March 8, 2008 might have been a momentous day for Malaysian politics due to the political tsunami that gave the Opposition a much greater voice. I, for one, hoped for a dawn of greater maturity in the political sphere, but in the year and a half since that day, it's clear that despite the gains, there has been no great change, just more of the same.
For starters, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition does not have any solid political ideology, its' sole aim being to defeat the governing Barisan Nasional coalition. In no other circumstances, except sheer, power- hungry desperation would a secular party focusing mainly on economic interests team up with staunch Islamists who perceive development as the product of infidels. For a while, this conflict of interests was tempered by the work of Anwar Ibrahim, but with an impending sodomy trial and having apparently vanished off the headlines, infighting over issues like sharia law could seal the coalition's doom.
It is the aforementioned power-hungry desperation that leads to other, more pressing problems like party-hopping. Even assuming that the BN does not lure away PR politicians with money or power, the defections as a result of PR's shoddy coalition makes perfect sense. It would be the desire to overthrow BN that leads politicians to join PR, exacerbated by Mr. Ibrahim's grand promise that PR would take over on Sept. 16, 2008. Frustrated at PR's slow progress, and lacking a clear, collective political ideology to hold on to, politicians would thus feel no qualms about switching to the governing coalition.
It doesn't help that Pakatan's stand on issues is unclear, at best. At worst, keeping the coalition together has prevented them from coming out with concrete policy plans, apart from chants of "Abolosh ISA" or "Makkal Sakthi (People's Power)". The reformist premership of Najib Tun Razak, however, has blunted the former sharpness of these criticisms, and made their lack of policy plans ever more glaring. If indeed PR wants to become a viable government in future, it needs to have sound economic, social, political and environmental policies. Since Malaysians are largely bread-and-butter voters, the key to power is to communicate these issues to the masses, making them understand how these affect their lives.
One problem with PR which could be turned into an opportunity is foreign policy. Ever since its' creation, PR has offerred little or no comment on international incidents, with most of its' politicians, except Mr. Ibrahim, lacking experience on a global stage. BN's current foreign policy tasks, though, haven't been great shakes either, certainly compared to their zenith under Mahathir Mohammad, Malaysia's 4th Prime Minister- think Bosnia-Herzegovina and the 'Look East Policy'. PR could win points by cleaning up its' act enough to start slamming BN for its' repeated clashes with both Indonesia and Singapore, especially over popular street food and cultural elements.
In conclusion, PR needs to do a lot of work and soul-searching if it really wants to change Malaysia. Does it really want power so badly that it's willing to throw common sense out the window? Disbanding the coalition might cede victories to BN in the short term, but done right, it'll merely be the calm before the storm. And heaven knows the BN surely will face a storm one day.