SDP leaders met with officials from the Parti KeAdilan Rakyat (PKR; People’s Justice Party) over the weekend. Leaders of both parties exchanged notes about the current situations in Singapore and Malaysia.
Mr Tian Chua, Member of Parliament and PKR’s chief information officer, was on a stopover in Singapore over the weekend. He was accompanied by two members of the Selangor State Assembly which is under the control of the party.
The PKR is headed by former deputy prime minister Mr Anwar Ibrahim and holds 31 seats in the Malaysian parliament.
Mr Chua gave an update concerning the opposition’s bid to take over the Malaysian government. Mr Anwar has indicated that MPs from the ruling coalition have agreed to cross over to the opposition in enough numbers to allow the opposition to take over the government.
But Mr Chua said that there is no written procedure to go about doing this as such an attempt has never been made before and added that the coming few weeks will be crucial.
He expressed confidence that things will improve when the opposition takes over.
“People used to be worried that things might not function well under the opposition,” he said. “But when we got into power, Malaysians realised that things went on smoothly.”
Five states, including Selangor, Perak and Penang fell into the hands of the opposition in the last elections.
But the situation was not always this upbeat.
The PKR leader and many of his colleagues were repeatedly arrested for their activist work and civil disobedience. Mr Chua himself was detained under the Internal Security Act for two years.
Malaysians at that time did not appreciate what he was trying to do. But the lawmaker said that his actions were motivated by people such as Martin Luther King, Jr and the Mahatma Gandhi.
“It was tough going in the early years especially when many people kept telling you that your approach was wrong and you didn’t do the right things,” the 44-year-old lawmaker recounted. “Now these same people are saying that you were right after all. In my heart, I always knew we were right and we would succeed eventually. It was just a matter of when and how it happened.”
There are striking similarities between the situations in Singapore and Malaysia. For one thing, Malaysians were also terrified of challenging the autocratic ruling coalition.
“In Malaysia, we grow up and live in a culture of fear,” Mr Chua said in an interview. “That fear has been built into our political system and has remained a part of our psychology.”
Another similarity is that Malaysians also tend to attribute the country’s prosperity to the government.
“It’s important to tear apart the myth that UMNO is responsible for all the past economic achievements in Malaysia,” he said.
He pointed out that as the economy goes forward and foreign investments continue to pour in despite the erosion of UMNO’s power, people now believe that the country will remain stable and the economy will not suffer as a consequence of political openness.
In fact, as the media becomes more open and there is more exposure of events, people come to realise that many politicians in the ruling Barisan Nasional are not as competent or righteous as Malaysian state media kept telling the people.