This article appeared in the New Straits Times of April 25, 2013
1. In Malaysia there is not a single political party which can claim to be truly multiracial. All of them are strongly dominated by one race or another.
2. The only party which is nearest to being multi-racial is the National Front. Although it is a coalition of parties but it functions as a single party with every race in Malaysia represented equally in its central council irrespective of the size of the component. In addition the component parties all use the same symbol during elections.
3. Its policies are accepted by all the component parties, unlike the Pakatan where each party has its own objectives and policies. The BN has a distinct leader acknowledged by every party and the Governments it forms have Ministers and Deputy Ministers from all the component parties.
4. There are other symbols of the unity of the Barisan Nasional such as the BN song and BN manifestos.
5. Although the original coalition is between race-based parties as are some who joined later, a number are non-racial constitutionally.
6. The original coalition was enlarged when parties from Sabah and Sarawak joined it upon the formation of Malaysia. It is noteworthy that the PAP of Singapore did not join the coalition.
7. After the riots of 1969 opposition parties such as Gerakan, SUPP of Sarawak, PPP of Perak and even PAS joined the coalition. PAS later left the BN. At one time the BN had 14 parties representing every race and tribe in Malaysia.
8. Obviously it was difficult to get every party to accept all the policies or objectives of the coalition all the time. PAS and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) left because of disagreement with the decisions made by the centre. Still a majority of the parties stayed with the coalition, and continued cooperating in the Governments and during elections.
9. The basis of this cooperation is the principle of sharing; of give and take and of a willingness to sacrifice and concede so as to stay together. This willingness to sacrifice and to share is what makes the BN unique.
10. In the BN no party is able to get all that it considers its entitlement. Consequently no party is absolutely happy with the BN. This is good because all have to make some sacrifice.
11. If any party in the coalition is absolutely happy then one can be sure that something is wrong, that that party has not made the required sacrifice.
12. By the same token as the parties in the coalition represent the different races or tribes, then under BN rule no race will be completely satisfied. It is here that the opposition finds a chink in the BN armour. They will point out and play up the dissatisfaction of the particular race, completely ignoring the sacrifices made by the other races.
13. The attack by the opposition parties is usually racist in character, trying to shame the component racial party for not demanding and getting everything for their race. That each race must make some sacrifice so as to keep the coalition viable is ignored.
14. They also ignore the balanced provisions in the Federal Constitution. When Malay is made the national language, the other languages can be spoken and used except in official documents. When Islam is made the State religion, the constitution provides for the other religions to be practised freely.
15. The so-called Malay privileges are balanced by privileges given to the other races to retain their cultures and languages and use their own languages as medium of instructions in state-supported schools. This has never been found in other countries, developed or developing. In all these countries only the national language is official and is the medium of instruction in schools and in universities. In fact in a neighbouring country with a largely Chinese population, Chinese language schools and universities were disallowed. So this support for non-national languages and schools constitute a privilege not accorded by any other country in the world.
16. In the affairs of the BN, the willingness to share and sacrifice has enabled it to keep the many parties representing the different races together for more than half a century. The racial riot in 1969 convinced many that the coalition would break up. Some even suggested that the Malays would seize power and install a totalitarian Government. But instead the Malays and other members of the Alliance invited all the opposition parties regardless of race or principles to join the new coalition named the Barisan Nasional or National Front. This new and bigger coalition went on to win every federal election with good majorities and was able to maintain peace and stability and develop the country beyond the dream of most Malaysians.
17. Although the BN stayed in power at the national level, it lost many Parliamentary state seats to the opposition. The 2008 Election saw five states falling into opposition hands. Had the BN cheated at elections this would not be the result. As we all know in totalitarian states, the Government party invariably won 99 per cent of the seats every time. This has never happened in Malaysian elections.
18. It is clear that in Malaysia, even though multi-racial parties cannot truly be formed, but multiracial cooperation through a coalition of race-based parties is possible, viable and sustainable. In fact the opposition finally decided to copy the BN formula. However, the cooperation among the opposition partners does not amount to a true coalition. It is only meant to avoid their parties from contesting against each other during elections. The parties retain their identities and their symbols. There is no common platform or objectives. The cooperation is friable and indeed in the present elections they are not able to avoid contesting against each other. Should the opposition Pakatan win, the Government they form would not be stable and would be incapable of deciding on the numerous unpopular policies and laws that a Government is expected to adopt or enact.
19. For as long as the different races in Malaysia insist on their identification with the different countries they came from, a non-racial party cannot be viable or accepted in Malaysia. The BN pre-election coalition model is the only sustainable model until such time when the different races identify themselves completely and exclusively with Malaysia.
20. Looking at the many countries in the world where democracy has brought only divisiveness and violence Malaysia is lucky to have found a formula for the different races to work together, to be stable and to achieve remarkable progress.