Can early polls stabilise the country?
Writer: Wong Chin Huat
Published: Fri, 19 Oct 2012
The Economist (“No Time Like Tomorrow, Oct 6, http://www.economist.com/node/21564248 ) is right in a way to compare Datuk Seri Najib Razak to former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who lost the election he called too late.
A former academic-turn-politician friend of mine who follows British politics closely has said the same for quite some time.
I, however, beg to disagree with The Economist that the delay in polls has resulted in heightened partisanship which poisons the national politics.
This is in fact a premise that must be examined.
Many Malaysians who have suffered political fatigue – especially the business sector – have been calling for elections to be over and done with as soon as possible.
Some really hope that the so-called politicking will return to its pre-2008 level.
Allow me to pour some cold water: nothing could be more unrealistic than that.
The apolitical or depoliticised Malaysia – which Tun Abdul Razak dreamed of – is gone forever and will not return.
Having tasted freedom, those tsunami-waken Malaysians are not going back to any illusion of soft authoritarianism.
This means any public policies, legislations or development projects forced down the throat of the stakeholders will be vigorously opposed.
Not just PAA and Section 14A of the Evidence Act. Not just Kuantan, Bukit Koman, Jalan Sultan (Kuala Lumpur) and Pengerang.
As Najib himself recognises, the years the government knows best is gone.
Of course, the heightening political tension is caused not just by democratisation.
The greater factor is our collective failure to deal with democratisation: this country is moving away from the electoral one-party it has been for nearly 40 years before 2008 but there is not yet a national consensus to accept this new political reality.
If there is indeed a national consensus, like that in Myanmar, that democratisation is the order of the day, then an early election will certainly help.
The winners will have the mandate to carry out unfinished work or new tasks, while the losers will serve as the loyal opposition and work for a better electoral fortune in the future.
But there is none. The abuse of state apparatus to punish opposition supporters and to defame Bersih activists, the rise of political violence, the powerlessness of the police before political thugs - all these just show that the old political system is resisting its demise.
What will happen after elections? It really depends on the process and the outcome.
First of all, if there is widespread or significant rigging, the public will not stomach that.
Secondly, if there is only a slim majority for the winners, if not outright a hung parliament, there may be attempts to entice and counter defections.
An affirmative answer to the first question may possibly lead to revolution ala people power, re-election or chronic instability.
An affirmative answer to the second question may lead to re-election, coup, counter-coup and/or chronic instability.
Will early elections prevent either electoral fraud or an evenly split election? I cannot see how. If there is a likely relation between these and the timing, the direction may well be the opposite.
The longer we wait for elections, the more new voters may be registered, and the likelier their votes may offset those of foreigners and phantoms.
Also, the longer we wait, the likelier Malaysians may get fed up enough to persuade each other to vote in one direction, hence preventing a hung parliament or a government with a slim majority.
But really there is no end to political tensions, political persecution and political violence unless our political class grow mature enough to accept the embryonic two-party system.
We need the winners to pledge no persecution of the losers and the losers to pledge their acceptance of the outcome.
As it stands, even if Umno-BN keeps its job, Najib may lose his job if he can only deliver some 120-130 seats, apparently the number estimated by all government intelligence sources.
Now, can you naively expect a transition within UMNO to be without fireworks and fanfare?
Political stability can be ensured only when there is a deal between and within the coalitions and parties.
There must be a common understanding on elections should be held and a commitment to follow that understanding. That means no rigging, no coup, no witch-hunt.
If such a deal is done, even if Najib delivers only a slim majority, he may even be able to govern with the support of the opposition until an agreed date for new election.
For most cynical Malaysians, a gentlemen’s agreement between rival parties before the public is impossible but dodgy horse-trading behind smoked doors are acceptable.
Perhaps it is time we look at positive experiences of other countries.
In 1989, the Polish, the Hungarians and the Czechoslovaks had a “round table” negotiation between the ruling party and the opposition to manage their transition.
Even in Myanmar, the new and old elites talk and agree to some common deals.
This is what we really need. If you don’t want this country to be in trouble, you need to get more Malaysians to vote in the poll and get the politicians to talk with each other.
The more time we have, the better our chances of preventing more turbulence.
Notwithstanding the resemblance of Najib and Brown, there are some fundamental differences between Britain and Malaysia to question that comparison.
Britain is a democracy and we are not. And Malaysia is in transition and they are not.
Therefore, while Brown’s delay may have no bearing on the health of British democracy, Najib’s delay may actually be a blessing to our democratisation.
While foreign correspondents may just want to see the elections over and done with, for us Malaysians, haste is a poor substitute to stability.