AMERICAN author, Stephen Kinzer stated that “alliances and partnerships produce stability when they reflect realities and interests.”
Alliance politics have always categorised Malaysian politics.
No one single party has been able to govern on its own. Even after a spectacular performance by Umno in the 2004 election, it was one seat short of forming a government on its own.
The model of coalition politics has served us well. Pakatan Rakyat and later Pakatan Harapan modelled itself after Barisan Nasional and was only able to defeat Barisan as a coalition.
In the aftermath of the 2018 General Election (GE), there was utter confusion and complete lack of cohesion within Barisan.
Most Barisan leaders could not fathom losing power. Many of us who served in government, including me, were preoccupied with getting our affairs in order as we were utterly unprepared for the loss.
Within days of Barisan’s defeat, many opportunists were already trying to make themselves heard with suggestions to ally with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Pakatan.
However, Gerakan was in the unenviable position of not having any seats in parliament or any state assembly; hence it was of little value to Dr Mahathir.
About a month after the GE, there was a meeting of top leaders of a few component parties of Barisan. I attended the meeting and shared my views that Gerakan should remain in Barisan.
At the same time, the sentiment of a majority of leaders was against Barisan. Many in Gerakan felt it paid the price for Umno's arrogance and the previous Barisan government's scandals.
So, on June 22,2018, the Gerakan central leadership decided to leave Barisan and strike out on its own. That very morning, I pleaded with Gerakan leaders I was close to, that leaving Barisan is not the option because third forces do not work.
I used the example of activists' movement after the 2008 GE to form a third force, and it fizzled out. No party that contested on its own banner without some coalition backing won any seats in the 2018 GE besides PAS.
That morning, it was decided that Gerakan would leave Barisan. Some of us left the meeting room feeling a whirlwind of emotions, but everyone supported the decision because dissent is frowned upon in true Gerakan style.
The current president, who was one of the prime movers of the decision to leave Barisan, announced the decision to the press after the meeting ended and immediately my phone started to buzz with the constant refrain from callers being, “Has Gerakan left BN?”
Some months later, there was an intense party election. It was a ferocious battle between the establishment versus the insurgents.
By this time, the dynamics in the party had been completely altered. There was a complete realignment, and I found myself allied with the insurgents despite being the hand of the establishment for 10 years since I joined the party in 2008.
Many in the insurgent camp were suspicious of me. The establishment faction spared no time in attacking me because as the assistant to two presidents and one acting president, one tends to make a number of enemies.
I decided to support Datuk Andy Yong for the presidency because I felt Gerakan needed a fresh start. I chose not to offer myself as a candidate because I knew I would harm Andy's chances.
The incumbent president won and immediately purged me from all positions in the party. I accepted this as part and parcel of party politics because the president must be surrounded by his men.
However, I maintained that Gerakan must have allies. I tried my best to convince the incumbent president that we cannot go it alone in private discussions. This became apparent after the humiliating defeat in the Tanjung Piai election where the Gerakan candidate only managed to obtain 4% of the votes.
Simultaneously, the fissures in Pakatan were becoming public knowledge, and Gerakan was at the centre of the storm because some Pakatan leaders were supposed to leave their parties and join Gerakan.
Alas, that did not materialise, but at least after one year, Gerakan has finally been accepted as a member of Perikatan Nasional after continually knocking on its door.
Now that Gerakan has found a new home in Perikatan, what must the party do?
The party must reaffirm its commitment to a non-racial struggle and regain the support from the non-Malay community, especially in Penang and Perak, where the party used to have a large following.
Second, Gerakan must show a willingness to contest against DAP and put up a credible leadership front in Penang to overcome the past losses. This includes a one-on-one battle between Gerakan's president and DAP's secretary-general as this will electrify the party and its supporters.
Third, Gerakan must mend fences with Barisan, especially MCA, as they are part of the larger Perikatan family.
Fourth, Gerakan should continue promoting young blood and give them more say in party affairs.
Fifth, the incumbent president of Gerakan is in a good position politically. He had shepherded Gerakan into Perikatan, but this is only the beginning. The alliance will be tested when it starts negotiations on seat-sharing for the coming general election and Gerakan must ready itself.
Gerakan cannot afford to squander this new lease of life and begin another chapter of subservience. Gerakan must balance its interests against Perikatan's political reality given Perikatan's current Malay-centric political compact.
Ivanpal Singh Grewal is an Advocate & Solicitor. He was formerly Political Secretary to the Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities.