartisan Congress. In Australia, John Howard's
Liberal-National coalition swept to power in popular support over their refusal to grant asylum to the Middle East boat people. In other countries, authoritarian measures that undermine individual human rights are justified for the sake of 'national security'.

However, as we step into the 21st century, the trend has been for political parties, both left and right, to move towards the centre. While in the 80's Reagan's Reaganomics and Margaret Thatcher's liberalisation became the order
of the day as conservative parties swept into power, the result of the fallout of the masses as a result of their economic policies have propped up centrist governments. Bill Clinton's claim to be a New Democrat gave him victory in the 1992 American Presidential election; while Tony Blair's New Labour won convincingly in the 1997 British general election. But Bill Clinton's insistence that the party must shift to the centre reverberated further - the New Party in Japan, Germany's Social Democrats and Professor Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition in Italy all embodied the new, moderate, centrist ideals.

Thus detained KeADILan youth leader, Ezam Mohd Noor's appeal, to make the party a zentrumspartei in the party's recent AGM should be taken into consideration. That is the future of Malaysian politics, and that is where Malaysia's future electorate will choose its party. The Alternative Front, representing a chiaroscuro of political ideals and opinions, should strive to fill the void in the centre as a moderate coalition capable of attracting support from the masses. The government presently is dictated by
realpolitik, trying to appear to be conservative to certain electorates while appearing moderate to others, is trying their best to manipulate the situation and project the Opposition coalition to be a loose bunch of extremists. DAP, before leaving the Front was pictured as being a Chinese chauvinistic party to the Malays, while PAS as fanatical Islamic fundamentalists. KeADILan on the other hand, has been painted as being a bunch of rowdy street-demonstrators and rabble rousers intending to overthrow the government through violent means.

Following the events of September 11, the government used it to their advantage in isolating PAS from the masses. DAP decided to leave the Front, much to the benefit of the National Front while they continued to justify the use of the ISA as being a preventive measure that 'would have deterred' a tragedy like the World Trade Centre incident.The parties in the Alternative Front, with KeADILan playing a pivotal role, should not play into the hands of the National Front's smear campaign and
media blitzkrieg by moving away from the political centre. Just like KeADILan, the Alternative Front itself is a rainbow coalition, and by portraying itself as moderate, practical and pragmatic, yet remaining idealistic at the same time, would open the eyes of many Malaysians as a prospective, alternative government. We should concentrate on the common ideals and aims that the coalition shares, rather than the dividing differences.

Being moderate does not mean betraying one's ideals. President Kennedy said that a realistic yet idealistic politician should be able to engage in "compromises of issues, not principles." He wrote in the Profiles of Courage that "we should not be too hasty in condemning all compromise as bad morals.

For politics and legislation are not matters for inflexible principles or unattainable ideals." The Alternative Front however should not follow the mistake of the New Labour - that has shifted so fast to the centre that it has isolated its traditional supporters. Their recent win in the general elections were gripped with the electorate's apathy; they were lucky that the Conservative opposition were in a much worse situation of disarray and were without a leader.

To be a electable government, the Alternative Front should be able to garner mass support by both holding on to their traditional voters yet at the same time opening up to new members from diverse groupings to represent Malaysians from all walks of life. This is an advantage that KeADILan has, compared to other major Malaysian political parties; it cannot afford to lose its multiracial image so as not to lose the support of the non-Malays. While PAS, being a much established and respected political organisation
that is highly experienced in the local political arena - KeADILan's appeal lies in it being a brand new political organisation, grouping together former politicians and NGO activists, religious leaders and professional representatives.

The ability to take the centre stage is the ability of Malaysia's future government. For politics is increasingly losing its right and left poles, as people find the centre more appealing for a potential ruling government. To put the ruling party is out is not an impossible task, if the Alternative Front strives hard for it. The parties have to be willing to undergo their own Bad Godesberg - the German spa town where the Social Democrats renounced their links with Marxism to portray themselves as humanistic, idealistic and
possible ruling parties.