— Steven Sim
Malay Mail Online
Friday November 27, 2015
NOVEMBER 27 — My dear friends,
Forget which Pakatan for now. But let’s talk about the opposition and our coalition for all its worth.
I always say that I see the world in many shades — and really that makes me unsuited for politics. It is much easier to present a monochrome world, an either-or proposition, a yes-or-no question. Simply because these are… simpler.
So that I look at social media today, many people are whacking Pakatan for failing, I feel that there are more shades to the situation than the ones presented.
But I am very well aware that many of these who criticise Pakatan are really our supporters who really want to see us successful. They are not Umno cybertroopers nor are they stupid nor uninformed. No, they are people who had in their own ways contributed so much throughout the last eight years since 2008 to make regime change a reality.
(Of course in the midst of genuine cries of disappointment, there are noise of opportunists who like the classic “batu api” stood by the side prodding us to go on fighting and fanning the fire even more)
Hence, this article is not an attack on such views that Pakatan has failed, but rather an apology. I don’t mean saying sorry, although I may as well include that, but I mean a defence. I want to appeal to our supporters, to consider for a moment the shades of Pakatan’s failures:
When we say Pakatan has failed, let us ask, in which area?
Did we fail to capture the government even after two attempts in 2008 and 2013?
Yes, we have failed.
But with your support, Pakatan not only denied the regime its two third majority, we have won four, no three, no two… I lost count… states in Malaysia, for the first time in our post-Merdeka political history. Pakatan’s popular votes increased, in fact we won 52 per cent of the votes in 2013 and could have been in government but for the gerrymandering and other electoral tactics.
You have managed to put more calibre Members of Parliament in the House who continually engaged in quality debates and discussions whether inside or outside Parliament. And in the state assemblies too.
Because of the better, bigger and stronger opposition, the government is now more effectively checked than ever. We have tabled alternative budgets and policy proposals, some of which have been adopted by the government. On the other hand, government policy and spending are scrutinised, even if we cannot change a thing, at least many more issues are surfacing – along with proposed solutions from the opposition. Ultimately the government has indeed been pressured to correct some of its wrongs.
Did we really fail in this sense?
Did we fail to deliver good governance in Penang and Selangor and improve the two states?
I think the results are there for everyone to judge. Take Penang for example, basically because I am from Penang, 20-odd years ago, we were called Darul Sampah by someone no-less than former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir himself.
The city centre was in ruin, no one was going into the city, Komtar lost its shine, the beaches were dirty, no one as going to the beach. Today everything changed. Heck, we are top ten on many a “must-see, must-go, must-eat” billboard charts around the world. The latest being No 4 on Lonely Planet’s “Top Ten Cities for Travel.”
Through good governance, we managed to maintain a surplus budget, generate growth, jobs and prosperity. We are able to create a more equitable society through various welfare programmes, through gender equality policy, through state education programmes — some of these were eventually duplicated at the federal level and in other states. Our improved gini coefficient, 12 per cent between 2009 and 2012, is the proof. Even our public toilets literally smell better – and no this is not propaganda, the state embarked on a “Penang Clean Toilet Campaign” in 2012.
All these, one must remember comes from running a state government which has less access to resources than Universiti Sains Malaysia, sometimes running on a budget as much as three times smaller than the varsity!
Where else but in Penang you get a smart app which enables you to complaint, enquire, report, interact, criticise and whack the local councils 24/7? Yes, do it with your phone on your bed in your pyjamas. And they usually respond within 24 hours! Don’t take my words for it, go check it out yourself at www.cat.betterpg.com.
In Penang, only in Penang, the people get to vote on how their money should be spent! Our gender and participatory budgeting (GRPB) project has been implemented since 2011 with pilot programmes in two social housing schemes, one on each side of the strait. In my own constituency Bukit Mertajam, since July this year, we have embarked on project where 30,000 Machang Bubok voters will get to vote on how they want their state constituency fund to be used next year.
Yes, we can do much much more, but have we failed so far?
Did we fail to maintain unity in the coalition?
This is tricky.
Yes we are in a disarray. That’s a fact. DAP and PAS once so much in love when Tuan Guru Nik Aziz was still alive are now irrevocably split. Even those who remained in the coalition do not seem to be united.
But let’s take out my kaleidoscope at this point.
First, does maintaining unity equals to success? Let us recall that some of our fiercest objections against Gerakan, MCA or MIC were because they chose to stay on with a corrupted and racist UMNO. Yes Barisan Nasional had a united front, but at what cost?
Secondly, the breakup of Pakatan Rakyat was precisely because some of us strongly held on to our promise to you earlier — to have a more democratic, more liberal, more inclusive, more just, more efficient political alternative to Umno. That means, when one of our partners wanted to go back to a more extreme form of politics, we have to say no, and when that cannot be accepted we have to part ways. All this due to our commitment to our first promise.
Is that failure? It is messy, I know, but is it a failure?
You see, when Pakatan Rakyat disintegrated, Pakatan Harapan quickly appeared. Why? Because those who wanted a Pakatan are more determined than ever to make it work. And there are more and more of us, those who want to make it work. We have learnt our lessons from the days of the Barisan Sosialis, Gagasan Rakyat, Barisan Alternatif.
As I have warned earlier that this will be apologetic.
I do not want to prove you wrong. Please continue to criticise and chastise us and keep us on the path — I have written a whole (small) book on why the people should keep an eye on politics and should not let politicians have a field day running the show by themselves.
But I want to invite you to look beyond the noise. I need to tell you when you are looking the wrong way, just as I expect you to when I am looking the wrong way. Despite all the gloomy news of failures and rumours of impending armageddon for the opposition, we have done a lot — you and I.
You and I know from the start that this is not going to be easy. And this is where it gets really rough, are we going to throw in the towel just yet?
I am just like you, I joined politics with zero background in politics in 2007. Do you remember 2007? Everything we have today seems impossible then. Not a bloody chance! But we refused to believe in impossibility. We refused to believe in the cynics. “Why are you wasting your time to go BERSIH!
It’s so dangerous and what can you guys achieve?” That still reverberates in the back of my mind from the first BERSIH rally in 2007. And boy the excitement of my Indian colleagues, the engineers in the factory where I worked back then, when they plotted together to attend Hindraf that year. They came back with proud faces and prouder spirit: we did it!
My dear friends,
The problems are there. A lot of problems in fact, I know, I have to face it every single day. I once told a disappointed activist who supports Pakatan, I cannot afford to be pessimistic or else how can I even live a day staring straight into the sun when some of us are already complaining about the heat. No don’t get me wrong, I am no superhero – I just want to finish what I have started, what we have started together. And even at this maddening point, I am convinced, we can do it because we have done so much already!
And because love battles
not just in its own burning fields
but also in the mouths of men and women
I will finish this fight by taking the trail
from those would come between my chest and your fragrance
to plant their confused plants.
They will say about me,
than what I have told you myself — Pablo Neruda
* Steven Sim is the Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam.