Barisan Nasional inherited a trust and tradition that was initiated by the Alliance, a formation of the Confederated Malay States people’s political party to acquire Independence from the British colonial rule. This concept was initiated by the Malays who were united under the UMNO President, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra for one main reason; to claim independence for the Confederated Malay States. The Chinese and Indians, who set aside racial belief, later joined this movement for the majority objective in the local political current. They united with the Malays under the Alliance banner, using the ‘kapal layar’ symbol. This party succeeded in freeing Malaya from the British colonial and ruled the Independent Malaya until today. It was also able to free Sabah and Sarawak from the British through Malaysia. The Alliance and later Barisan Nasional is a unique political formula for Malaysia. This formula has succeeded in uniting Malaysia from various different religions, cultures and ethnic groups to become a race that is strong, successful and has vision
THE STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE
Malaysians are lucky compared to the people of other countries because the struggle for independence didn’t cause blood spills, loss of lives or went through the arms revolution. Malaysia’s struggle for Independence is based on the courageous unity of the Malays that has become the main strength. This strength has become the base for the Malays to proceed with the discussion with the British to claim Malaya’s Independence. Spearheading the struggle was Dato’ Onn Jaafar and was later handed down to Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra until the people’s objective was reached on the night of 30th August 1957 at the field of Selangor Club where the flag of Union Jack was lowered for the last time and Jalur Gemilang was raised proudly – a new symbol for independent Malayans. The following day a new independent nation was born with Tunku Abdul Rahman declaring the Malayan Independence at the Merdeka Stadium.
However the Malays were not alone in the struggle. Malaya or Confederated Malay States were made up of diverse community with various religions, races and ethnic groups. Although the Malay Leaders were controlling the political leadership, they accepted the structure of the Malayan people and realize that a struggle without the participation of the other races would not succeed. Thus the cooperation of other races such as the Chinese and Indians were vital and proved convincingly to the people that the struggle for Independence is really a struggle of all the Malayan people.
The Malay Leaders thought that a long-term objective was more important after realizing that being independent, Malaya must be governed under a self-ruling system where all races unite under a single strong, firm political banner. The vision of the political leaders at that time was an Independent Malaya which is ruled by a government that is supported by the people.
The reason that cooperation among races became the base of the independence struggle was because the world community and even the Malayan community were not convinced with Malaya’s ability to remain peaceful with a community structure that is of different religion, race and background. They were some people who questioned whether the stability of an independent nation can be sustained with a diverse community. They felt the struggle to gain independence would be full of efforts to solve the conflict of races, cultures and religion.
This assumption was based by the fact that the world at that time could not solve the ethnic problems. Critics agreed that if the world could not solve this problem, it would quite impossible that Malaya could. The Malayan Leaders realized that the people of a new nation would be a little behind in education, experience and ability. These were the factors that cast some doubt in the other communities towards the Malayan Leadership.
This factor was also influenced by the mentality of some of the Malayan communities who felt that they were more comfortable and better off remaining under the colonial rule for their future’s sake. This factor was influenced by the colonial’s philosophy of divide and rule, which they had practiced for a very long time. By inculcating this philosophy in the people, they hope the struggle to claim the independence would not materialize.
FORMATION OF THE ALLIANCE, ITS OBJECTIVE IS TO SHARE POWER
After realizing the difficult challenges they would be facing in the struggle for independence, the Malay Leadership later brought in the non-Malays into the mainstream struggle. This was to ensure that the claim for independence would reflect more of a total move. With intelligence and vision which emphasized long-term objectives, a new political recipe to initiate the cooperation of all races in the local political arena must quickly be formulated.
The Malays realized they must have a political party as a vehicle for their struggle and the birth of UMNO on 11th May 1946 was a result of this. Thus, other races felt that they too needed political parties, for them to be heard. As a result, a political movement of races in Malaya spearheaded by Tunku and Tun Tan Cheng Lock founded the Alliance (PERIKATAN), the merge of UMNO and MCA. The Alliance’s first test was the Kuala Lumpur Municipal Council’s election in 1952 which the Alliance won convincingly.
The concept of cooperation has resulted in excellent success and this prompted the MIC to later join the Alliance. The Alliance then contested in the first General Election on the 27th July 1955 and won 51 out of 52 seats contested. Hence the Alliance was given the mandate to form the first government with Tunku Abdul Rahman as the first Chief Minister. He later named the first Cabinet Ministers which consisted of leaders from various different races in Malaya. The Alliance was a bold experiment initiated from the minds of Tunku, Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Tun Sambanthan.
Cooperation of races continued because under the Alliance, it was effectively accepted by the people and became a new strength to realize a self-ruling system and later participated in the quest to claim independence. The cooperation of races formula, the concept of power sharing and race integration in Malaya was clearly getting the support of the people. All race leaders had the vision that an independent Malaya would not succeed without race integration for the sake of peace and harmony.
The people’s support was clearly evident in the 1955 General election, where the Alliance won 51 out of 52 seats contested. Next, they garnered 74 out of 104 sets contested in the 1959 General Election. Alliance’s success escalated when it won the 1964 Election (89 out of 104 seats) and the 1969 Election (74 out of 144 seats)
After the nation gained Independence, the thing that was emphasized parallel with the Constitution is the people’s right to society. Since the prize of Independence is so meaningful to the Malayan people, thus increasing the number of political parties in the country, whereby creating a situation, where there is too much politicking among the people. The situation might divert the struggle to fill Independence because too much time was spent on politics and the struggle for the people was forgotten
The Malayan Leadership felt efforts to develop the nation would be in jeopardy because too many people were involved in politics that other importance came second. According to the government the urge to get involved in politics should be reduced to make way for a more important National Agenda Since the Government’s advice was disregarded and the people got carried away with politicking, the integration of the people and the nation’s stability were severely tested on the black day of 13th May, when race riots transpired after the 1969 General Election.
It was lucky that the Government intervened quickly to disperse the race riots which was spreading like wild fire because if the riots were not controlled and taken care of, Malaysia’s future would be in the dark. Race riots became an issue that could threaten the nation. A more realistic political formula must be sought to ensure that race integration would become the base of harmony, stability, peace and development for the nation and all races.
The Alliance political formula was widened to become a larger political cooperation under the Malay–non-Malay politics to the whole nation. This concept was spread with the formation of a Coalition Government at the Federal and State levels. This cooperation of various and multiple parties was later institutionalized as BARISAN NASIONAL (BN) and was formally registered on the 1st July 1974. Besides UMNO, MCA and MIC, BARISAN NASIONAL was made up of six other parties, which before this was on the other side of the fence.
Those parties were PAS ( which was later expelled from BN ), Parti Progresif Rakyat ( PPP ), Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia ( GERAKAN ), Sarawak United People’s Party ( SUPP ), Parti Pesaka Bumiputra and USNO from Sabah. Only DAP and PSRM refused to join the Coalition. BN, which used the new symbol – the ‘dacing‘ had strengthen and stabilize the Malaysian political situation, and relationship among races had never become closer. Later, other political parties, especially in Sabah and Sarawak joined the BN. These parties are Berjaya from Sabah, SNAP and PBDS from Sarawak.
In the 1990’s many new parties surfaced to join Barisan Nasional as a result of the political turmoil in Sabah when PBS walked out of Barisan Nasional. These parties are Akar Bersatu, SAPP, LDP, PBRS and PDS. Today BN consists of 14 parties.
The birth of BN signaled the beginning of a new era for Malaysia which is now ruled by a multiple race component parties, a struggle of the united community. Among the main objective of BN is the struggle to strive for cooperation among races, peace, harmony and justice to ensure Malaysia will continue to develop and prosper, in line with vision 2020.
The Performance of Barisan Nasional in the General Election after its formation, proved to be more excellent when it continued to win two-thirds or more Parliamentary seats. In the 1974 General Election it won 135 out of 154 seats contested; 1978 General Election it swept 130 out of 154 seats; 1982 General Election it controlled 132 out of 154 seats; 1986 General Election it captured 148 out of 177 seats; and at the 1990 General Election 127 out of 180 seats were gained. The people continued to give their mandate of more than two-third, when it acquired 163 out of 192 seats contested, to continue the excellent record and tradition of BN since 1955. It’s not easy for any party or any Coalition Party including the opposition to rival, defeat or replace Barisan Nasional.
The people accepted the concept of BN based on several reasons. One of the main reasons is a successful political formula that was able to unite all the people from different backgrounds into a single united mold with one vision. The major factor that separates BN and other political organization is BN was formed to claim Independence, not to form a government. While other political organization of the same era in other countries had long disappeared, BN remained strong and firm.
The thing that makes BN’s struggle more realistic and relevant with the current development and suits the people, is the sharing-power concept that is being practiced. Although the Malays could act alone in achieving Independence, they decided to share power and cooperated with the other races after pondering the long-term factor and effect of the Malaysian political scenario.
This multiple-party components placed Justice as its main objective through the ‘Justice For All’ slogan. Compared to other political organizations, the fairness of BN is reflected by the same number of representatives in the BN Supreme Council – three to a party – irrespective of the party size or total members. Every component party President holds the Vice-Chairman post except for the UMNO President who is the Chairman. Every decision that is made by the BN Supreme Council, the highest party forum, is reached through consensus. Without a unanimous decision, for example regarding a manifesto, component party membership or sensitive issues, a final decision will not be made. These are the unique characters of BN which makes it a bolder, better and more realistic vehicle for the struggle in Malaysia.
THE CHALLENGES FOR BN
BN was not created based on ideology, a major difference between this component party and other political organization. BN was created for the people’s struggle by the people. It’s rather difficult accepting a party as big as BN was created without an ideology. BN leaders felt that BN will continue to exist as long as it does not divert from the fact that its struggling for the people.
A firm grasp on the ‘Justice for All‘ will ensure the continuity of BN’s struggle especially in spearheading Malaysia towards facing various challenges. This is because justice is a key element for any democratic nation, as important as democracy itself. Therefore the practices of democracy in Malaysia include the people’s right to choose and the existence of opposition parties in its political scenario. The people is not prevented from forming opposition parties, although there are some of them who tend to exploit racial issues and religions to win votes.
This is a mammoth obstacle for BN because racial issue and religion, which has become an opposition’s source, is a time bomb that could explode at any time and destroy all the achievements of the nation till today. Every bold efforts of the BN leaders today is mainly to protect the fruits of labor of the independence struggle. Thus, the moderate concept has become the core of all party and government policies and practices of all party component leaders.
This concept must be defended to shield every attempt to jeopardize the harmony and political stability achieved from the tolerant of religions, races and ethnic groups. Besides the concept of moderation, BN has always been pragmatic in facing all kinds of threat, be it from the inside or outside.
Among the biggest challenges Malaysia is facing are globalization era and information technology, which could pose various new threats and is even worse. These threats are similar to neo-colonization of the super-powers.
Threats in the form of political, economical and social will be applied so that the freedom and success we have achieved will be destroyed. Finally, we will have to bow to the pressures from outside. Colonial economy has become a global issue which is pressing us today.
After going through a political struggle for quite a long period, party components of BN today, are mainly lead by the younger generation. New members are also getting younger. The question is, do these young members and leaders of the next generation really understood and fully accepted the history and the base of BN’s struggle. Let’s assume all of these are not well grasp, then the objective of power sharing to create justice for all and to build a Malaysian race that unites, will not be easily realized.
Do they really know the meaning of hardship? Luxury should not cloud us with the meaning of hardship. Our struggle will continue to go through easy and difficult times because we will continue to be exposed attempts and obstacles, be it from inside or outside. Globalization era and information technology are new to us. Are we prepared to face these hurdles and challenges ?
Our former Deputy Prime Minister and one of the founder of BN, the late Tun Dr. Ismail once said :-
‘….when independence reached the adult level, problems will surface because the new generation had not experienced the hardship of the independence struggle. The meaning of independence would only be understood by the ones who had gone through it. They are the ones who love freedom, peace and change.’
Doesn’t the BN have its own challenges and obstacles ? As a ruling party, there will always be obstacles. The opposition had tried numerous times to weaken the BN. Although the opposition had created quite a strong merger of component parties to present an alternative to the people, their efforts failed because BN’s strength and experience is sufficient to ward away the force from outside.
The late Tun Dr. Ismail said that he was not worried of the challenges BN was facing from the outside. The one that he was most afraid of, was problems within BN itself. The strength of BN could not guarantee the stability within the party. The late Tun Abdul Razak reiterated that BN’s strength could also be its weakness.
This will happen if the members of BN are too proud with the party’s strength without doing anything to sustain or to improve its strength. If BN members do not believe strongly to the basics of the party, do not adhere to the party rules and keep arguing among themselves, the party will be weakened and exposed to threats.
Serious efforts by BN leaders since Independence have created a united Malaysia and a community with a Malaysian identity. Although Malaysia has been free for more than 40 years, the Malaysian identity is still not that convincing and effective for us to be proud of. Even though there is a difference in religion, race, ethnic group and origins, the Malaysian under BN’s leadership must act as ONE, cutting across the borders of religion, race, ethnic group and origin.
Based on what was said by the PM, the journey to achieve the true meaning, ambition and philosophy of the BN’s struggle is far from complete and not that simple. However, with the spirit of “Malaysia Boleh” BN could achieve this ambition. We are certain that ” Barisan Nasional Boleh” and ” Rakyat Malaysia Amat Boleh”, together with the top leadership to reach every aspiration and the philosophical struggle.
‘Unity in Diversity‘ is the base to unite the whole Malaysian people to face all the challenges ahead. BN accepts diversity as a strength and not a weakness. Malaysia’s advantage is its ability to assess diversity as its main strength in a nation of diverse community. BN is a bond that enables Malaysians to think, to have ambition and to act as ONE.
This pure concept of cooperation is the concept that propels Malaysia to a level where it is today and it will continue to lead the nation to a new dimension. The spirit of cooperation can be looked upon as ‘one aim, one heart‘ which can only be found in Malaysia. Thus, concentrating on this concept is vital in continuing BN’s struggle, to ensure it will remain strong, effective and realistic to face various challenges. The new BN agenda has to take into account the elements that needs to be continued and to ensure peace in the nation. In addition, the continuation of these policies will attract the younger generation to join the party. They are the nation’s most important asset.