Harapan needs a backbone - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, May 08, 2019
Malaysiakini : “Don't hit at all if it is honourably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft!” - Theodore Roosevelt
| The rumblings from the rural Malay heartland, amplified by the union
between PAS and Umno, is an example of how policies that could save
Malaysia are held hostage by rural voters.
Commenting on the
global trend of identity politics and warning that rural Malay voters
should not be dismissed as “racists”, KRA strategy director Amir Fareed
Rahim has called for identity politics to be challenged by the politics
of hope and vision. The problem with all this talk of the politics
of “hope” and “vision” is that ultimately it means very little. What
“vision” does Harapan have for this country when it comes to the
foundation of mainstream Malay politics? If all Harapan is doing is
replaying the Umno/BN game, then it will surely lose the rural Malay
vote that seems to be the holy grail of Malaysian politics.
Malay voters understand they have nothing to lose if they vote for the
opposition because they understand the game is rigged in their favour.
They know that Malay power structures will not do anything to “punish”
them because they hold so much power – unequal power – when it comes to
who is running this country. Malaysia has not seen a rise in identity
politics because the foundation of Malaysian politics is identity
politics. While Harapan needs a message, what is more important at
this moment is that it needs to develop a backbone. Having a message is
pointless if you allow the message to be hijacked, or worse,
manipulated by your political opponents. To ensure that both do not
happen, you need a backbone.
In a recent forum about Harapan's
progress, a panellist argued that Harapan should be using state
propaganda resources to counter the “extremists' views.” Tengku
Razaleigh Hamzah, before the 14th general election, talked about how the
state had resources which not only included media organisations, but
also intelligence services, which gave them an edge in elections.
There has been much talk about how Harapan’s messaging has been failing. Most recently prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim (photo, above) conceded that Harapan’s dodgy messaging was the cause of much of its problems. He
also claimed that the “urban elite” was distracting from the bread and
butter issues of the rural people, which I suppose put him on the
opposite side of what E Nalini said at the forum: “But people who are
critical of the government and saying good things are being
The real issue is, what “message” does the Harapan
regime have? When Kok Lanas assemblyman Alwi Che Ahmad said, “Do you
know that (Attorney-General) Tommy Thomas is now a household name even
in the kampung? I don’t need to elaborate why.” Alwi does not need to
elaborate because what the far right has been doing is propagating the
idea that the non-Malays are taking over the government and not
respecting the royal institutions and Islam.
Their message is
working for the base which they need, and they are bereft of the
mainstream propaganda channels they used to have. What about
Harapan’s message? Harapan's message seems mainly about rebranding
Umno/BN era policies – with the qualifier that it would be less
“corrupt” and placating the extreme elements, which do not necessarily
include the Umno/PAS union.
Let us not talk about the
preoccupations of the non-Malays, but rather the fight for the Malay
demography. It is pointless for Harapan’s religious czar to blather on
about how mosques should be free from politics. If there are clerics who
are federally funded or (Harapan) state-funded, they should be pushing
the Harapan narrative on Islam. When you work for the federal
bureaucracy or get funds from the federal bureaucracy, you should be
pushing the official narrative of the state.
should be politicising the Islamic narrative of the Harapan state in
mosques and in the mainstream media. They should not be allowed to
propagate Umno's version of Islam. If they do not fall in line, they
should be fired. There are a plethora of young religious school
graduates who are waiting for an opportunity to take their place and who
have a burgeoning following on social media. The question is whether there is a difference between the Islamic narrative of the Harapan regime and the former Umno regime.
point is how the Malay power structures in Harapan are not defending
their non-Malay counterparts. You can call the MCA (I still do not want
to talk about the MIC) running dogs, but when the Umno/BN regime was
functional, the Malay power structures in BN created a narrative for
non-Malay participation in BN. They did this using not only state media,
but also localised policies that did not threaten the sensitivities of
the Malay vote banks.
Some political and religious operatives
claim the DAP is damaging Harapan’s “Malay” public image with the
statements they make. This is probably true in some instances, but the
larger, more important narrative is that when BN was in power, it
acknowledged in its propaganda activities that the MCA had to look after
Chinese interests and pushed the narrative that this was part of the
Unfortunately, Harapan does not have this
convenient tool. Harapan has made some bold symbolic moves, like
anointing a non-Malay as AG and making the CJ a woman, but what it has
failed to do is fight dirty with the far right. What Harapan
should be doing is demonstrating that the new regime will not bow down
to the far right when it attempts to diminish government institutions.
The way to do this is to use laws it uses against ordinary citizens -
those people who E Nalini said are saying "good things" - against the
racial and religious provocateurs of the far right. Let these political
operatives defend themselves in a court of law instead of contaminating
the court of public opinion.
can make all sorts of promises and throw goodies closer to elections,
but until the big showdown, you should be wearing down your opponents. A
good example is this royal fight between Mahathir and the royal house
of Johor. Many people are using Mahathir as a proxy for their pent up
feelings about the royal institution, but what this demonstrates is that
at least Mahathir is willing to slay sacred cows when political power
(his) is threatened.
Of course, Mahathir is not getting the
backing he should receive because most Harapan political operatives are
struggling to find their cajones. I do not blame the non-Malay political
operatives for not getting involved, and they should stay out of it.
However, Harapan Malay power structures should be jumping on the
bandwagon to drive home the point to the far right and their proxies
that there is a new sheriff in town.
Of course, the far right is
waiting to see if there is a handover of power, or even if the prime
minster's age permits, for him to continue the fight. That is a scary
proposition, since most in the Malay power structure in Harapan would
rather fight one another than their political opponents.