THE recent loss for Pakatan Harapan (PH) in the Cameron Highlands by-election provides the governing coalition of the country a chance to reflect upon itself, especially in determining whether as a government, we have done enough to become a truly inclusive and progressive platform for all Malaysians to voice their opinion, and to represent them in the Dewan Rakyat.
A stronghold of Barisan Nasional, Cameron Highlands proved to be a worthy arena for the PH coalition to understand that we must again work hard to capture not only the imaginations and aspirations of our countrymen, but also to earn their trust.
For this to happen, all parties in the PH coalition must look deep inside themselves and, at the same time, listen to the people to ensure that we are not out of touch and remain the preferred choice of the rakyat.
As Abraham Lincoln said in his famous Gettysburg Address at the end of the American Civil War: “…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”, Pakatan must always retain its progressive virtue.
We are at the helm of the nation because of the rakyat, and it is the rakyat we must serve.
When we talk about progressiveness in a political party, we tend to look into the policies and stance of the organisation, regarding issues such as human rights, economic views, women participation, religious and race relations, ideologies and other factors that will determine public acceptance of that particular political party.
Most political parties in Malaysia have their own targeted supporters and will try extremely hard to maintain their existing support, while also trying to capture the interest of prospective members or supporters.
The idea of the contemporary political conception known as progressivism, which originated in Western philosophy, requires that political parties bring social changes through the form of reform of the otherwise traditional form of rule.
It first came into use in the 19th and early 20th century. Stifled by economic inequality, the main focus at that time was to regulate public policies that would eventually provide positive and social change for the betterment of the people.
Walter Nugent, a political historian, wrote that the correct meaning of progressivism is to achieve a “common good” in the spirit of “public interest”, and this should become the main agenda in determining policies or actions taken by all political parties.
A party’s progressive stance can be seen through their Constitution, manifestos and even statements made by their leaders. This is true of all political parties in Malaysia, on either side of the political divide.
On the other hand, I strongly believe that to understand and mould a political party that is truly progressive and democratic, one must also look into the fundamental aspects of that party that will not only cater to the vision agreed upon by its supporters, but also safeguard their rights in a truly democratically sustainable manner.
Social change cannot come through economic achievements alone, as the situation that we see in Malaysia now demands changes in all sectors, which will have a major impact on the lives of all Malaysians.
All political parties in Malaysia, especially those in the ruling coalition, must understand this, as now more than ever, we must become the voice of the people in defending their rights and become a platform for them to voice their opinion.
In the light of this, no political party in this country should operate in a military type system where the leaders have full powers and their decisions cannot be questioned at all by their party members.
An effective government needs strong political parties that know how to assess the strength of its leaders and capitalise on their performance and popularity.
We must never sideline any of the individuals or groups inside any party because we fear that they might rise and challenge the current leadership.
This is pertinent especially after a party election where there are divides among party members as leaders take it upon themselves to assess their own political strengths.
Furthermore in PH, which is a compendium of political parties with different ideologies, we need to keep the spirit of democracy alive while maintaining our progressive and inclusive ways.
The essence of an effective progressive political party must carry the aspirations, hopes and dreams of its members. For this to happen, all members, regardless of their positions and ranks in the party, must be heard first before any decision is made by those in power.
Gone are the days where we (the people) consider those who are elected or appointed to lead a political party as the new royalty of Malaysia. We elect leaders to work for the common benefit of the people, not to rule over them, and to work together, hand in hand, for a better Malaysia.
It is imperative that we understand the needs of the people in order to move forward to become a prosperous nation, and this can only be achieved if all political parties play their role effectively, to become the platform that is needed by the rakyat.
Housing and Local Government Minister, Ampang MP and PKR vice-president