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Articles, Commentaries, Penang Monthly [formerly Penang Economic Monthly]

Let’s perfect the two-party system

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By OOI KEE BENG

Editorial, Penang Monthly July 2013

The pattern of change in Malaysia became ever more discernible after the 13th General Election. While the ruling BN understandably wishes to describe its victory as a reversal of trends that became apparent in 2008, too many other movements are saying the opposite, which is that most electoral dynamics are actually going against it.

Conservatives are not in an enviable position today, whichever camp they may come from. No matter how the political landscape is restructured to reflect public sympathy in the near future, a lot of new thinking will be needed. Putting younger people in higher positions of power is one way to go where the governing parties are concerned, but dramatic innovations are just as necessary to stimulate cooperation between the federal government and the opposition on key issues.

The country cannot be held hostage by this divisiveness between the two coalitions for much longer. Losing the popular vote at national level is a serious matter indeed. This is something the BN will have to live down in the coming five years, and that is best done through humility and a conciliatory approach. Where the general public is concerned, nothing is more intuitive as a legitimation of power than the popular vote.

This means that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s second term in power will be a steeper climb than the first. Despite his attempts between April 2009 and April 2013 to style himself as a reformist leader, and despite adopting the ultimate inclusive slogan – 1Malaysia, he failed to win back votes for the ruling coalition. In fact, the opposition now rules three states with a two-third majority, and it won the popular vote in the state of Perak despite failing to regain it. It also came just two state seats short of denying the BN a two-third majority in its home state of Johor.

While the opposition parties will comfort themselves with the idea that 2018 will be “Itu kalilah” (That time is it!), and the ruling parties will attempt to tilt the playing field even further to their advantage, the welfare of the nation cannot wait and cannot be held hostage by the politicking that has become part and parcel of Malaysian life.

What is required now is for all actors involved to realise that the two-party system in Malaysia is here to stay; and this is independent of which coalition is in power. It is therefore time for both sides to collaborate in creating the institutions, the rituals and the habits that will stabilise this system and make it the new normal.

All we have to do is look around at the best practices found in other countries where a two-party system has succeeded in achieving good governance, political stability and economic development. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Malaysia does not have to assume that its fate is to forever suffer destructive politicking, be this race-based or not.

– See more at: http://penangmonthly.com/lets-perfect-the-two-party-system/#sthash.qTz2g0cK.dpuf

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About Ooi Kee Beng

Dr OOI KEE BENG is the Executive Director of Penang Institute (George Town, Penang, Malaysia). He was born and raised in Penang, and was the Deputy Director of ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute (formerly the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISEAS). He is the founder-editor of the Penang Monthly (published by Penang Institute), ISEAS Perspective (published by ISEAS) and ISSUES (published by Penang Institute). He is also editor of Trends in Southeast Asia, and a columnist for The Edge, Malaysia.

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