Why Malaysia needs bipartisanship and how Nurul Izzah has shown the way

Justin Ong
A two-party system has done nothing but reduce local politics to the currently polarised, zero-sum affair. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

COMMENTARY, April 19 — “Apa lagi Cina mahu?”, Utusan Malaysia screamed on its front page after the 2013 general election.

While this did not officially originate from then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, coming from the Umno mouthpiece, it is hard not to imagine this was his party’s sentiments after its copious if misguided efforts to win back the Chinese community.

Najib, of course, fuelled this when he described the outcome then as a “Chinese tsunami”; no matter what he and his Barisan Nasional coalition did at the time seemed to make no difference with this particular group of voters.

Fast forward to today, there is another coalition in power, Pakatan Harapan, and another group of disgruntled voters of whom the politicians might like to ask the same question.

No matter what PH does or says, it is increasingly looking like the Malay community is through listening. That is worrying for the political party, of course, but it is also concerning for the country as a whole.

But what is most troubling is PH’s attempt to answer this question using the same unsuccessful methods as BN and the result of that is clear; we are all living it today.

Finger-pointing, unbelievable bailouts, and spectacular capitulations.

But the answer is not to politically outbid the other side. You would think a coalition that won on promises it never intended to fulfill would understand that you cannot compete with pie-in-the-sky.

What is the answer, then? PKR’s Nurul Izzah Anwar gave us a glimpse of what it might be in the midst of her many outbursts: Bipartisanship.

In her frustration, she reached out to would-be Umno president Khairy Jamaluddin to produce high-profile photographs of natural rivals in civil settings.

As boring as this may sound, this is closer to what the country needs rather than the two-party system that both coalitions are so hell-bent on foisting upon Malaysians.

Civil discourse across the aisle. Compromise. Rationality.

A two-party system has done nothing but reduce local politics to the currently polarised, zero-sum affair. I win, you lose. You win, I lose. Even a win-win situation must be wrangled into a I-win-more outcome.

That cannot possibly continue. If it does, there can be no good that will come of it.

If you are unconvinced about the idiocy of divisive identity politics, you don’t even have to go forward in time. You need only look at the 2016 US presidential election that gave a reality show star the keys to the world, and the so-called Brexit referendum.

One recent bright spark was the unanimous agreement among government and Opposition lawmakers to make Umno’s Parit Sulong MP Datuk Noraini Ahmad the chairman of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.

However, that episode was notable for its rarity more than anything else.

John Adams, one of the US’ founding fathers, once said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

If someone could have foreseen the dangers of the polarising two-party system from the 18th century, how recalcitrant must we be to refuse to see it now?

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