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The Malaysian Insider consulting editor Leslie Lau was rather dissappointed at Pakatan’s inaugural platform (I was too, but for quite different reasons).

What PR needs to understand is that it needs to present a clearly define choice to voters as to what a vote for them will mean.

Will there be higher taxes? Lower taxes? Will Bumiputera policies be abolished or amended? What about the country’s immigration policies? Will more expatriates be brought in? Will protectionism be a thing of the past? What about our national car policies? Our education system?

But that’s the bit about Pakatan Rakyat: it is a coalition of very disparate camps – ranging from hardcore Islamists to secular communists. My overarching disappointment of the platform seems similar to Lau’s – the vagueness and ambiguity of positions – but isn’t. Rather than prematurely trying to decide all of the contentious issues at play, Pakatan should have focused on common ground and decision-making frameworks – Zaid Ibrahim’s platform tries to hide points of disagreement in a language that tries, but fails, to signify nonexistant consensus.

The Westminster constitutional framework our country operates on make multiparty democracy impossible – a bipolar partisan system usually emerges. On the Barisan Nasional side, they’re UMNO-dominated but technically working on a ethnic-based consoctional system. Central to their “ideology” (for the lack of a better word) isn’t about taxation, immigration or whatnot.

Pakatan Rakyat has an opportunity to develop an ideologically big-tent coalition. They could share basic, common values (democracy, civil liberties and political rights, and so on) while holding on to different ideologies. Rather than trying to document what they would do if they takeover the federal government, the platform should focus the decision-making framework within Pakatan – more important than short-term policy goals is how those policies are decided at coalition level.

Because, even if Pakatan evolves quickly into a homogenous, politically, entity with firm commitments to certain policy goals, it is inconsequential. Barisan Nasional has an overwhelming dominance in politics, and a strong status quo bias – which makes the next advice crappy:

But the fact is PR parties have not done much to shake off the perception that they cannot rise beyond an “opposition” mindset.

And so long as they see themselves as the “opposition”, the “opposition” they shall remain.

Which is bull. While opposing for the sake of opposing is stupid, without being a good “opposition” coalition, Pakatan can never hope to be a government-in-waiting coalition. While it is nice to think that governments are voted in, in truth, governments are voted out – Pakatan needs to portray the government as corrupt, incompetent, unfair or even dangerous. They cannot hope to portray themselves as a competent federal government – because, by virtue of no experience, they will always be a losing proposition.

Pakatan Rakyat, after all, barely existed in March 2008 when voters handed over four more states to them (they would have been controlling Putrajaya if not for how elections are rigged in Barisan’s favour). Voters obviously don’t need assurances of governing capability – just the idea that status quo is so bad than any alternative will likely be better.

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