Dennis Ignatius: Why support Gerak Independent?

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If real change is to come, GE15 must be about resetting national politics.

The decision by a small number of Gerak Independent (GI) candidates to contest in seats now controlled by Pakatan Harapan (PH) has quite predictably not been well received by the coalition. There is apparently a great deal of concern that by splitting the votes, GI might facilitate an UMNO-BN victory.

Parliamentary politics in a first-past-the-post electoral system like ours is always a numbers game. Hence the focus of political parties is on contesting and hopefully winning as many seats as possible. Understandably, political parties are naturally loathe to give up seats, especially in areas where they stand a good chance of winning.

The criticism against GI, however, misses some important points. If I read their statements correctly, what they are after goes beyond the numbers game: the creation of a small but credible independent bloc that would be beholden to none but the constitution and the fundamental principles of justice, equality and freedom which derive from it. Not politics that panders to the worst instincts of voters but politics that seeks to bring out the best in all Malaysians. Not politics as usual driven by the need to win at any cost but politics driven by principles no matter the cost.

Surely few will disagree that after more than 60 years of UMNO-BN rule, there is an urgent need for a national reset. Our nation is on a slow road to perdition. Corruption, scandal and hypocrisy are gnawing away at the soul of our nation. Race and religion are tearing us apart. Our national institutions are fraying. We are falling further and further behind our neighbours.

We have had, in the last few years, four different administrations including Pakatan Harapan. While Pakatan Harapan was certainly an improvement over UMNO-BN, they were less than advertised. None of the coalitions has really stood up for welfare and interests of the people. They play their political games. They put power and position ahead of principle and people. Honestly, would we even be in this dismal situation if any of them had truly served the people and fought for the best interests of the nation?

Now PH worries that GI might split the votes but GI didn’t contest in either Sarawak or Melaka and still PH was thrashed. If the opinion polls are anything to go by, PH is not expected to do well in Johor either. What does that say about the mood of the people?

If PH really believes in that “big tent” idea that they bandy about, they ought to at least consider making space for a few independent candidates. It will improve their chances of winning not detract from it. And so what if PH ends up with a few less seats; what did they do with the strong majority we gave them in the last elections anyway? Perhaps if GI candidates were in the tent, PH might be less prone to compromising on their principles.

Some have asked why GI has not opted to go head-to-head with UMNO-BN instead of going up against Pakatan Harapan. The same question might be asked of PH which, after all, has the infrastructure, the broad membership, the experience and the capability to run an election and take them on.

If real change is to come, GE15 must be about more than returning our lacklustre opposition to power. It must be about resetting national politics. One way is by electing independent MPs who can act as the conscience of parliament, MPs who will not be constrained by loyalty to their leaders or their party agendas but will stand up for the rights and interests of all Malaysians regardless of race, religion or party. We once had MPs of that calibre – Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Dr Ismail, Tan Chee Koon, Karpal Singh – but they are a distant memory now.

There is no doubt that GI has an uphill task to get elected, what more to try to change the system from within. But imagine for a moment, if you will, having someone like Siti Kasim – brash, uncompromising, incorruptible, fearless – in parliament standing up to the boorish, misogynistic, petty-minded, hypocritical, bigoted, corrupt politicians that have entrenched themselves in parliament. Wouldn’t that be worth the risk of splitting votes? Likewise with all the other GI candidates.

At the end of the day, voters will have to ask themselves what’s really important to them as Malaysians – better constituency services and politics as usual or a few independent candidates who will harass and harangue parliament to do its duty to all Malaysians. It’s not that the MPs that GI candidates are going up against are bad or dishonest; it’s simply that the situation calls for something different if we are to escape becoming a dysfunctional, if not a failed state. It’s certainly something to think about.

Note: I am not a member of Gerak Independent or of any other political party for that matter. And neither did I consult with GI members in writing this article. – Dennis Ignatius