Political frogs turn on each other

THE battle lines in the 15th General Election are looking to be relatively unique, as far as Malaysian political history goes.

This article will mostly be about one of Malaysia’s newer political parties, Parti Bangsa Malaysia, and their latest trials and tribulations.

They are one of the latest in the line of political parties set up ostensibly due to disaffection with existing political parties.

Parti Bangsa Malaysia and Muda (apologies to some for even mentioning these two in the same breath) seem to be in the category of parties that were set up by people who didn’t feel at home in any of the regular parties.

This trend is slightly different from the previous batch of new political parties, which were slightly more outright splinter parties.

Going backwards in chronological order, parties that fall into this “splinter” category are Bersatu, Amanah, PKR, and a much longer time ago, PAS.

Needless to say, not every new party carries serious weight. It does seem to follow though, that the increase in number of parties seems proportional to the complexity of the Malaysian political landscape.

Which one is cause and which is effect can be the subject of some debate.

The phenomenon reminds me of something I studied in my university days – the proliferation of failed states and civil wars in Africa following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War.

I know the comparison seems a little stretched, but the connection to me is the manner in which what is essentially a power vacuum gives rise to some sort of free for all situation.

If you prefer a more Hobbesian description, the absence or fading away of old leviathans left many smaller warring monsters in its wake.

In simpler language: with Barisan Nasional no longer as dominant as it once was, it seems like everyone and their mother seems to think they have what it takes to set up a competitive political party.

I do not say or mean this in a deprecating way, necessarily. In most cases, it takes guts and gumption to follow your political convictions and get in the ring, instead of yelling from the sidelines, trying to tell the players what to do.

In most cases, but perhaps not all.

The latest breakdown of, well, everything apparently, in Parti Bangsa Malaysia seems to suggest that their members don’t have much guts, gumption, or basic organisational skills.

At this point, I feel it incumbent to confess some small personal interest in this matter. I am involved in a civil society initiative called Projek #BangsaMalaysia, so do confess that I was a little miffed that a political party full of politicians I didn’t think the world of (to say the least) ‘hijacked’ this name to make a half past six political party. That said, I hope the following analysis remains factually correct and at least somewhat objective.

Reading reports of how it is now uncertain who the president of the party even is, and how this question is being “determined” through Facebook posts and Whatsapp screenshots, suggests utter pandemonium and farcical disorganisation.

On the one hand, it reads a little like one of those ‘truth stranger than fiction’ things.

On the other hand though, if we take even just a slightly closer look at the players involved, perhaps we should not be so surprised at what is going on.

Featuring the likes of Zuraida Kamaruddin, Larry Sng, Steven Choong, Haniza Talha, Edmund Santhara, Mohammadin Ketapi - the party leaders seem to consist almost exclusively of politicians who looked like they decided to form a new party because they had jumped factions or parties so many times, that no one else wanted them.

Many of these leaders were aligned to Azmin Ali, and led the charge in the Sheraton Move. It seems now that even Azmin has grown weary of them, and decided to stick to Bersatu instead of follow his underlings in their new political endeavour. I wonder if the latter feel betrayed.

Given how the political histories of their leaders suggest somewhat fickle dispositions, it does not seem surprising that less than a year after it was announced, Parti Bangsa Malaysia seems to have descended into infighting and complete chaos.

There’s unlikely any good reason to flog a dead horse by continuing some tirade about how awful, farcical, or silly their antics seem to be. Perhaps we can instead ask what lessons can be learned from what we are observing.

Perhaps the simplest lesson concerns people who are prone to changing political masters a little too easily. Lesson number one here is: be wary of such people. Lesson number two is: don’t be such people.

If you are a politician considering changing parties or factions for some short term gains, please do look at what’s going on in Parti Bangsa Malaysia as a cautionary tale.

Flitting from here to there and indulging in political skulduggery could easily leave you out in the cold, with only your fellow “rejects” for company. Kudos to them for at least managing to group together and, for a little while, look half viable for a brief moment. It doesn’t look like it’s going to last, however.

Another major lesson is: build political alliances and movements based on something real – values, principles, a commitment to the rakyat’s welfare, that sort of thing.

If you build them based on whoever is feeding you better at any given moment, you’ll soon find that loyalty runs stronger upwards than it does downwards. After all, the people that thought their grand old leader Azmin would come over to Parti Bangsa Malaysia soon found themselves sorely disappointed.

But perhaps most disappointing of all is how a motley group of politicians have once again sullied something that is good and wholesome – our very national identity, this time.

I do hope Malaysians quickly forget what looks to be nothing more than a blip in Malaysia’s political history, and will one day feel a #BangsaMalaysia spirit that represent the antithesis of what is happening with this forlorn and soon to be forgotten political party.

Nathaniel Tan is involved in Projek #BangsaMalaysia. Twitter: @NatAsasi, Email: nat@engage.my. #BangsaMalaysia #NextGenDemocracy. The views expressed here are solely the writer’s own.

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