When I was sacked from the government and the ruling party in September 1998, a tremendous ground swell of support swept the nation and unleashed forces that could not be contained by the powers that be. Neither could the walls of incarceration in Sungai Buloh prevent the birth of a new party that was destined, together with its allies, PAS and DAP, to take the nation’s politics to a new dimension. Thus was born Parti Keadilan Nasional, a party founded on a truly multiracial platform fighting for justice and freedom, democracy and good governance. As it grew from strength to strength emboldened by a fervent belief in the process of reform and renewal, the party became Parti Keadilan Rakyat after its merger with Parti Rakyat Malaysia.
It is this spirit of change that was the driver for the adoption of a new system of voting for this year’s party elections under which the party’s 500,000-odd members will be able to vote for their leaders directly across the board. While such a practice is hardly new for most political parties in mature democracies across the world, it is indeed a first in Malaysia. This is empowerment of the members and with power comes responsibility. We believe the members will use this power wisely and judiciously.
It is true that the last few months have not been easy for KEADILAN. We still have a long way to go but at least we are moving forward and not backwards. The run up to the party elections has seen some very harsh words coming from certain leaders in a fashion not befitting the position that they aspire to be in. In this regard, the criticism that there is an emergence of “UMNO Culture” in the campaign for party positions is unfounded. At the same time, we cannot rule out entirely the possibility of Trojan horses having found their way in. But we remain steadfast in the belief that our members are mature and wise enough to decide what is best for the party. The truth shall prevail.
Differences of opinion and dissent over policies are not only normal but should be encouraged in a political party to ensure vibrancy and participatory democracy. The empowerment process confers not just the right to vote but also to express support or opposition. The candidates too have their right to present their agendas and to campaign. But it should not be open season. All this should be conducted within the bounds of decency, decorum and civility. There are house rules to be observed. This is why we have an independent elections committee.
We are committed to serving the people. Since its inception, the party has continually pushed for reforms for the country so that we may see change for the better. We reject the excuses given by the powers that be that the people are still not ready for full democracy and hence should continue to rely on political crutches. We don’t need them.
It is because of this confidence that we have decided to hold direct elections. We believe that the best leaders will be produced through this process, and that at the same time they will be more accountable to the members.
This will help us emerge even stronger.