PR must avoid repeating the mistakes of the Republicans who lost the US presidency twice because they lost sight of the Middle Ground

At the end of the recently concluded UMNO General Assembly, Prime Minister and UMNO President Datuk Seri Najib Razak rightly warned his UMNO base not to repeat Republic presidential candidate, Mitt Romeny’s mistake, to over rely on older, white voters to win the elections. Similarly, UMNO should not be overly dependent on the rural Malays to win the upcoming Malaysian general election at the expense of ignoring the growing urban multiracial middle class.

Najib is right in pointing out Romney’s mistake. Romney won a majority of the white vote against Obama – 59% to 39% - but he failed to even break 30% of any of the minority groups. Predictably, he lost the African American vote – 6% to 93% - but he also lost the Latino vote – 27% to 71% - and the Asian American vote – 26% to 73% - by significant margins.

Romney won a majority of the votes of those aged 65 and above – 56% to 44% - but lost in the 30-44 age group – 45% to 52% - as well as in the 18-29 age group – 37% to 60%. Among the ideological moderates, Obama defeated Romney by 56% to 41%.

Romney was treading old ground here. The same results, more or less, were achieved by McCain in the 2008 presidential elections. McCain won a majority of the white vote against Obama – 55% to 43% but lost the African American vote – 4% to 95% - , the Latino vote – 31% to 67% - and the Asian America vote – 35% to 63%. He won 53% of the voters aged above 65 (against Obama’s 45%) but lost in the 30-44 age group – 52% to 46% - and lost the 18 to 29 age group by a landslide – 32% to 66%. Among the ideological moderates, Obama defeated McCain 60% to 39%.

Both Republican candidates had to appeal to their ‘base’ of conservative, mostly white and old voters in order to win their respective primary elections. As a result both could not broaden their appeal to reach out to a sufficient number of moderate voters including many minorities in order to win the American Presidency.

Sadly, Najib’s advice is likely to fall on deaf ears within his own party.

Firstly, he himself does not seem to be taking his own advice of reaching out to the middle ground despite his efforts to create a Global Movement of Moderates.

He has cowardly refused to ask the Attorney General not to appeal the High Court decision which declared the Home Ministry’s ban on the use of the word ‘Allah’ by the Catholic Herald.

He had to make a quick U-turn to ‘reinstate’ the NEP into the New Economic Model after Perkasa complained that Part One of the NEM emphasized a shift to a market friendly affirmative action with no mention of the NEP.

He either directly or indirectly directs Utusan Malaysia to create a climate of fear among the Malays that they would somehow lose their rights if Pakatan Rakyat were to come to power and spin seditious lies about how DAP wants to turn the country into a Christian nation.

These are not signs of a Prime Minister who is sincere about appealing to the Middle Ground.

Secondly, his deputy, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, has not given Najib any support for his 1Malaysia slogan as exemplified by his statement in parliament that he is Malay first and Malaysia second.

It is no secret that Muhyiddin harbors ambition to replace Najib as UMNO President by trying to be more ‘Malay’ than Najib. Indeed, many within UMNO are waiting to see Najib do worse than Pak Lah in the next general election so that they can boot him out and replace him with a ‘Malay first’ UMNO Prime Minister.

Thirdly, the harsh and brutal actions taken by Najib’s administration towards the peaceful protestors who turned up for the Bersih 2.0 and Bersih 3.0 rallies in the streets of Kuala Lumpur shows a complete lack of regard towards the Middle Ground voters who want to see a cleaner and fairer elections, regardless of the party in power.

Fourthly, there is no middle ground which Najib and his party can reach out to when it comes to the issue of corruption and abuse of power.

It is something which is institutionalized within UMNO. Dr. Mahathir did not put a stop to this and in fact encouraged it by systematically weakening institutions that could play an effective role of limiting the ill effects of corruption including the judiciary and the anti-corruption agency. Pak Lah, despite his ‘work with me, not for me’ slogan, closed one eye and allowed this corruption to flourish under his watch.

Najib, despite the lip service paid to fighting corruption under the Government Transformation Program (GTP), still has not answered or accounted for his role in the RM7.3 billion Scorpene sub scandal and the murder of Mongolian model, Altantuyaa Shaariibuu.

He and senior leaders of UMNO are maintaining an ‘elegant silence’ in the face of the explosive allegations made by carpet trader, Deepak Jaikishan, which directly incriminate him and his family.

While most Malaysians can see through Najib’s hypocrisy in speaking but not acting on the message of reaching out to the Middle Ground, Pakatan Rakyat cannot take these voters for granted.

Any party or leader within Pakatan can easily alienate the Middle Ground if her or she chooses to pander to any small but vocal group that only represents a small segment of society.

Efforts to consolidate one’s ‘base’ will not win many new votes but will most likely isolate and turn away many of the 3 million new voters in the electorate, 60% of whom are below the age of 30.

Rather, Pakatan needs to work in unison to reach out to the Middle Ground in order to win 70% of the 3 million new voters and 3% of the 1 million GE2008 swing voters so that it can capture Putrajaya with a comfortable majority of at least 7 seats.

More than ever, Pakatan needs to convince the Middle Ground that it can provide better and more credible solutions to the problems which affect all Malaysians and not just a few selective groups.

Pakatan needs to show that it can reverse the serious decline in our education standards, as highlighted by the recent Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) 2011 where Malaysia’s ranking and average score fell by 6 places and 34 points for Math (from 20th in 2007 to 26th in 2011, from 474 points in 2007 to 440 in 2011) and suffered setbacks of 11 places and 45 points for Science (from 21st in 2007 to 32nd in 2011, from 471 points in 2007 to 426 points in 2011).

Pakatan needs to show that it can fundamentally transform the economy to provide better and higher paying jobs, especially to the younger generation, and increase the share of the country’s GDP allocated to income (as opposed to corporations and the government).

Pakatan needs to show that it can restore public confidence in the police force and come up with better enforcement solutions to reduce crime especially in the urban areas.

Pakatan needs to show that it can provide more a comprehensive solution for public transportation as opposed to the BN’s MRT focused public transportation plan.

Pakatan needs to show that it can revive the integrity of our public institutions including the judiciary, the civil service and the media, all of which have been degraded under the BN.

Pakatan must show that it can bring more evenly distribute and sustainable development to currently neglected areas especially in Sabah and Sarawak.

Only by reaching out to the Middle Ground with concrete and credible solutions can Pakatan achieve its goal of reaching Putrajaya.

If Pakatan repeats the mistake of the BN and of the Republicans by instinctively reaching for our respective ‘bases’ in terms of voters, then we would be giving away these votes to the BN (rather than the BN winning these votes from us).

Even if Pakatan were to lose the 3 million new voters by a small majority (48% to 52%) and just lose 1% of the one million GE2008 swing voters, we would be giving back the BN 2/3rds control of the parliament (The BN would win 149 parliament seats under this scenario). As such, we cannot afford to take our eye off the Middle Ground.

On the eve of the 16th National Congress of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), I call upon our leaders, delegates and members to focus on winning the voters in the Middle Ground.

I am confident that if the DAP, together with our colleagues and compatriots in PAS and PKR, as part of a united Pakatan Rakyat coalition, remain focussed on winning the voters in the Middle Ground, the wave of their support would take us all the way to Putrajaya and usher in a new era for Malaysia and Malaysians.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Ipoh Timur