Brave New World (The Star)
February 18, 2010
"Our country needs a two-party system. Not as a panacea to all the nation’s ills, but as an important first step towards a vibrant democracy where there will be greater hope for things to improve."
I READ an interesting article criticising the Penang Government for being too business-friendly. In other words, the Pakatan government is behaving in the same capitalist fashion as the former Barisan Nasional government.
Examples that were used included the continued development of hillside land.
A similar complaint has been made against the Selangor Government which has apparently softened its outright ban on hillside development.
The writer of the article claims that this is because of the powerful business lobby, namely the developers lobby.
He may very well have a point, but one line struck me.
He said that this kind of behaviour by Pakatan suggests that a two party-system makes little or no difference.
After all, what is the point of having one bunch of capitalist to replace another? Shouldn’t we have a real choice with truly different parties and different ideologies?
To be fair to Pakatan, even if they are closet capitalists, they do have a different stance than Barisan and that is their non-race-based policy. To me, that is a pretty big and important difference.
However, that is still besides the point. A proper two-party system, where one group can actually lose and be replaced by another is, like I stated earlier, merely a first step.
Only with the real fear of being booted out of office can any change occur. And by change, I do not mean necessarily that suddenly we change from a capitalist state to a socialist one.
I mean the little changes which are needed to give people a real choice.
We desperately need a free press, for example. Newspapers that are free to provide an alternative view.
Therefore, the Printing Presses and Publications Act needs to go.
I realise that even without this law, a newspaper would still be bound by the wishes of its owner. But at least without this law anyone can start a newspaper and the people will have a choice.
And it is only with free and open discussion can there be other developments, for example the dissemination of different economic ideologies.
So, if you want the people to have a less capitalistic viewpoint, they have first to be exposed to that viewpoint.
Another law that has to be amended or done away with is the Societies Act.
If this was done, anyone can establish a political party. There will be many useless little ones, of course, but a few may survive and even if they are small they could still be influential.
In most democracies, the harsh realities of politics usually mean that two parties tend to be dominant.
But if we look at some of these countries we also see the possibility of a third party, perhaps with little chance of actually taking power but with enough clout to be influential, for example the Green Party of Germany with their eco-message.
Furthermore, with the necessary changes in place, a most vital third force in politics will be able to come into play — civil society.
Politicians are politicians and as such they will always be bound by several things.
Their party line is one but also their unquenchable thirst to hang on to power.
It is up to civil society, therefore, to keep them honest and in order to do this, they need the freedom to associate and the freedom to express — things which can’t be done properly with the two laws mentioned above.
These changes I mention are relatively small, but they will not occur if there is no change of government, because the laws I mention maintain the status quo.
Why would the wielders of power want to change the status quo?
It is for this reason that we need to have a viable two-party system. It won’t be a magic bullet, just to change one government with another, but it would be the start for real change to occur.