KUALA LUMPUR: The 13th General Election saw some big winners and losers, with both coalitions claiming triumphs, but for a number of smaller political parties the message was clear ... adapt or die!
The People's Progressive Party (PPP) has a history that is glittering and turbulent in equal measure, but the party is now at a crossroads and the thumping defeats it experienced on May 5 make its very survival and relevance an issue of concern.
“To move forward, we have to think collectively,” said PPP assistant secretary general Datuk Simon Sabapathy, acknowledging that the party may have to consider the option of merger.
"The struggle for all Malaysians could well be under the umbrella of a single party."
In late June, party president Datuk Seri M. Kayveas announced that Sabapathy was to head a special committee to look at reforms within the party to ensure it continues to remain relevant and progressive.
The issue is twofold. Firstly internal restructuring within the party and secondly greater co-operation with its Barisan Nasional counterparts.
Sabapathy said there would be a brainstorming session with all Barisan component parties on the direction and future of BN.
“We will push for a merger to make ourselves more relevant collectively,” he said. "It will be painful to abolish a party that has existed since 1953 but we are ready to make that sacrifice for the good of the nation.
PPP is ready to sacrifice its existence as should other parties if it's for the progress of the country. Because of current political reality a merger seems to be inevitable. The question is when."
Sabapathy dismissed the notion that PPP were not relevant because the party lost all five seats (one parliamentary and four state seats) it contested in the recent elections.
He said that all those seats contested by PPP were tough seats in the first place and that any Barisan component party would have lost them as well.
“It’s not fair to say that we did badly because any Barisan party would have lost. It’s not a reflection of PPP’s strength but rather Barisan’s weakness,” he said.
At the same time Sabapathy did not think it likely that PPP would pull out of BN. "It will be tough to step out of BN because of sustainability as the party does not have much funding."
He said that BN should not have individual parties taking care of individual groups and that they should share their resources for the good of the people.
“We should move beyond this race-based mindset. If there is a Malay student who is doing well but is financially deprived, it should not be an Umno problem, but a Malaysian problem,” he said.
He however acknowledged that it would be an uphill task because those in power would not want to relinquish their positions and posts easily.
The PPP was found in April 1953 by celebrated brothers D.R. and S.P. Seenivasagam.
The party was particularly strong in Perak, almost helming the state government following the May 1969 general election.
However, after joining BN in 1973, it went into decline and was only revived under the helm of Kayveas in the 1990s.
Over the past decade both Kayveas and Datuk T. Murugiah served in the cabinet as Deputy Ministers although the latter left the party after losing a power struggle.
PPP claims an impressive membership of 775,000 people with 43% Indians, 28% Chinese and other races.
Unfortunately, these numbers have not translated into electoral strength.
Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng believes that there is very little to suggest that PPP is still relevant.
He said the party was not active in the national political discourse and were probably given token seats in the election to contest by BN just to show they were still alive.
“As a political party, winning elections are very important. If not, there is not much legitimacy to it. They are a small party in a matured coalition. This might not be to their advantage,” he said.
He believes it would be quite difficult for BN to become a single component party.
Khoo said that given the current scenario, PPP and other like-minded smaller parties could merge and play a bigger role in the next elections.
“I believe there are always opportunities for a third force to emerge and PPP could work with parties on a common cause,” he said.