The Middle Class Dilemma by Karim Raslan

January 22, 2013

The Middle Class Dilemma

karim-raslan2The Malaysian middle classes are trapped.The 2013 general election leaves them with an unenviable choice.

On the one hand, they are presented with the incumbents whom they view — in the main — as unreformed and unrepentant. Indeed the shrill and nasty tone of the NGO activist and viral video protagonist Sharifah Zohra Jabeen Syed Shah Miskin would appear to encapsulate Barisan Nasional’s ethos.

However, the Opposition is also failing to add value to the debate. Four-and-half years on, the reality of Pakatan Rakyat’s uneven leadership has been laid bare for all to see and evaluate. Selangor and Penang are the highlights with Kedah and Kelantan as the laggards. It’s not a good sign when the contrast is that big.

Anwar and Pakatan MPs

In the 2008 polls, many of the middle classes deserted the ruling coalition as swathes of the prosperous West Coast fell to Pakatan Rakyat’s promise. This time around, whilst the Opposition looks set to maintain its grip on these parts of the country, the fervency of the support has dipped.

This is due in part to the stresses of maintaining an alliance that straddles such disparate partners particularly the Islamist Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (or PAS) and the avowedly secular Democratic Action Party (DAP). Over the intervening years, we have become all too aware of the weaknesses inherent in this apparently opportunistic pairing.

Certainly, the constant attacks by Pakatan’s enemies have begun to gain traction. We now know that with regards to issues of public morality and religion, we should look to PAS’s Majlis Syura for guidance and direction. In this all-important arena, the Malay leadership in Parti Keadilan Rakyat (or PKR) has had little success.

NajibAt the same time, Barisan Nasional (BN) has chosen to focus on galvanising its base of rural and semi-rural Malays in a determined attempt to hold on to power and head-off Pakatan’s incursions into the countryside.

What this has meant in practical terms is that whilst the prime minister has maintained a resolutely centrist and inclusive approach, his own party has veered to the “right” in order to excite and mobilise the Malay base. With the rhetoric so uncompromisingly Malay and generally working class, bourgeois concerns — corruption and the abuse of power — have been shunted aside.

How have these developments left the middle classes trapped?Well, many were frustrated and exasperated by the real (and perceived) mismanagement of Barisan, seeing Pakatan as a welcome injection of probity and professionalism into governance and public life.

However, recent events in Kedah over the appropriateness of women singing and performing publicly shows the extent to which PAS’s greater conservatism extends beyond the confines of the Malay/Muslim community. Moreover, the furore over the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims and PAS’s very public flip-flop on the issue underlines this critical factor and the supremacy of the Majlis Syura.

So for many in the middle class, Pakatan’s promise of a clean and professionalHadi Awang administration has unfortunately been undermined by concerns about fears of moral policing and the arbitrary imposition of syariah.

These fears are real and cannot be assuaged by mere promises that PKR and the DAP will be able to moderate PAS in power. BN said and continues to say the same thing about UMNO’s racialist sentiments and that isn’t working very well.

The coalition, which ultimate proves itself willing to acknowledge that Malaysia is changing and that views on morality are no longer uniform, will win the middle ground. Of course this will be painful but it’s what the country needs to move forward.

Ultimately however, Malaysia’s middle class must decide in the next general election what’s a greater threat: the prospect of moral policing and creeping fundamentalism, or unchecked, institutionalised corruption and the abuse of power.

Is it possible that some day these threats will eventually merge into one massive challenge about what it really means to be Malaysian and what is the true nature of our country? Now do you see what I mean about the middle classes being trapped?

* Karim Raslan is a Malaysian writer who travels the region to know more and write more about the life and times of its people.

15 thoughts on “The Middle Class Dilemma by Karim Raslan

  1. Why would the Malaysian middle class (or for that matter, any decent Malaysian) vote for such a rotten ruling regime ?

  2. I have no doubt, should PR come into power and UMNO undergoes a overhaul in change of leadership, PAS would attempt to make a deal with UMNO. STILL I will vote PR even though I am even stronger in my believe PAS is absolutely wrong on their ideology. The truth is WE CAN’T AVOID THE ISSUE OF RELIGO-POLITICS FOREVER.. The truth is we need to embrace the debate to come to a national consensus on the issue – ultimately we have to point out to the religo-politicians – qouting of ANY TEXT in govt is simply NOT good enough..Things have to work, proven to work, not a matter of faith..

  3. I have read many articles of Karim Raslan’s Ceritalah in The Star in the past. He sure can cerita but this mat salleh is not hard hitting at the core and many times missing the point. Why bother? It is only cerita.

    Karim ideas or conclusions are not as power or has the depth with other writers in The Star, such as with the chief, Datuk Wong, Marina Mahathir, Azmi Sharom, Joceline Tan etc etc. I have wrote personal emails to the above writers, all of them reply except for Karim Raslan. This mat salleh does not take feedback from his cerita land.

    It always at easy go luck type of mat salleh, no depth in study, basically all under a tempurung ideology.

    Karim Raslan sure can cerita, he would be continuing his cerita in Astro Awani too, host of a new programme.

    The sad part is… most kampung folks can relate to his cerita which is easy and simple.

  4. “Ultimately however, Malaysia’s middle class must decide in the next general election what’s a greater threat: the prospect of moral policing and creeping fundamentalism, or unchecked, institutionalised corruption and the abuse of power.”

    if that is the only choice, i go for moral policing and fundamentalism, because that can be checked, but not the pervasive corruption and abuse of power nowadays.

    I consider myself in the middle class – I’m beginning to believe that the majority of politicians in BN/PR wants power mainly because they want to enrich themselves. Are there still honest politicians whose No. 1 objective is to ensure the rakyat enjoy a decent standard of living, not because so that the rakyat will vote for them, but simply because that is the right thing to do? My friends say I’m dreaming of the ideal, but I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m tired of listening to both sides (BN/PR) because I’m never sure if they’re telling everything or if they choose to say what they want us to hear.
    In the upcoming election, they tell me Barisan may win, say 51% to BN and 49% to PR. With such a slim majority, there will be massive frogging after the election, because these politicians just want power: One minute PR will say they have 52% seats, the next minute BN will say they have 53% seats. There may be riots if BN doesn’t win – enabling the ruling govt to declare emergency so that PR will not be able to take Putrajaya.
    I live in the kampung where BN support is strong. Living and talking with the kampung people here, I sense BN’s media (TV and newspapers) are doing a great job in mobilizing support. I guess in the kampung in Kelantan, PAS is still doing a great job in mobilizing support too. It is amazing how folks (urban and rural areas) are easily persuaded by what they’re told, without going out to verity what they hear. If there is no cheating in the election, it looks like the party that will win will continue to be party that has the most resources to reach out to the majority.
    My conclusion: u need money to gain support…. And I’m still looking for honest politicians to rule our country. Can anyone name them…and shouldn’t they form a new political party? It is heartsick to think that those who know they will be the kingmaker will make selfish demands which will create disunity among the rakyat.

  5. Given the major drift with UMNO, what do you people see?

    In my opinion, Atir may have his way IF and IF he adapt, adopt, borrow, modify or plagiarize some of Pakatan’s manifesto. We know he is capable of going alone and seems that he very much wants that for Mukriz.

    Well, what would the public like to see in Atir’s Manifesto that is do-able?

    He could but would he?…….. its easier for the camel to go through the eye of a camel than for a wealthy man to give up some of his gold……the streets of heaven glitters more gloriously than gold than we need RAYBAN.

  6. Dilemma? What dillemma?! Define ‘middle-class’?

    It might end up as a Trilemma.. Firstly, the urban going fully to PR, semi-urban (depending on the level of ‘ulu-ness’) 50:50, and the ulu’s in Semenanjung 60:40 with BN winning, while in Sabah-Sarawak perhaps 50:50 or even 45:55 in favour of PR. Depends on the kalimah Allah, er.. Word of God.

    So basically, the key to the kingdom at Putrajaya does not rest on the ‘middle-class’. It rests in the swamps, beaches, caves, plains, jungles and highlands of East Malaysia. (Sorry for the geography lesson).

    So you guys/gals, might predict, forecast, jampi, prophesy and what not, but the reality is too close to call. After all, it’s the Year of the Water Snake.

  7. Where are the numbers coming from?
    Don’t compare with Island state down stairs. They are all urban who wont buy into sensation.
    Every song is sung differently in each state. A salesman knows where to get his numbers and tell the story differently to different person. Aim is to get them depart their wallet (vote). Delivery always delay and sometime salesman abscond…..latest being the gold scam so there is also political scam…no dif
    how many of us on this site? not significant at all; one man one vote. Our ceramah here never house pack unlike those in kampongs.

    The netizens of voting age will yak among themselves and with political robots. who knows there is also a robot on these pages.

    Sentiments will be played to the Pak Cik and Mak Cik….and yes those with deep pockets will sponsor the ceramah

    Just watch out for our political maestro Atir. He has not faded. We may see our EXPANDABLE II: Starring Atir, AhSik and Alu come together in a brand new party without racial line. Together they have the experience of what to say, when to say and who to say to. Together they have ultra deep pockets. Someone just whispered an unbelievable news that don’t discount them forming a new party to take everyone. Probability of that is now 1%.

    But on the positive side, if they can come clean to profess a convincing manifesto close to PR, if they can convincingly tell how they will put right the path they tried and not worked, folks may buy their new broom hoping it will sweep clean. Then the trio may get to remake history.

    Looking back, he had been successful as a one-handed politician and many still believe his capabilities.

    If that happen then we have three corner fights all around. No tag-team.

    Or maybe the one-handed politician will go alone? He had his excuse to leave UMNO so the same excuse may swing some to him.

    Tok Din had said somewhere he is not surprised of this man’s ambition.

  8. ‘apparently opportunistic pairing?’; NO, it is a marriage of convenience, Raslan
    comparing the PR coalition and BN coalition is like comparing an apple with a pear.

    I’m in the middle class and I don’t feel trapped; why should I, I’ll vote for the opposition? if a particular middle class chap is profiting from the government of the day or employed by them and indoctrinated to vote for them every election like a lab rat, he also knows who to vote so he is not trapped. the rest of the folks will vote PR. even after accepting $$$’s dished out.
    therefore in Malaysia there is an umno-bn class and the rest are middle class, its that simple.

    your scholarly presumption is that all malaysians are stupid and incapable of making up their mind.
    this article is nothing more than an elaboration of the dirty old mans ‘the devil you know is better than the angel you don’t know!

  9. Karim Raslan is right in his assumption that Malays are easily convinced and will believe anything that the media or someone in authority dishes out.
    For example I have friend a couple in fact. Graduated from 2 different universities in the US and returned to Malaysia to take on senior positions with both a Government agency and the husband in a GLC. When Apple was building the Tech Bar in NYC the contractor had covered the cube shaped building in black material. Immediately this couple wrote to me to boycott Apple as they claim Apple is insulting the Muslims by building a Kaabah in NYC and calling it a Bar. I said hold on, Apple is building a Tech Bar where techies can go and play around with the latest toys. The building while in the shape of a cube is not like Kaabah. It is a glass building and not a bar serving alcohol.

    Clearly 2 graduates can be easily convinced because the news is touchy to their belief and how the Malaysian media had taken advantage of these people. Imagine what would have happened?

  10. Semper,

    That’s how the Malay mind works. I don’t blame them for they are being conditioned to behave and believe in such a manner. It’s always “don’t question religion or the Quran. That’s taboo”. They’d rather believe the ustaz and ustazah then their own parents. I have seen this happening too often.

    Tapi nak buat apa bangsa kita sendiri. Kita kutok ibarat ludah ke langit lah. Jatoh ke batang hitong sendiri. Sodeh betul.

  11. Yes, looes74

    The worst performing Malaysian PM ever. Who’s monitoring his KPIs ?
    Also, the most fiscally irresponsible Malaysian Minister of Finance ever.

  12. The middle class always been margenalist in everything. What else we espect? Changes in GE13. What we want is not changes in goverment, but changes in how the country governt. Its ok if we need to change the goverment.

  13. i strongly agree with wave 33…karim raslan only cerita about his general view of the scenarios in malaysia from people’s ways of life to political matters…his ceritalah is only based on opinions and secularisme thinking…he doensnt really feel about being a real malaysian…probably maybe he is more confortable to be in indonesia..

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