Changing world of political parties

Editorial, Normal

The National,Wednesday 17th April, 2013

 From Asia to South America, strong political parties have known to have fallen. But some such as India’s Congress Party or Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party have reinvented themselves and risen to the fore again. Will it happen in Malaysia too? writes KARIM RASLAN.


THAT’S the question many Malaysians are asking themselves as they anxiously await the coming general election and ponder who to support.

My answer is: yes, of course they can. But sometimes, they need to lose and spend time in the wilderness before renewal kicks in.

Look at how India’s Congress Party, having lost power to the BJP in 1996 was able to make a stunning comeback in 2004.

True, Congress may lose po­wer again in the next elections (expected next year) but they would reinvent themselves (if not under Rahul Gandhi then certainly his sister, Priyanka) and remain a force in Indian politics.

A more recent example is Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Most analysts consigned Shinzo Abe and the LDP to oblivion after their 2009 defeat.

Fast-forward to today and both are back in office, determined to remake Japan’s economy and defence as they see fit.

The most remarkable example of a ruling party losing power and then reviving themselves has taken place in Mexico.

Last December, around the time Abe was staging his comeback, the 46-year-old former governor of Mexico state Enrique Pena Nieto was sworn in as president.

He is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for 71 years before losing the presidency to Vicente Fox of the National Action Party in 2000.

PRI maintained power through massive corruption and fraud, leading the Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa to label its regime a “perfect dictatorship”.

Indeed, PRI was more opportunistic rather than ideological even though its cadres claimed to be leftist.

Conversely, the PRI also spawned a host of multi-billionaires, most notably Carlos Slim when they initiated a slew of privatisations, including the country’s telephone operator, Telmex in 1990.

Telecommunications was the foundation of Slim’s fabulous fortune, currently estimated at over US$73 billion.

However, telephony costs in Mexico are among the highest in the world as two groups – Slim’s Telmex and América Móvil control 80% and 70% of Mexico’s fixed lines and mobile telephone markets, respectively.

At the same time, another plutocrat, media mogul Emilio Azcarraga Vidaurreta’s Televisa media company controls 60% of Mexico’s commercial television.

Mexicans greeted Pena Nie­to’s win with trepidation: would they experience a return to the abuses of the past?

The personable new president, however, has sprung many surprises.

One of his first acts was to persuade Mexico’s other political parties to sign a “pact for Mexico”, a 95-point document that pledges sweeping reforms, such as making it easier to fire underperforming teachers, imposing a value-added tax on food and medicine to boost revenue, as well as greater transparency over local government finances.

Rhetoric aside, Pena Nieto has shown that he has the courage to push his reforms through.

l Karim Raslan has taken leave from his legal practice to pursue his love for writing and he now contributes a weekly column for The Star newspaper in Malaysia.