Ivanpal Grewal

Lawyer & political activist


PARTNERSHIPS are never easy to sustain. Competing interests and personal views always tend to guide us more since naturally, we are designed to compete with one another.

A coalition government is a government in which several political parties cooperate, reducing the dominance of any one party within that partnership. The usual reason given for this arrangement is that no party on its own can achieve a majority in the parliament. Hence parties with similar interests or ideologies join forces to form a government.

However they are peculiar examples like the formation of the grand coalition in Germany twice (2005 and 2013) where the centre-right Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) joined forces with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to form a government despite competing against one another in the polls. This is a hallmark of a very mature political system where competing parties can collaborate in the national interest that overrides ideological and personal interests.

India is another case where coalition politics replaced single party rule after the loss of the Congress party in 1989 (I must also add that the other time the Congress party lost in 1976, the government formed was also a coalition government. However, Indira Gandhi restored Congress’ dominance in the subsequent general election). It was not until 2014, that Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won an outright majority. But its coalition with a number of other parties remained and they joined the Modi cabinet as well.

Coalition politics is synonymous with Malaysia. No one single political party has formed a government except PAS in Kelantan and PBS in Sabah. All other federal and state governments have been products of political partnerships or coalitions.

Barisan Nasional was formed in 1974 after the Alliance was enlarged to include former political foes like PAS, PPP and Gerakan. In the aftermath of 1969 general election, all the political actors were acutely aware of the need for political cooperation to develop and transform the nation with national interest as the overriding objective.

In the past few months, Malaysians have witnesses an acrimonious battle between members of the federal opposition coalition called Pakatan Rakyat. DAP, which is a Chinese-majority secular party, and PAS, which is a theocratic party, have always been strange bedfellows. I must confess my surprise that they remained as political partners for six years despite having diametrically opposite ideologies and political struggles.

DAP has always championed for a Malaysian Malaysia which was later re-branded into Middle Malaysia while PAS, as evidenced by its party constitution, aims to form an Islamic religious in Malaysia.

One thing that is often overlooked is that Pakatan was formed and sustained itself with the ultimate aim of defeating BN and gain political power. It succeeded as far as they could and denied BN a super majority in Parliament but personal political predilections got the better of them as each party sought to entrench itself.

PAS’ push for an Islamic criminal justice system in Kelantan is hardly surprising. If clergy were to gain political power it is only natural for them to further their religious objectives over everything else be it governance or a welfare state. DAP was either naïve or outright foolish to think it could “tame” PAS’ appetite to further its religious agenda. But what I find most incredulous is that despite the present recriminations between DAP and PAS, two years ago DAP was ready to contest the 13th general election with a PAS’ banner and PAS leaders proudly exclaimed that the rocket has reached the moon alluding to the symbols of both parties.

The admission of DAP’s adviser Lim Kit Siang that Pakatan would have probably failed earlier if it actually did win the election is a brutal assessment that exposes its failing. If Kit Siang knew Pakatan was going to break up even before it won power but yet proceeded to convince Malaysians that PAS’ has become mainstream then it is nothing short of political subterfuge.

In BN, we are bound by what is in the national interest. Umno is the largest party but it has found the space to share power with all the other 12 component parties, including mine. This is model of cooperation that has sustained BN and that is the reason why BN is the most successful political partnership in the democratic world.

I do hope Malaysians will take a critical look at Pakatan’s attempt to imitate BN and in my opinion, it failed because the partners did not come together for the national interest but did so solely to gain political power. I believe on that count alone the pact has vitiated its legitimacy to govern.

Originally published on The Star on Thursday June 25, 2015 MYT 12:16:00 AM