Past UMNO presidents had joined forces with the political Opposition. UMNO’s founding president for instance, Dato Onn Jaafar, after his resignation from the party leadership in 1951 established first Parti Kemerdekaan Malaya and then Parti Negara (PN). As PN president, he collaborated with PAS in the 1959 General Election. It was through this collaboration that PN won 4 state seats in Terengganu and Onn secured the Kuala Terengganu Selatan parliamentary seat.
UMNO’s second president, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Prime Minister of Malaya and then Malaysia from 1957 to 1970, also left UMNO in 1988 when UMNO Baru was formed by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad following the deregistration of the original UMNO by a Court of law. He campaigned actively for the opposition Semangat 46 in the 1990 General Election, and since Semangat 46 was an ally of the DAP, the Tunku also spoke on a few occasions from the DAP’s platform. Incidentally, UMNO’s fourth president, Tun Hussein Onn, also stayed out of UMNO Baru.
In a sense, the third president of UMNO, Tun Abdul Razak, also reached out to the Opposition in order to expand the ruling coalition and form the Barisan Nasional (BN). It was he who brought in the opposition Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), followed by the opposition Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia ( Gerakan), the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the opposition PAS into Government. It was through collaboration with a number of opposition parties that the BN was created.
Moves of this sort are not uncommon in the realm of party politics. Parties and groups associate with one another for a variety of reasons. This is what freedom of association is all about in a parliamentary democracy.
Against this backdrop, the demands made by the Citizens’ Declaration initiated by Dr. Mahathir on the 4th of March 2016 are part and parcel of democratic politics everywhere. Asking for the removal of a Prime Minister through peaceful means in accordance with prevailing laws; or calling for the abrogation of laws and agreements which violate those human rights embodied in the Federal Constitution; or pleading for the restoration of the integrity of institutions such as the police, the SPRM, Bank Negara and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) are in no way antithetical to the norms and principles of governance that Malaysia as a nation has adopted since Merdeka.
10 days after the Citizens’ Declaration was announced to the public, its impact appears to be modest on the basis of the signatures it has garnered. The demonization of the Declaration by the powers-that-be --- it is described in some of the government-linked media as the Mahathir- Kit Siang Declaration --- is partly responsible for this. But it is also because a number of the leading lights associated with the Declaration have a parlous record when it comes to upholding integrity or protecting the institutions of governance. Besides, some of them seem to be pursuing different agendas which are at variance with the essence of the Declaration. For a Declaration of this sort to harness massive support it should have a single clear focus articulated by all its main actors.
Nonetheless, the leaders of the Declaration will go all out to mobilize support. Najib Razak loyalists are bound to respond. The confrontation between the two sides will be the cynosure of all eyes. Politics and power will take center stage. The fundamental issue of integrity and accountability will be sidelined. Concerned Malaysian citizens should not allow this to happen.
This is why it is so important for the nation at this stage to focus upon what may well be the most critical evaluation of the IMDB saga. This is the report that the PAC will present to Parliament in a short while. The report which would have drawn upon the submission of the Auditor-General to the PAC, apart from its own investigations, may provide a lot of the answers that Malaysians and outsiders are waiting for. The PAC, let us remind ourselves, cannot conceal or camouflage the truth because it has a number of Opposition Members of Parliament in it and its Deputy Chairman is a respected Opposition stalwart. Besides, one can expect the Auditor-General given his commitment to integrity to have done an honest job in unravelling the whole truth about this saga.
One hopes that the lines of action recommended by the PAC will be endorsed by Parliament and implemented by the Executive without delay. If these recommendations serve to strengthen the sinews of integrity in Malaysian society, the people should speak up to ensure that justice is not sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. The Conference of Rulers which in October 2015 requested the Executive to uncover the truth about 1MDB should once again play its rightful role as a guardian of good governance and advise Parliament and the Executive to remain faithful to its supreme duty --- which is to protect the rights of the people in accordance with the principles of the Constitution.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is a Malaysian political scientist.
14 March 2016.