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The Flipside

Thursday, 20 April 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM

Too many parties spoil political broth

We don’t need so many political parties, especially when they’re only around for selfish reasons.

FOR a nation with a modest population of 29 million, it is puzzling that we have so many political parties championing “our interests”.

We can perhaps easily name the main Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan component parties, but did you know that they represent only a fraction of the total number of parties in Malaysia?

According to the Home Ministry, up to October last year there were 62 political parties registered and regarded as “active” under the Societies Act 1966.

Quite a number on this list seem to be surviving only by name and lack any sort of recognised leader or organisational structure.

Meanwhile, several others have merged with larger parties, and should be considered obsolete.

The average Malaysian would probably be hard pressed to name even a dozen of these “lesser known” parties or its leaders, yet they have managed to continue existing on the fringes of society.

The Home Ministry also revealed that the Registrar of Societies (RoS) was mulling applications from an additional 21 new parties.

If these are approved, we would have more than 80 political parties in the country! And here I thought we were suffering from a lack of political maturity.

The numbers are certainly astounding, but the trend of mushrooming parties has long been around and tends to peak during election season.

Sabahan politician Datuk Johnny Mositun recently described the emergence of new parties as the “arrival of the fruiting season”.

The Parti Bersatu Sabah secretary-general added that these parties and their leaders were actively in the hunt for “nearly ripe fruit” to fulfil their personal interests.

His observation hits the nail on the head. How else do you explain the glut of parties out there and only a handful with any credibility?

While the numbers indicate otherwise, it does not appear as if there are actually that many parties protecting the people’s interests. Were that really the case, we would all have a lot less to complain about, wouldn’t we?

Instead, we see a familiar cycle – a new party is registered, touts itself as being inclusive to all, promises the heavens, fails to garner substantial support, and eventually fades into the periphery.

The glaring problem with such parties is that their origins stem from a knee-jerk reaction and are usually driven by revenge, which is hardly the right mindset to begin any political journey.

Their leaders are mostly disgruntled individuals who have been cast aside by their former parties and are now acting in the selfish interest of preserving their own political survival.

This phenomenon is not unique to Malaysia: Our Asian counterparts like India and Bangladesh have hundreds of political parties, which can also be considered excessive when compared to the size of their population.

The same goes for African countries, which have dozens of parties, though only a fraction of these are represented in parliament.

In a lawful sense, this trend is really just a demonstration of individual rights. Freedom of association is and should continue to be an important hallmark of democracy.

However, we must give some thought to whether an abundance of political parties (especially those formed for selfish reasons) are a positive feature for us.

In the four years since the last general election, there have been quite a number of new parties born as a result of major shake-ups in the political landscape.

Some of the main ones include PAS’ offshoot Parti Amanah Negara, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia that was set up by former Umno leaders, and Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s Parti Warisan Sabah.

These parties have amassed a decent following, and may yet spring a few surprises.

But how many of us even remember Parti KITA founded by Datuk Zaid Ibrahim prior to GE13? And whatever happened to the “multi-racial” Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia set up by veteran politician Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir in 2015? Last I heard, Ikatan had entered into a third pact with PAS, but it’s been silence on all fronts since.

During the Sarawak state election last year, the emergence of breakaway parties like the United People’s Party and Teras presented quite the headache for Barisan Nasional and necessitated the fielding of direct candidates for some constituencies to ensure “one-on-one” contests.

Ultimately, too many parties spoil the political broth. Everyone wants a slice of the pie and this leads to plenty of squabbling over seat allocations and who calls the shots.

Mixed up in this mess are certain parties that carry on despite not being strong enough to participate in the electoral process and hence, cannot influence meaningful change.

So they end up tagging themselves to a political coalition in the hope that it will boost their own number of followers. It usually doesn’t, and this is how the rot begins.

Short of wanting the RoS to declare a limit on the number of political parties that can be registered, there needs to be more quality control or we risk being divided further as a society.

Perhaps more stringent requirements should be met before any individual is allowed to register a political party, and this includes the increasing cases where an older or defunct party is taken over and renamed.

More crucially though, the major political players in this country must lead the way in ending the politics of segregation and practising more inclusiveness instead. But let’s take one step at a time, shall we?

Akil Yunus sees the deluge of political parties out there, but wonders why we often still lack political correctness as a society. He can be reached at akilyunus@thestar.com.my.