Lessons from Selangor show way forward | Selangor Times
Issue 118


Lessons from Selangor show way forward
Writer: Tricia Yeoh
Published: Fri, 14 Sep 2012

It was an entertaining thought that my friend, Keith Leong, would have spent long hours in the very English Cambridge University writing his MPhil thesis on the Selangor experience under Pakatan Rakyat. 

Working with the Selangor government at the time, it gave me a glimmer of hope that there were others far away, not necessarily part of the system of politics and government, who were equally interested in and rooting for these new developments taking place in Malaysia. 

Indeed, I am glad he has chosen to publish the thesis into a book – the importance of documenting such significant changes in the socio-political landscape cannot be underscored. 

It was also an honour for me to have had the book I edited on Pakatan Rakyat (Pakatan) in Selangor used as one of his references. 

Leong centres his book on an argument by academic Jesudason, who wrote in 1996 about the difficulty faced, and almost impossiblly, that any opposition party would succeed in Malaysia. 

Elaborating upon this argument, Leong then uses numerous examples explaining why he disagrees with Jesudason, drawing from the Selangor experience being governed by the Pakatan coalition. Finally, he mentions several challenges ahead of Pakatan. 

According to Leong, Jesudason’s core argument was that Malaysia is a syncretic state, which can be defined as “a product of a particular historical-structural configuration that has allowed the power holders to combine a broad array of economic, ideological, and coercive elements in managing the society, including limiting the effectiveness of the opposition as a democratizing force.” (Jesudason 1996:129). 

Based on this, the Barisan Nasional (Barisan) model of having each ethnicity represented by each party would have been extremely difficult to counter. 

In the past at least, this was true. The Barisan style of government would be able to “straddle (the) competing interests” of different ethnic and cultural community’s needs. Quite cleverly, for example, each party would cater to the needs of their respective constituents, sometimes even making wildly differing statements depending on the audience and occasion. For example, Leong cites how they might use coercion (state instruments such as the Internal Security Act) against groups or co-opting (political, business, ethno-religious) groups to prevent any coalitions from forming against them. 

However, the Pakatan coalition seems to have – at least for the last five years – overcome this problem. 

Important to note is that, as Leong states, the three individual parties (the DAP, PAS and PKR) spent the years before that, between 2004 and 2007, regrouping and “attempting to address both their internal weaknesses as well as obstacles to cooperating with each other”. 

As Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim likes to quip in his speeches, where in the past the DAP and PAS would hardly be expected to sit at the same table, now they were willing to negotiate. 

Today, they are working together on policies, and programmes in government. 

Further, the PKR successfully attracted party leaders and candidates from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the business community, thereby fielding more “credible, diverse candidates”. 

This would in a sense also broaden the support from a wider range of people, on top of those already involved in direct politics

Another major factor in Pakatan having overcome this problem was to win over unoccupied intellectual and policy space, for instance speaking against the New Economic Policy (NEP) as ethnic-based affirmative action. 

It was indeed “previously considered unthinkable for a Malay political leader” to do so. This move would solidify PKR’s position as being a reformative party, central to straddling the sometimes opposing positions of either DAP or PAS. 

In fact, taking this approach would become the key modus operandi. Instead of the Barisan communal model, Pakatan came together based on common principles of “justice, good governance, human rights, accountability, transparency”, which transcended race or religion. 

In a sense, as Leong states, Pakatan has now created a “syncretism” of its own, to challenge Barisan’s approach altogether. 

Of course, this has not always been easy to handle. Naturally, because of the parties’ individual roots (PAS being an Islamic party, DAP traditionally a Chinese party despite its multiracial philosophy), there would be conflicts. 

Leong  mentions three such examples, namely sectarian issues (where race would still rear its ugly head, for example at the cow-head protest, or the UITM incident), inter-party conflict (where PAS would disagree with DAP on the sale of alcohol), and intra-party conflict (defections and factions within parties). 

Any coalition attempting to straddle the issues of Malaysia would come face to face with this. And in a way, this is very much the reality of our intricate and complex society. Much better to thrash things out, and emerge with a solution commonly agreed upon by all parties, than to sweep things under the carpet. 

As such, despite a “huge temptation to retreat into their own familiar space” as pointed out by Leong, Pakatan has instead reaffirmed and not detracted “from its commitment to multiracialism”, which is very encouraging. 

In the lead-up to the ever-nearing 13th General Election, one may wonder what stance the parties take. 

In recent years, they have affirmed their conviction to common policy announcements, beginning with the Common Policy Framework, followed by the Buku Jingga (Orange Book), and the Pakatan Alternative Budget 2012. 

Leong predicts that it is likely that they “will maintain their pluralist stand” – and I hope this will certainly be the case. 

Pakatan must realise by now that these pluralist negotiations are imperative, and necessary for its own survival. 

The criticism of some that this newfound pluralist face of PAS, for example, as “convenient masks by which to gain power”, must be silenced, an effort that Pakatan parties will have to prove. The Chinese, for example, voting for PAS is a start in cross-ethnic voting. 

Does Leong successfully disprove Jesudason’s notion that the Malaysian “syncretic state” cannot be managed by any other than the Barisan coalition? In one sense, the Pakatan example over the past electoral team has shown that with the right amount of sheer political will and some strategic compromise, the answer is yes. 

Of course there will always be conflicts occurring – and this is natural in any dynamic society, especially that in our very layered and complex Malaysia. 

Leong perhaps best sums it up by saying that even if Pakatan were to lose Selangor and perform dismally in the Federal Government elections, Pakatan has demonstrated the “plausibility of multiracial opposition to the ruling regime.” 

This was an enjoyable read of a short 91-page book. Perhaps where Leong could have expanded upon would be delving into the reasons for which Malaysian society may be more receptive to a pluralist approach at present as opposed to its traditional communal one in the past, since the success of Pakatan could also be accounted for by demographic and sociological changes. 

Other external factors could have contributed to this sudden shift in receptiveness – social media, the Internet, civil society, a larger youth voting base, and urbanisation (the latter of which Leong does mention). 

In conclusion, it is my personal hope that all he says is true – that indeed, this marks the end of our dependence on a politics defined along communal ethno-religious lines. 


 Selangor Times



Also by Tricia Yeoh:

Towards a New Malaysia

THE term “think tank” may evoke images of stuffy bespectacled researchers sitting behind desks towering with stacks of paper.

The Personal and The Professional

YET another Malaysian incident has made it into international news. 

The PAS conundrum – or is it really?

At a recent policy dinner at St. Mike’s, a cozy Ipoh restaurant, I spoke of civil society, reform issues and my experience of having worked at the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government. The discussion eventually centred on one subject alone, that being the ‘PAS conundrum’ (titled by me); conundrum being defined as a confusing and difficult problem or question. 

‘Tis the season to be rallying

THE past weekend has been a busy one indeed. Not only was the city’s annual arts festival, Urbanscapes, taking place, but this time Sigur Ros, the atmospheric Icelandic band graced the occasion and performed right in the heart of Petaling Jaya. 

Can overseas Malaysians contribute?

At the Singapore FreedomFilmFest 2012 where the three documentaries were screened (including The Rights of The Dead, on the late Teoh Beng Hock’s story), a sizeable number of Malaysians interspersed the audience. Roughly making up 20% of the crowd size, the question-and-answer session following the screening reminded me of the aspirations Malaysians living overseas continue to have about their country, back home. 

Models for state and city

As part of the Penang launch of my book, "States of Reform", as well as the FreedomFilmFest screenings of my documentary, "The Rights of the Dead" in the same state, I spent several days in Penang recently (a sister state of Selangor, in the sense that both are governed by the Pakatan Rakyat coalition as a result of the March 2008 elections). 

Dark look at the country’s financial situation

In the lead up to the 13th General Election, economic issues will inevitably be hotly debated by all sides of the political divide. It is within this context that a book of great relevance to Malaysian readers and voters has been recently published. 

Walking the narrow path

I had the privilege of speaking to a group of young interns under the Otak-Otak Internship Programme this week.

Decentralisation the way forward?

At the launch of my book, “States of  Reform: Governing Selangor and Penang” last Saturday, three esteemed panelists, YB Liew Chin Tong (member of Parliament, Bukit Bendera), YB Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (state assemblypersom, Seri Setia) and Dr Ooi Kee Beng (Deputy Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore) took on the increasingly popular, but also controversial, subject of decentralisation of government in Malaysia.

Wading through the so-called ‘water crisis’

Election fever is in the air, and the games have begun. Last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stated that Selangor was heading towards a water crisis, after the state government blocked the building of the Langat 2 water treatment plant.

That Religious Issue: Faith, Space and Justice

Every now and then arises a hot potato issue that few are inclined to comment upon, namely that of religious sensitivities. This week former Selangor state executive councillor and head of new NGO JATI, Hasan Ali, revealed a video of purported proselytisation of Muslims by a group of Christians.

Four years of PR in Selangor

What the Debate says about the Chinese

The much hyped-up debate between Lim Guan Eng and Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek last weekend took place with as much drama as there was in the days leading up to it.

Politics vs Policy: How do people really vote?

Malaysian lessons from Bolivia

At the Centre for Independent Journalism’s Human Rights in Outer Space series of events last week, I was asked to speak on a panel analysing the Our Brand is Crisis documentary and draw comparisons between issues arising within it and the Malaysian context.

Sewerage privatisation once again?

Cyberspace was on fire last week after the Auditor-General’s 2010 annual report revealed a host of financial irregularities perpetrated by several government agencies and government-linked companies.

Of schooling and the Budget

In my conversation with Malaysian parents, the topic almost always steers back to the issue of the country’s education system. They are most often in a dilemma about which schools they should place their children in, and which system to opt for.

Setting the tone with Selangorku

Selangor was one of the first governments in Malaysia to have officially celebrated Malaysia Day on Sept 16 in 2009, which was followed thereafter by the federal government in 2010 when it was declared a public holiday.

This year, Selangor launched its version of an agenda in con- junction with Malaysia Day, called "Selangorku", or “My Selangor". The project took about a year to complete, having been initiated when I was then Research Officer at the Selangor Menteri Besar's office. Although I have since moved on, it was indeed a gratifying moment knowing the agenda has finally


Assimilation versus integration

Last weekend, I was invited to speak at a forum organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Isis).

Water deal makes Malaysians RM6.5b poorer

A new chapter has unfolded in the long-drawn-out Selangor water saga recently. Acqua SPV, a Special-Purpose Vehicle set up under the gederal government body PAAB (Pengurusan Aset Air Berhad), has announced plans to acquire 100% of Selangor water bonds. The total outstanding bonds come up to RM6.5 billion.

Let’s start talking to one another as a nation

It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that people are driven by insecurity and fear, especially of what they do not understand or know.

The dead have rights, too

Malaysia is in desperate need of a reliable and trustworthy institute to conduct autopsies, especially in relation to deaths in custody. Last week, the body of customs officer Ahmad Sarbani was found on the grounds of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Federal Territory office.











From Windows to a Mac: A guide




In for a sweet treat




A Majestic presence





Copyright © 2018 Selangor Times. All rights reserved. Designed By Senedi