Room for internal party dissent
The spat between PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang and PAS central committee member Dr Hatta Ramli was given much focus recently. Allegations that Hatta and other PAS leaders attempting to unseat Hadi’s presidency surfaced and were met with scorn from other party members calling it a betrayal and demanded their resignations. This case is not unique to PAS as similar reactions are observable by most Malaysian parties on both sides of the political divide — that dissent will not be tolerated.
This practice is a stark contrast to practices elsewhere in the world. In the same week, Australia saw its Prime Minister Tony Abbott survive a vote of non-confidence mounted by his own Liberal Party (39 voted against him, while 61 in favour, 2 abstained), seeking a leadership change due to low approval ratings. In the past five years, two Australian premierships were determine by party politics, Kevin Rudd in 2010, and Julia Gillard in 2013, both ousted in internal party elections. In 1990, Margaret Thatcher, UK’s longest-serving Prime Minister, was unseated from within her own Conservative Party after periods of authoritative leadership, even upon her colleagues in cabinet.
There are also many local examples of internal party dissent. In 2012, Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim, who was then DAP’s vice-chairman, resigned over disagreements with the party over Bersih 3.0’s sit-in at Dataran Merdeka. Just last year, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim was sacked from PKR for defying party order in his refusal to vacate the Selangor MB’s seat. In 2006, Shahrir Abdul Samad, who was then MP for Johor Bahru drew scorn from his BN colleagues for supporting an opposition motion in parliament. One of the opposition’s main criticisms towards BN is that its component parties act merely as puppets for UMNO as none dare make a stand against the former.
Apparently, it is somewhat “standard operating procedure” for all parties to oppose any motions or bills made by the opposite by default. At the same time, internal party disagreements are not allowed to reach the general public — putting up a facade of a truly united party in all things, at all times. This is of course, unrealistic as all individuals have their own views and cannot possibly be in agreement at all times. More importantly, such behaviour is unhealthy as it prevents freedom of expression from taking place.
Having the freedom of expression essentially would allow room for improvement. It acknowledges the logical possibility that errors would occasionally occur and provides means of eliminating any flaws in the system. It would be naive to disallow such check-and-balances and assumes those in authority are immune from wrong-doing and will not abuse their position. Questionable acts do occur time and again. Even governments with robust accountability mechanisms have occasionally caught officials in the wrong.
In the US, it is common to find open resistance from within Congress where members of their own party vote against them, for instance, Democrats voting in support of Republican bills and vice versa.
This is a sign of a matured democracy. It would be against the interest of the rakyat if either side of the political divide vote against a motion which may benefit Malaysia simply on the basis that it is “the opponent’s proposal” without acknowledging the issues at stake. Such incidences are ironic considering how opposition groups constantly condemn certain draconian elements suppressing the people’s voices, preventing freedom of expression and opinion.
The Selangor state legislative assembly’s move to allow an opposition motion in June last year is a step in the right direction, if efforts to eliminate the culture of “opposing just because it is from an opponent” are to be realised as it is a barrier to Malaysia in becoming a matured democracy.
Democracy must begin from the party. Parties banning open disagreement with mainstream party decisions should and must be discontinued as it prevents genuine democratic action from taking place.
Assemblymen and MPs are elected by the people, a mandate to speak on their behalf. While politicians may be using a party ticket, they also represent the genuine concerns and opinions of their constituents. Such matters should not be silenced by the party. This article is not suggesting that politicians by-pass their party colleagues, but that there should be room for disagreement. Such a review in political party policy would lead to significant improvement for their own machinery, once decisions by individual politicians begin to focus on issues for what they actually are about instead of seeing issues on whether they are brought up by BN or PR.
Therefore, politicians should be freely allowed to disagree and make decisions based on policy, not be penalise for insubordination when their views happen to go against mainstream party opinion.
Politicians in top party positions must not be treated like kings and must be open to scrutiny by other members of the party. Such practices would lead to healthier party decisions which will ultimately benefit the rakyat.
Article published in the Malay Mail.