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Many doubt that the Green Party of Malaysia will make any impact in the immediate future.
PETALING JAYA: The all new Green Party of Malaysia has stirred up some excitement among political observers, but the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind is whether it can survive the rough and tumble of Malaysian politics.
Analysts whom FMT interviewed generally welcomed the emergence of a political organisation dedicated to protecting the natural environment, but agreed that it would take some time—perhaps decades—before it could make any impact at the polls, largely because there are not many Malaysians who are passionate enough about green issues.
“Anybody can form a party, but whether it can grow and get the support it needs is another thing,” said Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Jayum Jawan, a professor who teaches politics and government.
“I don’t think they will be able to deliver the votes. They don’t have the political base.”
The party, which is yet to be registered, was founded by Azlan Adnan, a 53-year-old former journalist who is now an environmental activist. He told FMT recently that the party was looking at the long term in trying to “change the political landscape” and was not likely to field candidates in the next general election.
Jayum said he was confident that the party would get the support of NGOs and environmentalists, but not the public in general.
“Environmentalists are not a significant portion of the electorate and mainly live in Kuala Lumpur. The environment is only now becoming important, but still not as important as it is in western society. The party will get support from the middle class, who like abstract things like that.”
KS Balakrishnan, a senior lecturer in politics and international relations at Universiti Malaya, said it would take Malaysians another 20 to 30 years before they could accept a political party with a green agenda.
Bread and butter issues
“The party will be a failure,” he said. “It can’t exist at this moment. We’re a long way away from that. Malaysia is not ready yet.
“Environmental issues are important, but Malaysians are still looking at bread and butter issues, about political stability, efficient delivery of the public service system.”
The Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA) has declared its support for Azlan’s (photo) initiative and urged other NGOs and environmental groups to do the same. Its president, Wong Tack, told FMT: “There is a total absence of a green voice in Parliament right now, and this man’s effort in building a green party is timely. Our current politicians are ignorant about environmental issues.
“We have a country without concern about global warming. Our rivers are polluted. Our mangrove forests are disappearing, and oil palm wastes go into our river systems. We just don’t have the political will to do anything about all this.
“The Green Party is necessary and I respect Azlan. I hope he can carry on and promote this party.”
Political analyst Wong Chin Huat of Monash University said the party should push for local government elections, noting that Europe’s green parties initially gained ground through such elections.
“I’m happy to have a green party coming on board,” he said, “but at this point, they don’t have a chance of winning at the federal or state level. If you have local government elections and you win, and people see how well you work, you can later make inroads into Parliament or the state assemblies.”
Even in urban areas, he said, a green party would not get more than 15% of the votes in a general election.
“The current election system is very much against smaller parties, and even Pakatan is not keen on changing it,” he said.
He suggested that the Green Party band up with other small parties, such as PSM.
Wong also said small parties would probably gain some ground if Malaysia had a “mixed member proportional representation” electoral system like in Germany.
“This system is where voters would have two votes, one vote for the constituency candidate and one for the party list. After meeting a threshold of a certain percentage of votes, the party would be entitled to a proportionate number of seats on the party list even if its candidates don’t win. That’s a fairer system than the one we have now.”
Wong also suggested that the government provide political financing to parties who win a certain number of seats. “Currently, the ruling parties would pass funds to their representatives and in turn they pass the money to cronies, which would support them financially too. Basically, both BN and Pakatan Rakyat are in the same game.”
Lim Teck Ghee, who heads the Centre for Policy Initiatives, also applauded Azlan for his initiative.
“Anything that can take us away from the destructive and negative influences of race and religious politics is welcomed,” he said. “Green politics is certainly on the rise in other parts of the world. It was only a matter of time before Malaysia followed.
But he said that party would probably need to align itself with bigger and more established parties like its counterparts in Europe had done.
“Eventually, as we see in Europe now, they have become popular and influential stake players in European politics,” he said.
“It’s going to take time, but we have to start somewhere. It is a party of the future, but the future really can come more quickly than we realise it.”
Lim said there were enough environmental issues for the party to address. He mentioned deforestation, water and air pollution and congestion and overcrowding in urban areas.
“The challenge for the Green Party is to try to integrate these with other concerns of the public, such as corruption, poverty and the rising cost of living.”
He said the party would draw many young voters and the educated middle class.