Malyasia opposition works to present an alternative government

Over two years since Malaysia’s Opposition made historic gains in the March 2008 elections, the political momentum seemed to have fallen away dramatically.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is struggling to stay out of jail, and even the Opposition coalition, the Pakatan Rakyat, is not as united as it once was. Liew Chin Tong is the Democratic Action Party’s member for Bukit Bendera in the Malaysian state of Penang. He was credited with Pakatan Rakyat’s takeover of Penang state from the ruling B-N coalition.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Liew Chin Tong, Malaysian member of parliament and Opposition strategist

TONG: I disagree with the statement, because I think they are many challenges that the Opposition were facing over the last two and a half years. I think in a very difficult situation, somehow we have pulled together, we have pulled along. Of course there are many issues that we have to deal with and we have to strengthen our policy work, we have to strengthen our Internet communication, we have to actually present a wider alternative framework. I think those are the issues that we have to deal with, but somehow we have stayed together despite all the challenges and we are moving forward.

LAM: But isn’t that the point though, that you don’t seem to be presenting a viable alternative, in the sense that the Pakatan Rakyat doesn’t even have a shadow front bench?

TONG: Oh well, that is part of the problem of the system that the parliamentary system does not help to create bipartisanship, doesn’t help. The parliament does not have a committee system whereby Opposition members can actually sit in committees and deal with policy work. We have a shadow committee system where we have started to look into policy issues, we have presented a few new policies, but I think we need to strengthen that.

LAM: So you do have shadow ministers within the Pakatan?

TONG: We have shadow committees and each of the shadow committees are formed by a member of one of the three parties for sometimes sit on the defence committee with another two colleagues from the two other Opposition Party.

LAM: Well, some people say that part of your problem, the Opposition’s problem is that it is too Anwar centric, that everything is centred on Anwar Ibrahim and indeed we do not hear from anyone else, from say the DAP or even from PAS?

TONG: Well, I think part of the problem is international media focuses mainly on Anwar, but locally, if you look at news in Malaysia, there are a lot of focus on Mr Lim Guan Eng who is the chief minister of Penang, they are focused on several other PAS members of parliament who have been doing very well in reaching out to multi-racial Malaysia or multi-ethnic Malaysia, so there are other people who are emerging and the scene is quite vibrant actually.

LAM: So you do have a Plan B if Anwar Ibrahim were to be thrown in jail?

TONG: Well, I would not say we have a Plan B, because even if he is thrown into jail, I think there is a core leadership in Pakatan which meets once a week. There is a central leadership which consists of about 15 people, which meet constantly and.

LAM: How united is that core leadership, because there was a time when the Democratic Action Party was very uneasy about being in the same Coalition as the Parti Islam Malaysia PAS?

TONG: Well, that was ten years ago, that was the. The DAP pulled out from a previous Coalition on 22nd September, 2001.

LAM: From what I’ve been reading on Malaysian web sites is that things have not changed all that much over the last ten years?

TONG: Well, actually if you look at what happened over the last two-and-a-half years, because we are governing in various states. The state leadership actually is the second echelon and they are working on a daily basis, because they are in government, they are working on a daily basis to provide leadership to state governments.

LAM: So even though DAP is largely a secular party, your quite comfortable in dealing with Parti Islam Malaysia?

TONG: Party Islam Malaysia is a huge party with about a million members and many people. The party has been trying to move to the mainstream. Like why DAP has been trying to reach out to Malay voters and Muslim voters, so there is a coming together especially over the last two-and-a-half years, but it is a long process of coming together over the last decade or so since the Reformasi movement in 1998. Therefore PAS there are a substantial number of people in PAS which are trying to position the party into the middle ground, likewise DAP is doing the same. So I think we are actually consolidating, we are moving to the centre, and we are trying to take the centrist position vis-a-vis the government and that was actually quite clear early this year when there was this Allah issue.

# ABC International Radio Australia

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