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.