Thursday 20 September 2012

Risky racial business in Malaysia

  • S Thayaparan
  • 9:43AM Sep 20, 2012
"[O]nce demagogy and falsehoods become routine, there isn't much for the political journalist to do except handicap the race and report on the candidate's mood." - George Packer

COMMENT It seemed that Prime Minister Najib Razak's warning to the Malays that their hegemony - theirs mind you, not Umno's - would come to an end if things don't go the Umno way in the next general election, has caused the predictable backlash.

The likeable Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua warned that Najib "is more than willing to play the racial card to protect BN's hold on power."

Really? Come on Pua, aren't you all playing the race card? I don't think the DAP can caution against playing the race card or chiding anyone for appealing to a particular racial demographic when the DAP not once but twice had a public debate with the MCA over the issue of ‘Chinese' concerns.

The DAP is now in the enviable (to the MCA, that is) position of commanding the Chinese vote so it's left to PKR and PAS to pull in the Malay numbers. What do you think the long awaited (but would probably never happen) debate between Najib and Anwar is supposed to achieve? What language do you think it would be in and the target demographic?

NONEAnd really the sub rosa language of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng (right) is not really necessary.
"If Umno succeeds in its racial and extremist politics of pitting Malays against non-Malays, Muslims against non-Muslims, then the country will come out more fractured and divided after the general elections," he gravely intoned.

Most civilised people in the world would consider our racial politics divisive and Najib was not pitting Malay against "non-Malays", he was pretty specific.

He was warning the Malays that they would be screwed if Pakatan Rakyat ever came into power because there was no Malay "backbone" and that the "DAP has never been happy with the position of the Malays and Muslims. Look at Perak's experience," he added. "Their (DAP's) sentiments are not like ours. This is not about winning or losing, this is the question of the survival of the Malays."

In other words, he was pitting Malay against Chinese. Indians and the Orang Asli generally are not even worth the effort as far as the discourse is concerned.
But why worry about something like this? Pakatan die-hards are more than willing to accommodate the notion of Malay hegemony/supremacy as long as it's not the Umno version.

Lim may want this election "be a contest of ideas and policies for the survival of all Malaysians instead of pitting Malays against non-Malays" but the reality is as the MCA-DAP debates demonstrate, it is actually about the realigning of racial power structures and the possible political demise of a racial power group long past its expiry date.

Brandishing the God card
And there has been no real question of policies or ideas because nobody, least of all Pakatan, want to commit to anything beyond pointing out the corruption that exist in the system but are shy on details as to how to reboot the system or create a new one entirely.

umno 65th anniversary 110511 najib making doaBesides, Najib has got bigger concerns to worry about than his whole 1Malaysia charade and baiting the Chinese community. His recent plea to Umno members to earn God's blessing by pursuing their agenda in a "cohesive" manner is a reminder that all is not well in Umno house.

And it's funny when you think about it. Najib believes that Umno has received God's blessing since its inception but doesn't see that the recent Umno erosion of influence as a sign from God. Playing the God card may excite populist sentiment but somehow I doubt it plays well with defectors weaned from the Umno teat and looking for a new source of nourishment now that the Umno end may be close.

Most view these ‘roads to Damascus'-like converts with suspicion but make do with their presence as some sort of psychological victory until their sometimes public denunciations of their former comrades or masters feeds the outrage machine, which is the only kind of discourse in Pakatan circles.

The fact that Pakatan is willing to receive such Umno rejects says a lot about the system in place and the political players jostling for a space around the table. The poor track record of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim choosing his allies makes it difficult for anyone to mount a credible defence of PKR policy when it comes to party hoppers.

Anti-party hopping legislation has been bandied about and it would nice if Pakatan could come up with a cohesive detailed plan that would address this issue. God willing, it would be soon but I'm sure we will be revisiting this issue after the elections when they are frantic manoeuvrings to either get the best deal or attempts to topple state governments.

Regaining lost Malay support

However, there's more to it than the cohesion of Umno. The Malay community is fractured and Umno is desperate to regain lost support. Umno may very well get it. Who knows if the community will swing back to the devil they know. Right now, Umno is seen as waging war on its own community.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein's reprehensible remark that the attacks on Anwar are part of the political risks that opposition parties here in Malaysia face and the Umno state won't guarantee his (Anwar's) safety not only doesn't go down well with the non-Malay communities but just reinvigorates the ‘maha firaun' narrative of PAS and reminds the non-Umnoputras how disenfranchised they really are from the mainstream.

umno agm 250309 hishammuddin wield keris 03Footage from the various protests depicts a majority Malay community under attack from a majority Malay state security apparatus. So, while Hishammuddin may think he is scoring points with the right-wing faction of the Malay polity by waving his keris or sitting with cow-head seditionists, he is doing a great deal of damage to Umno's own racial credibility when he makes damning statements about how the security apparatus of this country cannot guarantee the safety of its citizens merely because they are political rivals.

But the real tragedy is that open letters to the Umno leadership in the vein of author Kee Thuan Chye's open letters to Chua Soi Lek is not the norm even amongst the so-called moderate Malay community.

Nobody (and nobody in this context is defined as a member of the Malay community) has the guts to put forward the radical idea (radical for the Malay community, that is) like Kee did (with regards to the Chinese community) that perhaps the Malays are better off voting for opposition parties even if it means voting for a predominately non-Malay government or a government which is more racially diverse unlike now.

Of course, when you have the DAP assuring the Malay community that its leadership never intends to claim the highest office in the land (which would be seen as a provocation or at least construed as such by the right-wing Malay factions) you can't blame anyone for not wanting to deviate from the agreed upon racial script. Or maybe you can.

Idealism of course we are constantly being told has no place in this conflict even though many would not consider such a sentiment idealism but rather bitter medicine that every community has to endure if it wants to evolve beyond its most basic of communal expectations.

It's probably the main reason why things will never change except superficially and probably the reason why ultimately Umno could cling on to power until the non-Malay factor becomes a non-issue. Until then, never mind the outrage.

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