Myth of New Politics


By: Marzuki Mohamad

The term “new politics” in Malaysia specifically began to get the attention after the 1999 General Election. The poll for the first time witness the opposition parties form a cross-ethnic political pact known as Barisan Alternatif (Alternative Front).

Through the then Reformasi political platform, civil society organizations of differing ideologies and racial orientation also intensely form their own pact in the name of taking new politics. For a while, Malaysian politics no longer seems to be limited to ideological race and religious differences.

Several academicians began to produce academic writings on the subject. Among the earliest is Professor Francis Loh Kok Wah from the USM (Universiti Sains Malaysia). He among others refers to new politics as a fresh phenomenon in Malaysian politics where ethnic and religious factors are no longer dominant. It is however replace by developmentalism politics and participatory democracy.

After that, many academicians and political observers began to analyze the new political phenomenon in Malaysia through popular writings or academic written discourses.

Western scholars, Meredith Weiss through his book, Protest and Possibilities: Civil Society and Coalitions for Political Change in Malaysia and John Hilley, Malaysia: Mahathirism, Hegemony and the New Opposition, indirectly touched on the new political phenomenon, which was linked with the significant advent of the opposition and civil society’s influence in the country’s political stage.

Besides that, Datuk Saifuddin Abdulah, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and UMNO (United Malays National Organization) Supreme Council member also wrote a book on the new politics.

Generally, the new politics is seen as the latest development in our national scenario where the society no longer regard ethnic and religion as an important factors in the political game plan; the two party replaces the racial-based multi-party system; election politics becomes more competitive and the government becomes very responsive to the people’s demand; participatory democracy practice are strengthened by individual freedom and equal rights; and the opposition political parties become the torch bearer to the new politics.

Is this really true? To my thinking, part of it is true.

Politics in our country become more competitive and open where political parties, either Barisan Nasional (BN) or opposition, contest on a more level playing field. In the last 2008 General Election, for the first time in our electoral history, the opposition captured five States and denied the BN its two-third majority in Parliament. In 16 by-elections held after that, half of them were won by the BN while the other half by the opposition.

In any democratic political system, competitive elections normally make the government more responsive towards the people. This is what happened in Malaysia. The BN government under the leadership of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has introduced multi-dimensional change or transformation in the government’s administration and the national management of the economy.

Through the Government’s Transformation Programme and Economic Transformation Programme, the government is more open in formulating various programmes that prioritize the people’s welfare, and generate robust and sustainable economic growth. In the political transformation programme, various laws seen as impeding the people’s freedom have been amended or rescinded.

The public too is being involved directly in the formulation of key national policies. For example, in the preparing for the Initial Malaysian Development Plan of Education Report 2013-2025, a total of 50,000 members of the public were involved through opinion polls, face-to-face meeting, focus group discussion and ala town-hall dialogues throughout the country.

It has never been in the country’s history, such a substantial number of the public be made to involve directly in the process of formulating national policies. This indicates that the policy making process in our country is more than sufficient to meet the element of participatory democracy often associated with the policy formulation process of the developed countries.

All this reflect the dawn of a new form of significant transformation in our national politics. This is what new politics is all about.

What is not right about the new politics? What is not right is the perception that the torch of new politics was brought by the opposition and non-governmental organizations that is opposed to BN.

Such perception at times made certain politicians including from BN, that don’t give the whole truth about the new politics.

For example, the exposure about the inflow of foreign fund from international organizations owned by a rogue currency speculator, George Soros to several local organizations for political purpose is seen as going against the spirit of new politics. I don’t see its justification.

To me, foreign intervention in the domestic politics of an independent and sovereign country, aimed at toppling the duly elected government is old politics.

For decades, and with the powerful resources of money and intelligence, several Western organizations are known to be playing such role in putting up several puppet leaders in African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries. The purpose is to protect their interests and not the interest of the people of that country. This is an old politics in the international arena.

Old politics that sired a new form of colonialism! So, is exposing the vulgarity of old politics opposite with the spirit of the new politics? I don’t think so.

In our country, the torch of new politics is actually ignited by BN not the opposition. Why not, because as the BN leaderships are preoccupied with the various transformation programme in the government, economy and politic, the opposition leaders are still trapped in the old thinking box.

They never carry the torch of transformation and worst still being the pioneer of new politics.

Pas Spiritual Leader, Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, despite being the Kelantan Menteri Besar for 22 years, still feels that there is no other leader qualified to replace him. This is old politics and not new politics.

Anwar Ibrahim is getting more excited about being PKR Adviser despite never being elected democratically to the most exulted and powerful post of the party by its members. This is the ghost of old politics in countries ruled by dictators, not new politics of a democratic country.

The DAP is no different. Lim Kit Siang who has been involved in politics since the time of Tunku Abdul Rahman, still remains in the corridor of the DAP power. Although he no longer hold the post of Secretary-General, his dynasty in the DAP is perpetuated by his son, Lim Guan Eng. This too is old politics.

Since the opposition parties formed a political pact, from the era of Barisan Alternatif till today, there is no change to boot about in the opposition either in the party or in the opposition-led governments. They are still languishing at the bottom of the old political box and practice old politics. The perception that the Pas, PKR, and DAP pact bring a new torch of change is just a myth.


Footnote: This opinion article was displayed in an online mainstream newspaper, Utusan Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in English Edition, on October 22, 212. It is also able to be searched in full text at: [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 6th November 2012].

Dr. Marzuki Mohamad is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science IIUM (International Islamic University of Malaysia), Gombak, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.



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