And as I post this, it is still going on.
In my previous post about the success of Malaysia’s opposition political party coalition in the recent polls, I gushed about how they broke the Barisan Nasional’s two-thirds majority in parliament. Well, they’ve since started to have their share of problems.
The latest is how the new (opposition) state government of Penang have come under fire from civil society representatives for their first Councillors list, which did not include a sufficient number of non-business-based civil society organisations/NGOs (four out of seven organisations in the line-up were from Chambers of Commerce). This was among other complaints such as the distributing of posts among party members instead of on merit, as well as the lack of transparency in the selection process.
This started with the outgoing BN/Umno government shredding all manner of documents in the Selangor state office (of which were caught by reporters with cameras), to “missing” official papers at Kedah’s Menteri Besar (chief executive/minister) and executive councillors’ offices, to reports of initial spats within the opposition alliance about issues of ideology, party policies (e.g. the implementation of hudud laws in Kedah), and who gets to be chief exec of the state (in Perak).
Then Selangor new Menteri Besar gets flak from my friend Susan and Malaysian human rights organisation Suaram regarding his proposed policies on migrant workers.
On April 1, it was reported that the opposition Barisan Rakyat (People’s Front, consisting mainly of PKR, DAP and PAS) had formalised themselves into the Pakatan Rakyat – People’s Alliance. About a fortnight into their consolidation, Penang-PKR MP Wan Azizah Wan Ismail – wife of Anwar Ibrahim – and three others “were served early Tuesday with notices to report to police for investigation of illegal assembly.” This was after a rally in Penang where “tens of thousands” gathered in Penang to hear Anwar speak in the post-election fervour. Police had stopped the rally mid-way through Anwar’s speech, and said that Anwat’s Parti KeADILan Rakyat did not have a permit to hold a rally.
No one said it would be easy.
Right now for Penang, the challenge would be to come to deciding of the priorities of the state without reneging on any alleged promises on civil society representation that were made to the electorate. At the same time, the only viable option for the state government and civil society to come to an agreement would be a compromise suited to all. Politics in society are best conducted, and problems solved, through compromise. The Penang state government should bear in mind that much of their support came from civil society and ordinary people which helped to oust the former NB-Gerakan incumbent. The government thus should strike a balance between the interests of businesses (yes, even those who take the form of “business NGOs”) and that of the average person on the street and civil society groups who represent the various sectoral interests of Penangites.
Civil society in Penang can seek to recognise the difficulties of an opposition party actually becoming the government, and all the responsibilities to the constituents that come with attaining power. Civil society groups could look at the deeper workings of the reality of government and ensure that any compromises reached, while not undermining the economic viability of the state, should not infringe upon the rights of the average resident of Penang, citizen of Malaysia, and – yes – voter.
The above would apply to all the Pakatan Rakyat-controlled states. At this point, the conflicts within these states are signs of healthy and vibrant democratic development, the kinds of things that both voters and the opposition parties had fought for. It is something the people and political parties should remember when they interact with each other. This is the case of especially Penang and Selangor.
For the BN-controlled ones, it remains to be seen if they have learnt anything from their recent election debacle. Or if they continue to be complacent and arrogant, and contribute to their states’ slide towards the combined forces of the people-centred civil society and opposition there and elsewhere, who will be active contenders in the forthcoming elections.