COMMENT | Wong Chin Huat’s piece
on why Malaysian’s cannot afford Umno’s abrupt meltdown was
nerve-racking because it would be dismissed or worse ignored during this
moment of great political euphoria.
With Umno’s accounts being frozen and DAP’s Lim Lip Eng asking
if MCA and MIC’s accounts should be frozen too, it brings to mind what
Heinrich Heine observed: “We should forgive our enemies, but not before
they are hanged.”
The two big takeaways from Wong’s piece is that the destruction of
Umno would cause an infusion of Umno blood into Harapan or would
radicalise a Malay base which voted for Umno and PAS. Wong is correct on
both scenarios, and as I have argued in numerous pieces – much to the
consternation of my editors – the existential threat facing this country
is Islamic in nature.
How long Harapan can maintain the middle ground when it comes to this
issue remains to be seen. There will eventually come a time when either
Umno or PAS or both demand that Harapan demonstrate its Islamic
commitment, and it remains to be seen if Harapan can withstand such
assaults, or if the supposedly all-powerful non-Malay component members
stand up to this kind of religious intimidation.
Crippling the opposition may seem like a good strategy for the
short-term, but I do not think it is incumbent on the government to
offers incentives for Umno or the opposition to remain a viable
alternative. What the opposition has to do is come up with narratives of
their own, and while some think Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is
senile for talking the way he does, he’s right when it comes to the
realpolitik of power.
While Umno frogs crossing over to Harapan means a temporary infusion
for the various Malay power structures, the reality is that the
demographic who voted for these frogs may not cross over themselves.
Indeed, in the short-term this may seem like a win, but the only thing
it does is breed resentment which almost always leads to radicalisation.
Saying “it’s the economy stupid” is axiomatic. As long as Harapan
maintains a grip on its fiscal responsibilities and the economy is
viable things should go smoothly. All these ethnocentric rumblings will
be on the backburner. Indeed, regardless of any provocations thrown up
by Umno – in whatever form it is in – or PAS, nobody would be in the
mood to rock the boat.
However, economic and social reforms should go hand in hand with
reforms on religious institutions and whatever else that maintains an
ethnocentric grip on the majority. Umno may just be a vehicle, but the reality is that the ketuanan system is more than just a political party. The system confronts us when the current Harapan grand poohbah talks about how the Chinese are rich, or when Anwar Ibrahim warns us not to “spook the Malays.” The system also includes those non-Malays who enable such narratives because this is the new Malaysia.
More and more, it seems that the only opposition we will have is an
Islamic one. Whoever controls Umno – the newly minted president may be
removed from the board – will realise that PAS is the only viable
candidate when it comes to regaining power. In fact, an Umno bereft of
most of its 1MDB-tainted funds is a kind of tabula rasa for a reengineered radical Malay right.
With Ahmad Zahid Hamidi at the helm and the Abdul Hadi Awang faction
in control of PAS, the opportunities for mischief are great. Attempting
to cripple this Islamic alliance by the Harapan regime will results in
more blowback than profit. The PAS people I have spoken to are biding their time until Hadi and
his coteries get their just desserts. Make no mistake, they are not some
progressive element within PAS, but rather the more virulent kind of
Islamists whose ideology – if one can call it that – is intoxicating for
a variety of reasons, but chiefly because state stupidly encouraged
such nonsense for decades.
Controlling the narrative
Here is where I disagree with Chin. While I do not know if Malaysians
have really ever wanted a colour-blind system, I would argue that Umno
did impose its brand of ethnic nationalism on the Malay polity – the
most successful purveyor of which is, of course, the current Harapan
grand poohbah. The problem now is that PAS is free to control the
Islamic narrative unless the Harapan state imposes its own.
For someone like me, a non-Malay, the only acceptable narrative is a
pluralistic one. A marketplace of ideas that should keep us safe from
the machinations of the deep Islamic state, Umno and PAS and yes, maybe
even Harapan. The problem with this is that it probably won’t work
because there would be very little political will for something which
gives more freedom to Malay-Muslims because they will not be easy to
control. People should be concerned. When PKR, DAP and PAS joined forces, it
opened up whole other avenues for the Islamist party. Look how that
turned out. Can you imagine an Umno and PAS combination?
As it is, if the Merdeka Center poll
is taken at face value – and why should it not – there is a base in
Umno which views cooperation with PAS as something beneficial. And
here's the kicker: they were always there, except that the political
elites of Umno kept these burners low.
The outcome of this Umno election is tricky. The new/old power
structures could subscribe to their moderate Malay base and make
strategic deals with PAS when it comes to the rural heartlands. This is
because most urbanites only think these people are ignorant and backward
and don’t give a crap about them, except when it comes to the old
maverick convincing them that the alternative coalition will look after
Harapan has to get its act together. It has to undertake major
reforms in the way how they deal with the rural heartland. They have to
reform institutions which Umno used to spread its poisoned narratives,
but more importantly they have to stop with this nonsense that this is a
new Malaysia, all the while sending contradictory messages to its
More important still, the political operatives from Harapan should
stop making inane comments about Umno and PAS. If there are allegations
to be investigated then let the so-called independent bodies do the
work, while Harapan political operatives get down to the hard work of
saving the country instead of taking pot shots at the old regime. Of course, it would be worse if Umno dissolves into Bersatu. Then
this would just leave PAS and a Malay base which now understands that
Umno could never be trusted and that PAS was right all along.
Furthermore, who knows if the political careers of these frogs is
sustainable. Of course, some people think that the Umno base are all
waiting for dedak, and they will doubtless be sorely surprised
when a resurgent Malay right rears its head.
Racial and religious
tensions in this country will be on the rise, and will only get worse if
and when Mahathir steps down.