Malaysiakini : “Most countries have only few honest politicians and this is just like having a body with only few good organs functioning!” – Mehmet Murat İldan
COMMENT | Wee Ka Siong’s allegation
that moves are being made “to unseat the sole Chinese opposition MP
from MCA and to prevent him from raising issues pertinent to the Chinese
and the multi-racial Malaysian community” is worth considering in this
so-called post-racial milieu that Pakatan Harapan is pushing. The voting patterns of the Chinese
community and the vilification of
the MCA online points to the near impossible task for the party to
effectively mount a counter-narrative as the ‘Chinese opposition' in
Parliament. As for the allegation that this is an attempt to unseat Wee, I think
there is some truth in that. However, this is not some dastardly plan,
but rather politics as usual. In the new paradigm, every effort has to
be made to destroy the ‘Chinese’ oppositional representation in
Parliament, because what would be left is only the ‘Malay opposition’.
‘Chinese opposition’ here means a Chinese race-based party, which is
anathema to the Kool-Aid that we are living in a post-racial Malaysia,
and where Umno is the last bastion of a racist ideology. The new reality demands that a party like MCA is vilified for being a
race-based party, but Bersatu gets a free pass because they were needed
to win the Malay votes. Of course, the only person who was needed was
the current Bersatu grand poohbah. It would have been interesting if Dr
Mahathir Mohamad had joined PKR, to see how he and his coterie would
have reshaped the party.
Even with the thorn of Bersatu being a Malay-based party in a
supposedly post-racial coalition, the illusion can be maintained because
people want to believe. Mahathir, for all the demonisation of him by
multiracial parties when they were the opposition, is now hailed as the
messiah – so long as Harapan does not have to deal with issues that
touch upon race and religion. Financial scandals are the best gifts Umno
gave this new coalition.
Getting the party started
The fun will not start until Umno settles its power struggles. As long as Umno is embroiled in internecine conflicts as to which
faction controls Umno, and Harapan has all these wonderful financial
scandals to unearth, there really is no real Malay opposition in this
country. Remember that PAS is also included in the Malay opposition, and
the reality is that these two parties cannot strategise until Umno
decides who leads it.
Of the PAS-Umno dynamic, I cautioned
- “With Umno out in the cold, who defines Islam now? PAS, for so long
on the receiving end of a federal-funded Islamic bureaucracy and
propaganda campaign, for the moment defines the Islamic narrative in
this country. “Now that Umno is the opposition and a babe in the woods when it
comes to opposition politics, they are subservient to PAS who have
demonstrated that they are willing to go at it alone, if need be.” Furthermore, the new Umno grand poohbah has to be someone who leads
with the support of the majority of the party. He cannot be someone who
is holding on to dear life, while the factions wage war around him.
Umno political operatives who I have talked to tell me that they
realise how damaging this infighting is. The new political landscape
demands that they have disciplined political operatives working in
coordination, and not simply shooting from the hip. Besides public comments from Umno potentates like Johari Abdul Ghani,
there is a feeling, especially among younger members, that this is the
perfect opportunity to reform the party. These younger members view
Bersatu’s narrative that Umno has betrayed the Malays as a legitimate
criticism, and that reforming the Malay agenda for the new reality of
old style alliance politics is the way to go.
Underestimating the ‘Malay opposition’
It would be a mistake to underestimate the Malay opposition when it finally gets its act together. Always remember that Mahathir is a personality that partisans
gravitate to for whatever reason, and if he is not in play, the Harapan
regime will be in a whole lot of trouble, when it comes to combating the
strategies and narratives of this new Malay opposition. Always remember that it was because Mahathir could not dislodge Najib
Abdul Razak from Umno that this whole Harapan deal came about. If
Mahathir had managed to remove Najib than things would be very
Thinking Malays in Umno – and it would be stupid to think that the
party is bereft of these kinds of political operatives – rue the day
that they did not oust Najib and present a new face to their base.
Clinging on to Najib was a mistake they will never forget. The royalty incident is a good case in point. The reality is that the
royalty had overplayed their hand by getting into the business of
messing with politics. While A Kadir Jasin may have been collateral damage
when it comes to the issue of royalty, the rakyat, which include a
sizeable number of Malays, are beginning to question this sacred cow.
The rising cost of living brings forth such questioning.
And questioning sacred cows is important if we are to dismantle the ketuanan
ideology, which unfortunately many Harapan political operatives still
cling to. While it is too early to tell if one component of the sacred
‘three Rs’ of Malay politics has been removed from play, Malaysians who
want a secular democratic framework to work with should be optimistic
that messy though it is, some things are slowly changing.
Race and religion
This does not mean that we are out of the woods. Race and religion still play an important, vicious role in politics. Be it the mendacious nature of the racial political of Harapan in
denying that there are serious racial divisions in this country, most of
which are constitutionally protected, or the ‘don’t spook the Malays’ narrativewhich Anwar Ibrahim was brave enough to utter, we are not honestly dealing with racial and religious issues in this country.
Kicking this can down the road while folks are enamoured by shiny
financial scandals is short-sighted, and in my view, dangerous. This makes the Harapan regime vulnerable. Public statements by presidential hopeful Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah that Umno remain a Malay-based party are rational. After all, the people who voted for Umno obviously believe that race matters. This goading by Harapan political operatives that Umno needs to
change is rather dumb, considering Bersatu stares them in the face every
The Malay opposition will define itself by offering a virulent
counter-narrative when it comes to issues of race and religion. They
will attempt to force the Harapan regime to demonstrate how committed
they are in their secular principles, and of course their egalitarian
principles – if they are committed to these at all.
Add to this the perception that the ketuanan types will
project that the ‘Chinese-based’ element of Harapan is pulling the
strings will no doubt come into play, and it will be interesting to see
how equal power sharing translates in this new milieu.
How does Harapan deal with the Malay opposition? While I have been
dismissive of Bersatu youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, his
response to ‘bazaar-gate’ is something that points the way to how his party could redefine the Malay agenda.
By projecting itself as the party for small business owners,
working-class Malays and the reformer of the Malay civil service –
better pay, better working image, ‘regaining maruah’ – this
would ensure that the Malay political narrative is defined by Bersatu
along utilitarian lines by the Malay political operatives in Harapan,
and not the Malay opposition led by Umno and PAS.