First published in Sin Chew Online

By Wan Saiful Wan Jan, (c) 2016.

But in reality, BN is not made up of equals. The relationship today is that of a master and unquestioningly obedient servants. The BN spirit of teamwork that led to its formation many years are long gone. The BN spirit today is one of servitude to Umno.

Last week saw Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, president of PAS, taking a historic step in Parliament. He declined the opportunity to present a Private Member’s Bill despite knowing that the opportunity to do so comes only once in a blue moon.

I am not going to discuss the content of Hadi’s supposed proposals. Many others can do it better than me. But in this article my interest is more in the dynamics of the relationships in the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. What happened last week says a lot about the politics of coalition politics in our country.

BN is a coalition of 13 political parties. On paper, it is governed by the BN Supreme Council which is made up of the top leaders of all its component parties. BN member parties regularly talk about the “BN spirit” as if to say every member has equal say in how the coalition is run.

But in reality, and as we saw last week, BN is not made up of equals. The relationship today is that of a master and unquestioningly obedient servants. The BN spirit of teamwork that led to its formation many years are long gone. The BN spirit of today is one of servitude to Umno.

To understand the situation, let us examine what happened last week more closely.

Hadi could only be allowed to present his Bill if the government allows it because there were quite a few more issues on the agenda before Hadi gets his turn. Amazingly, the government postponed all their agenda to make way for Hadi’s Bill. I cannot remember if this has ever happened in our parliamentary history. But Hadi is certainly a special person in the eyes of our government.

In reality our government is not just Umno. The government is made up of all BN component parties. When the path was opened, it was done in the name of the “government”, which means all BN component parties are part of it.

It is telling that some BN party leaders complained about not being consulted. This is an open admission that Umno has completely dominated the BN and that the rest of BN members do not matter anymore. They can shout as much as they want but Umno still controls the agenda.

In other words, all the BN component parties have been castrated and the only thing they can do is complain. What is the use of whining when they have no power at all?

It is no doubt that Umno is the dominant party in BN. Umno cannot be disciplined, let alone be expelled, from the coalition even if the other 12 members want to do so. If the component parties do not like something they will have to leave, while nothing happens to Umno. That is how complete Umno’s control is.

Some BN leaders threaten to resign if hudud was passed by parliament. This is a joke because hudud will never be passed by our parliament. Hadi’s Bill was not hudud. It was a proposal to enlarge the powers of the shariah court. The real hudud law has already been passed by the Kelantan and Terengganu State Assemblies many years ago. These BN leaders know that by putting such as condition, they will never really have to resign. But at least they can pretend to be heroes.

Interestingly, some BN leaders have issued strong statements condemning PAS for bringing hudud into parliament. Again, this too is a joke. PAS has always wanted to introduce the hudud into our laws and they have not done anything new. The real culprit in this case is Umno for using the BN’s name to allow Hadi to table his Bill.

But of course it these BN leaders are too scared to openly condemn Umno or suggest for Umno to be expelled from the coalition. So they divert attention to PAS. That is why the only word I can find to describe the BN component parties I that they have been castrated. There is no other way to describe it.

I dislike many of the policies offered by the previous Pakatan Rakyat. But their coalition model is one that we must study objectively. They are a coalition of equals, wherein no one party can behave like a master to the others. They are able to openly criticise each other on matters they have not been previously agreed. And if one party misbehaves, the equality in their membership means that action can be taken without fear by the others.

The Pakatan model may seem unstable but it is actually a model commonly practiced in more mature democracies. If we look at countries like Germany, Sweden, Holland, Austria, and others where coalition politics is the norm, we will see that coalitions are never meant to be forever and instability is expected. It is also normal to kick out a member or dismantle a coalition in order to form a new one.

On the other hand, communist China has a system that is quite similar to the BN today. The ruling government there is actually made up of nine parties in one coalition. The Communist Party of China reigns supreme and no component party would even dream of going against them.

Of course the communist system is more stable because it is not a coalition of equals and the boss makes all the decisions.

BN parties need to decide what direction they want to take. Communist and undemocratic China or the equality of more mature democracies. The castration may have resulted in the BN moving gradually towards the communist model. But at the very least the BN leaders should try to reclaim their manhood rather than just whining.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan is the chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS).


 

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