Will this be Mahathir’s finest moment?

December 17, 2018

Will this be Mahathir’s finest moment?

by Kim Quek



COMMENT | I refer to Rais Hussin’s article “Mahathir’s resignation is not an option” which is a response to my own “Mahathir must step down to save Reformasi.”

Reviewing the above two articles, I would contend that the issues at hand are: The potentially devastating impact on Pakatan Harapan arising from the anticipated mass migration of defecting UMNO MPs to Bersatu, and whether Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad should step down at this juncture.

Defecting UMNO MPs

What motivates UMNO MPs to defect in the first place?Considering that the intention to defect occurred so soon after losing the election, the probability of this being motivated by a drastic change of political ideology is almost nil.

Such speedy decisions to switch camp from the opposition to the ruling coalition are invariably prompted by the desire to seek greener pastures, as well as to escape criminal investigation and prosecution, as almost all of them have been tainted by corruption during the corrupt rule of UMNOo and Najib Abdul Razak. They are pure opportunists, and many are intended escapees from the law.

Their massive influx would reflect the complete lack of integrity and principles of Harapan in general and Bersatu in particular.

Fatally for Harapan, it will be taken as a grand sell-out of the electorate, who had voted Harapan to power precisely because they had been repulsed by the despicable UMNO leadership.

And whatever Bersatu may say, it can not remove the widespread perception that it is implicated in such mass movement of defectors.

Former minister Hamzah Zainuddin’s declaration of 36 UMNO MPs having signed a pledge of loyalty to Mahathir is the latest incident, among many others, that has given fuel to such perception.

Mahathir as a reformist PM

What is the root cause of UMNO’s decadence, which subsequently leads to its almost instant virtual collapse?

Answer: racism and corruption. The former breeds the latter, in addition to fracturing the country along racial lines, breeding mediocrity and brain drain which have caused our prolonged economic malaise – all under UMNO’s hegemonic rule.

The Reformasi movement founded by Anwar Ibrahim in 1998 was precisely intended to overcome all these vices, which includes wiping out corruption, restoring justice and equality, reforming the tattered institutions and restoring the rule of law, thereby putting the country on the path of healthy national integration and robust economic growth.

The Harapan coalition has therefore an enormous task at hand. In addition to reforming the broken institutions, the impaired governance and restoring the rule of law, it must at the same time tackle racism which is the mother of these evils.

Among these urgent tasks, institutional reforms and reform of biased mindsets on race and religion of the majority of our populace are basic, the success of which should serve as a solid foundation upon which ‘New Malaysia’ will thrive.

It goes without saying that to successfully implement such a heavily reform-loaded agenda, the leader must be a reformist of deep conviction of such reforms.

In this respect, Mahathir’s background would make him ill-fitted as leader of this reformist coalition, considering the fact that most of his current task would involve dismantling or reforming or rebuilding the governance infrastructures which he built during his long reign as UMNOPresident and Prime Minister.

And this is reflected in his delay or refusal to repeal many repressive laws, to abolish racist institutions, to reveal comprehensive recommendations for institutional reforms.

It is also reflected in his lack of enthusiasm to reform the biased mindset on race and religion, and the lack of action to gradually and strategically phase out pervasive racial discriminations and reintroducing meritocracy in education, state-controlled enterprises and public service.

While it is unfair to demand full performance on such reform agenda from Mahathir, in view of his political background, the same cannot be said of Anwar, founder and leader of the Reformasi movement and successor-designate to Mahathir.

Anwar would be a shoo-in for this task. Apart from being the architect of the reform concepts of this movement, he was also instrumental in formulating the election manifestos for the 12th and 13th general elections, which later served as a blueprint for the manifesto which helped Harapan to win a sweeping victory in the 14th general election.

Anwar has built up the movement from cradle to its present maturity, for which he has endured incomparable sufferings and political persecution almost continuously throughout the past two decades of struggles.

He is not only the most knowledgeable person on such reforms, but he also has the grit, guts and gumption to see the reforms through to their fruition.

Mahathir’s finest moment?

Mahathir is a politician extraordinaire. He is unique in modern history. After autocratically ruling the country for 22 years, he returned to the political scene many years later to lead a reformist coalition and succeeded in overthrowing the decadent regime which had ruled uninterrupted since independence 61 years ago and crowned himself Prime Minister at the incredible age of 93.

He has made many mistakes in the past, but he has also made the greatest contribution to the country – dethroning the almost unbeatable, corrupted-to-the core autocracy, thus giving the nation a new breath of life.

However, his greatest challenge is yet to come.

At this moment, when the mass of UMNO defectors are at his doorstep ready to boost up his relatively small party, will he embrace them to strengthen his hand to rule to his heart’s content?

Or will he have the wisdom at this final hour to recognise the sacrosanct call of history – relinquish power now, and let his reformist successor lead the next leg of the nation’s journey?

The former choice would almost certainly cause the coalition to lose credibility with its supporting electorate and cause dissension within the coalition and demoralise the entire reform movement.

While the latter choice would give a fresh impetus to the current reform agenda that would enable the nation to scale new heights and make this his crowning moment that would seal his status as founder of the ‘New Malaysia’.

Whatever Mahathir decides, it may mark another turning point for the country.

KIM QUEK is the author of the banned book The March to Putrajaya, and bestseller Where to, Malaysia?

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Thinking beyond Harapan’s Disruptive Politics

December 16, 2018

Thinking beyond Harapan’s Disruptive Politics

Opinion  |  by Azly Rahman
www. malaysiakini.com

Image result for anwar ibrahim

COMMENT | Like many Malaysians, left simultaneously bedazzled and fuming by desperate politicians jumping ship and welcomed aboard by those on the sinking ‘Bahtera Merdeka’, I was angry. I still am.

I wrote a series of social media posts to register my disgust towards the nature of Pakatan Harapan’s politics, and how this is going to lead the coalition and the country towards disruption.

The years leading to the next general election will see politicians busy focusing on how to kill each other politically, if not sending each other to jail, rather than helping communities. Time and resources to do good, whether utilitarian or ontological, will be wasted.

What exactly should be our agenda? What do the people want from those elected into office and paid handsomely to talk and argue in Parliament? What was the promise and how do we reclaim the agenda?

But first, some of my notes of disgust:

  • Disruptive politics at its disruptive best – this is what Pakatan Harapan is offering its voters who are now devastated.
  • Politics based on lifelines and the avoidance of life in prison is politics not alive. Dead as deadwood.
  • Just when Malaysians are about to learn what hope for reform means, we have the gates open for pirates who abandoned the mothership.
  • How nervous will leaders of Harapan component parties be now about the future of their jobs, as well as when the rebranded Umno emerges?
  • The question is: can a fragile democracy such as Malaysia afford a zero-opposition policy? That would be crazy.
  • Let the corrupt leave their caves, but close the gates of the sanctuary. Let a strong opposition grow from the ruins of the old.
  • Other parties must preserve integrity at a time when it is for sale. Time to review the coalition.
  • People were angry there were groups that spoiled the votes, like #UndiRosak. Now, are we seeing a damaged government evolving?
  • What then is the difference between the old and the new regime, if the old crooks are invited back, in the name of a two-thirds majority?

Our first move

Where do we go from here – from the premise of change and the reality of disruption to a properly framed course of action? What ideas do we need to push in order for our nation to progress along the path of our common dream?

This is what we need to see evolving: brand-new political will, radical political change, an overhaul of the system and a fresh new mandate.

We need a prison complex big enough to incarcerate the long corrupt; a plan to redistribute wealth, dismantle educational apartheid, rewrite Malay and Malaysian history, and rethread the moral fibre of security personnel.

We need the widespread arrest of political tyrants, a restructuring of the casino capitalist economy, the restructuring of local government, and a clampdown on racist hate groups.

We need a return to the rule of law, to an agricultural society, to a cooperative system, as well as experiment with a radically new form of communal living.

We must dismantle systems that allow corporate giants to continue to prey upon the weak, strengthen labour, re-educate political officials on management, ethics, and political philosophy, and punish polluters and the destroyers of forests.

We need to separate religion and state, do away with useless cultural and religious rituals, and restructure society based on the principles of radical multiculturalism and the celebration of transcultural philosophies.

We need to cut down on TV time and introduce the reading of the great works of arts, humanities, literature, and philosophy, as well as curb rhetoric on Islamic or any religious state.

We need all these and more to turn the system on its ugly head.

Image result for tunku abdul rahman

As revered founding father Tunku Abdul Rahman – himself a victim of a political coup by racialised politicians – said in 1957 when he proclaimed the country’s independence:

”…But while we think of the past, we look forward in faith and hope to the future; from henceforth we are masters of our destiny, and the welfare of this beloved land is our own responsibility.

“Let no one think we have reached the end of the road: Independence is indeed a milestone, but it is only the threshold to high endeavour – the creation of a new and sovereign state.

“At this solemn moment, therefore I call upon you all to dedicate yourselves to the service of the new Malaya: to work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty – a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world.

Indeed, when people believe in the future of their nation, it will be strong. That belief in Malaysia must be rekindled and recreated.

The next agenda

The agenda for true reform must be honoured by the present regime, provided that the component parties come together, study Tunku’s vision, recall what they themselves promised, remove the ills plaguing communitarian and sectarian politics, and the mad spy-versus-spy world in which we scheme against one another and build personal and family empires.

As it is, the scenario does not look good, because we are moving towards yet another form of authoritarianism, don’t-care-for-the-people-ism, plus a whole set of ‘isms’ that are disruptive to what we wish for as an independent nation: sustainability, peace, and social justice.

It is a complex issue for a complex plural nation with complex needs, governed by complex people and a regime not willing to use political will to address such complexities.

Whereas life is quite simple. We feed our needs first, rather than our greed.

Honour your promises, Harapan!

AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books available here. He grew up in Johor Bahru and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

The End of Ethno-centric Elite Rule in Malaysia

December 11, 2018

The End of Ethno-centric Elite Rule in Malaysia

by Ooi Kok Hin
Image result for pakatan harapan government

The May 1969 clashes…again reaffirmed the UMNO-MCA-MIC “historic bargain” as the cornerstone of the new Malaysian nation. Whether the “bargain” will continue to form the basis of Malaysian politics and society indefinitely in the future remains to be seen.

– Cheah Boon Kheng, Red Star Over Malaya

For over 60 years, Malaysians only knew one power-sharing formula: consociationalism, in which the elites from each ethnic group in a plural society are presumed to represent that ethnic group, and form a government by consensus-building. Writing in 1969 – the year Malaysia had a bloody ethnic riot – political scientist Arend Lijphart described consociational democracy as “government by elite cartel designed to turn a democracy with a fragmented political culture into a stable democracy”.[1]

Lijphart identified four devices of consociational democracy: government by grand coalition, mutual veto, proportionality, and segmental autonomy.[2] The elites form a grand coalition by gathering political cooperation from the various significant groups in a fragmented, plural society. This coalition forms the foundation of a consociational arrangement. Mutual veto ensures protection from and for each group. Proportionality is reflected in a group’s representation in, or allocation of resources by, the government. And finally, segmental autonomy can be given to the variant groups either in terms of territorial governance or certain key areas of life (education, cultural identity, language, etc.). The grand coalition is the most important and distinguishable feature of consociational democracy, and the other three devices are supplementary.[3]

Barisan Nasional (BN) embodied consociationalism. It was a grand coalition formed chiefly of three parties – the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) – and it ruled the country with few serious threats to its hegemony. For the most part, each component political party in BN appealed to a specific electorate by ethnicity. For a long time, the grand coalition appeared to work.  BN was the world’s longest continuously elected government (63 years from 1955 to 2018, if we include its predecessor, the Alliance, and the first pre-Independence General Election), until  the General Election of the 9 May 2018, known as GE14.

In GE14, BN lost all but two state governments (Pahang, smack in the middle of the Peninsular, and tiny Perlis). UMNO lost power, and its coalition partners were annihilated from Parliament. The collapse didn’t stop at electoral setback: political parties gave up on the sinking ship, leaving the once 13-strong coalition with only three members. Departures included the once multiracial Gerakan and four Sarawak parties, the most significant being Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).


The Secretary-General of UMNO, Annuar Musa, recently called for the suspension of the BN coalition to explore other political partnerships, most likely with the Islamist party, PAS.[4] MCA Deputy President (and its sole surviving Member of Parliament) Wee Ka Siong, said the Chinese party should no longer “live for others and bear the brunt [of criticism] for UMNO” and that “BN has ceased to exist except only in name”.[5]

UMNO Supreme Council member, Nazri Abdul Aziz, was more blunt. He declared that UMNO wished to go it alone and “BN is as good as gone”.[6] UMNO President, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, admitted that BN will need to undergo “rebranding” after the “horrific defeat”.[7]

Consociationalism as we know it is over. In this essay, I revisit this once seemingly irreplaceable “cornerstone” of Malaysian society to ask: what happened to consociationalism, how did it emerge and become the dominant power-sharing arrangement in Malaysia, and why did it collapse?

The emergence of consociationalism: Triumph of the elites


For a deeper examination of the historical context leading to the emergence and triumph of consociationalism in Malaysia, please refer to this accompanying article.

The Japanese Occupation (1942-45) set the stage for the birth of consociationalism. Ethnic relations were largely peaceful during the British colonial period. Despite growing native anxiety over rapid immigration, ethnic conflict were contained chiefly due to the colonial segregationist policies. The Japanese Occupation changed the nature of ethnic relations in Malaya and left a permanent scar in ethnic conflict.

The emergence and adoption, in the period after 1946, of a consensus-building, power-sharing formula that aimed at political stability, must be understood in the context of deadly ethnic conflict that had occurred in recent memory and left an indelible scar on ethnic relations.

At the same time the Japanese co-opted Malays into local administration and security forces, they committed massacres – murders, rapes, and brutality – towards the Chinese. This sets the stage for inter-ethnic clashes between the mostly Chinese ‘“resistance guerillas’” and the mostly Malay “co-opted collaborators.”[8]In the political vacuum after the Japanese surrender, the social tension escalated into violent ethnic conflict. In terms of both scale (death tolls) and widespread (areas), the 1945-6 ethnic conflict was deadlier than than the May 13, 1969 ethnic riot.

Thus, the emergence and adoption, in the period after 1946, of a consensus-building, power-sharing formula that aimed at political stability, must be understood in the context of deadly ethnic conflict that had occurred in recent memory and left an indelible scar on ethnic relations.

Secondly, rivalries within the ethnic groups also contributed to the eventual adoption of the ethnic power-sharing formula. With the political victory of the elites in both major ethnic communities (Malay and Chinese), and their rivals repressed and isolated, the elites were able to claim legitimacy to represent their respective communities.

At the time, within each of the Malay and Chinese communities, political activity  generally coalesced into two general opposing groups. In  the Malay community, these were the traditional elite class of English-educated aristocrats on the one hand, and the leftist Malay nationalists on the other. Among the Chinese, they were the elite capitalist class of towkays(mostly merchants and financiers) on the one hand, and the resistance group Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) on the other.

In both cases, the elites emerged triumphant to claim legitimacy for political leadership. Many young Chinese identified with MPAJA during the brutal Japanese Occupation, but it was disbanded after the war. The leading left-wing party, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) was accused of working to overthrow the government; the British declared “Emergency” in response and crippled the party. The Chinese capitalist class was able to fill in the political vacuum through the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA), whose creation had been encouraged by British to counter the influence of MCP. MCA brought together three strands of elite Chinese: the merchants, the Chinese school intelligentsia, educationalists, and the affluent English-speaking Straits Chinese.[9]

The Malay elites consisted of the traditional ruling class and aristocrats. Onn Jaafar, the founder of UMNO, was a scion of the most elite family in Johor. His father was the first Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) of Johor and the family has close associations with the Johor palace. Onn Jaafar was educated in England and at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), widely regarded then as the best school in the country. The second and third UMNO Presidents, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Abdul Razak Hussein, were a prince from Kedah and a Pahang aristocrat respectively. To date, of UMNO’s seven presidents, only two have come from an non-aristocratic  background.[10]

This class of traditional elites seized political leadership of the Malay community, mobilising Malay opposition to the Malayan Union and negotiating independence. The alternatives to Malay political leadership were, like their Chinese counterparts, repressed by the British. The anti-colonialist Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM) aided the Japanese and gained stature as the de facto patron for the Malay community during the Japanese Occupation, but lost clout after the Japanese surrender. Some of their leaders went on to form Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM), composed and supported (according to historian Ahmat Adam) mostly by people with peasant, non-aristocratic backgrounds, in contrast to UMNO. Like the MCP, they faced a British crackdown during the Emergency, giving gave the traditional elite in UMNO a monopoly of Malay political leadership.

The triumph of the elites paved the way for elite-initiated cooperation between the two ethnic communities. Consociationalism began in earnest in the 1952 Kuala Lumpur municipal election and consolidated its position as the prefered power-sharing formula in the 1955 federal election. The ethnic-based Alliance coalition triumphed over the multiracial party led by Onn Jaafar (For details on this, see the accompanying article).

In the first half of the 1950s, consociationalism won the day over multiracial politics. The differences between the ethnic groups were preserved, and the electorate chose to be represented through the elites of their ethnic community.

Having survived the challenge from multiracialism in the 1950s, consociationalism had to contend with intense “outbidding” on ethnic issues in the late 1960s. For example, the 1967 legislation to make Malay the sole national language alienated non-Malay MCA supporters, who felt the Alliance was moving to the Malay right. Yet the Malay masses were frustrated by the Tunku administration’s gradualist approach, rather than drastic state intervention, to improve their material well-being.

The legitimacy of the elites’ claims to community leadership was seriously eroded by their performance. The Chinese party commanded only 13.5% of the total votes and 13 out of 33 contested seats.[11] UMNO too suffered;[12]the Alliance received only 54.2% of the Malay votes, down from 67.2% in 1964. This does not suggest less popularity among Malays than non-Malays, but the fact that the vote swing occurred within both communities indicated that  Consociationalism was in crisis.

The second Prime Minister, Abdul Razak Hussein, diffused the crisis through carrots and sticks. He doubled down on the Alliance consociational coalition by co-opting several opposition parties, and also ethnic parties from Sabah and Sarawak, into a new coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN). His administration also passed a slew of legislation criminalising any act, speech or publication on fundamental issues such as Bumiputera special rights, non-Malay citizenship, the position of Islam and Malay as the sole national language, and affirmative action. By doing so, Razak curtailed the democratic rights of citizens and their elected representatives to debate and question government policies and legislation on these important political issues. Yet he was able to cement the ethnic elites’ loosening grip on their political leadership over their community. His actions also shielded his radical affirmative action plan, the New Economic Plan (NEP), from critics.


The balance of power in BN’s consociationalism after 1969 was tilted to UMNO as the dominant component party, in contrast to the Alliance’s consociationalism where power was more evenly distributed. As an example, the powerful portfolio of Ministry of Finance was never again given to MCA after the second Razak cabinet. Another important development was that UMNO was no longer financially reliant on MCA for election operatives and expenses.

The “mutual veto” device identified by Lijphart was greatly eroded. The grand coalition, however, survived and expanded. Consociationalism continued a largely uninterrupted domination over Malaysian politics until 2008.

Cracks in the wall: 2008, 2013 and 2018

Image result for pakatan harapan government

March 8, 2008 was a watershed moment in Malaysian history, at least equal to the 1969 election in significance. Barisan Nasional (BN) lost its two-thirds majority and ceded power in five states, including the two most industrialised and richest states, Selangor and Penang. There was some fear of rioting, which had marked the last political upheaval of this scale. But that was averted when the political parties wisely eschewed a victory parade and some elite leaders made a clear concession speech, including appeals for peaceful transition.

The 2008 election was a breakdown in the political order, but not tantamount to crisis as in 1969. There was no suspension of Parliament, no riot or emergency (such as that which had led to the formation of the National Operations Council in 1969), no new nationalist programme or consolidation of power through a new grand coalition (as with BN’s formation in 1973). The wounded regime would drag on for another ten years. Many accounts of this election agree[13] that at the time, UMNO’s dominance in BN had reached an unchecked level, allowing the party to get away with overt racism, their non-Malay allies notwithstanding. BN’s consociationalism functioned less as equal power-sharing than as “an electoral one-party state”.[14]

This dominance and aggression amplified the contradiction within the model of consociationalism. As the ethnic Malay party appealed to its base, it threatened the base of its non-Malay allies.


Nothing captured the folly of this arrogance more than the UMNO General Assembly in 2005. In the midst of fiery speeches by UMNO delegates defending “the Malay agenda”, then BN and UMNO Youth Chief, Hishammuddin Hussein Onn, waved the kerisdagger (a symbol of Malay heritage) – an act captured by television and the infant blogosphere. While theoretically defensible as a proud display of heritage, in that context, during that period, it was a deeply political act, strengthening the perception that the non-Malay BN parties could not check the advance of an increasingly aggressive and rightward-turning UMNO. The mainstream media scurried to carry out damage control, and Hishammuddin later apologised. But it was too late. The image had deeply affected non-Malays.

Perhaps the 2004 General Election had given UMNO a feeling of invincibility. There, the party had won 110 seats (out of 219), enough to form a government by itself.[15] This dominance and aggression amplified the contradiction within the model of consociationalism. As the ethnic Malay party appealed to its base, it threatened the base of its non-Malay allies.

Thus, in 2008, the non-Malay electorate punished an aggressive UMNO by rejecting its non-Malay allies: MCA, Gerakan, and MIC. Except in some marginal seats, this would not hurt UMNO’s base, only their allies. UMNO saw the continuous rejection of their non-Malay allies as an ungrateful abandonment by non-Malay voters who, despite receiving government concessions and goodies from the UMNO-led government, tried to vote them out of power in droves. This sentiment was further amplified by Najib Razak’s failed overture to court the non-Malay votes from 2009 to 2013.

For three consecutive elections, MCA had a catastrophic showing. When elites fail to command legitimacy for political representation, consociationalism fell apart. MCA party workers and volunteers were noticeably older than their rivals.

When he took over the premiership in April 2009, Najib launched a national unity initiative, 1Malaysia. Various government departments and programmes were launched, including a full-fledged public relations campaign with its own logo, clips worn by all civil servants, salutations, and even an official song. For a while, the racial overtones that had begulfed BN seemed to be water under the bridge. To help MCA court Chinese voters, Najib visited Chinese radio stations and appeared in Chinese New Year videos. He briefly toyed with the idea of reviewing pro-Malay affirmative action and liberalising the Bumiputera quota. But these gestures ended on the night of the 13thGeneral Election in 2013.

After the result was announced, a visibly disappointed Najib told the media that it was a “Chinese tsunami”.[16]The next day, the UMNO-owned Utusan daily charged on the front page: “Apa lagi Cina mahu?” (“What More Could The Chinese Want?”)

Stung by what they perceived as a harsh rejection, UMNO changed tack. Najib no longer tried as hard to court non-Malay votes. Instead, he went to the conservative Malays, even dangling RUU 355 in front of the Islamist party PAS – this bill, if passed, would have allowed the Kelantan state government to implement hudud law, jeopardising Najib’s non-Malay allies. He enacted a slew of pro-Bumiputera programmes, including a new dedicated unit to oversee a pro-Bumiputera agenda.[17]

Downward spiral and captive community

How can these events be understood in terms of the model of consociational democracy? This model emphasises the role of social (ethnic) elites. The events surrounding the 2008 election demonstrate what happened when one or more of the elites lost their legitimacy as representatives of their ethnic group.

First came a downward spiral of destruction from within. It started with the leadership of the dominant party failing to restrain the more militant and extremist elements in their party from overtly aggressive behaviours that alienated the bases of their allies. This caused the non-Malay parties in BN to lose electorally. Their resulting weakened representation and lack of legitimacy further reduced their bargaining power within the BN coalition – which in turn increased the perception of their inertia and meekness in the eyes of the non-Malay electorate. Finally, the dominant party ignored the fate of their minority allies, pursuing risky political behaviours that jeopardised the interests of their allies. This downward spiral might have also occurred in 1969, if not  for Razak’s crucial intervention after the riot, which presented him with the opportunity to consolidate power.

Second, the elites held their communities captive, subjecting them to threats of punitive material deprivation by the government. The historical May 13 riot was brandished as a warning of the potential consequences of destabilised consociationalism. The MCA under the leadership of Chua Soi Lek also threatened to refuse  government appointments if the party did not win enough seats.[18] After MCA’s dismal performance in the 2013 election, Chua followed up on this by refusing to take up any cabinet posts. For the first time, no ethnic Chinese from MCA was a member of the cabinet. (Only one minister, Paul Low, a senatorial appointment from Transparency International, was ethnically Chinese.)[19]

This demonstrated how, in consociationalism, an ethnic group is held captive by tying their fate with that of the elite’s. Should they vote for any candidate other than the ethnic elites ‘assigned’ to represent them in the ruling coalition, they risk being left out of – and penalised by – that ruling coalition in government. Rather than treating elections as a performance evaluation for the rulers and an expression of popular will, consociationalism can penalise the community which shows its dissatisfaction with the elite rule.

A BN election campaign event in which lucky draws were held and goodies distributed to attract attendance. The crowd was mostly middle-aged. Perhaps a sign of the past – BN, ethnic-based parties, May 13 generation – desperately reaching out for relevance.

Without power to hold the coalition together – which it just about did after 2008, despite a crippling result – this may be the end of BN. In the 2018 election, BN lost almost the entire peninsular, and MCA won only one parliamentary seat, with a thin majority. All but three parties have abandoned the coalition. In the Balakong by-election, MCA announced a unilateral decision to contest under the party logo (not BN’s) for the first time ever (and they still lost). If we have seen the last of BN, what might emerge in its place?

After consociationalism:  deliberative democracy and new power-sharing

The end of BN rule is an end of an era. The new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government is made up of four parties – Bersatu, PKR, DAP, and Amanah – with an ally in Warisan in Sabah. But does PH represent a new form of power-sharing – hopefully, through deliberative democracy[20] – or merely a new form of consociationalism?

PH cannot be said to be consociationalist in the sense of power-sharing between elites from each major ethnic group. Three of its constituent parties are Malay-Muslim majority (one is exclusively Bumiputera, and another limits full membership rights to Muslims). Unlike BN, the four parties do not strictly split their electorate appeals according to an ethnic division of labour. They are not free from ethnic politics and elitism – identity politics still feature, and many of the leaders are elites splintered from the previous establishment. However, PH retains some elements of consociational democracy, such as a grand coalition (though not as encompassing as Barisan Nasional previously, which included local ethnic parties in East Malaysia) and proportionality (the non-Malay representation in PKR and DAP). But the significant breakthrough is that political representation in PH is not defined and allocated through ethnic elites.

How the opposition parties regroup in the new political landscape will determine the type and territories of contestation in the 15thGeneral Election, due by 2023. As always, Malay politics will be the centre of any coalitional politics. Even prior to PH, the various attempts to form coalitions between opposition parties – Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah in 1990 and Barisan Alternatif in 1999 – were also led by Malay parties. The current opposition in Parliament are likewise Malay-Muslims from UMNO and PAS. It seems probable that they will continue their cooperation, given their overlapping interests and the electoral incentives to ensure a straight fight in a first-past-the-post (FPTP) system.

The banner reads, “Return to Islam”. The collapse of BN’s consociationalism may pave the way for an UMNO-PAS cooperation as advocates for Malay Muslim nationalism.

This is likely to occasion what political scientist Dr. Wong Chin Huat called Malay-Muslim Nationalism (MMN), a convergence of two strands of nationalism as championed by PAS (Muslim nationalism) and UMNO (Malay nationalism). If so, identity politics will dominate for the next five years. In the first three months of PH rule, this has already been the case, with major controversies including the appointments of a non-Malay Christian as Attorney General and the first non-Muslim Chief Justice, as well as a PH minister’s remark that allegedly implied Malays too are “pendatang” (immigrants). The government’s proposal to recognise the UEC (an examination system administered by private independent Chinese schools) caused the first student-led protest in post-BN rule. A week later, at a mass demonstration of several thousands, called Himpunan Kebangkitan Ummah (Gathering for Muslim Revival), organisers claimed that the interests of Malay-Muslims are in danger.[21]

The impact of MMN on coalitional politics is clear: Malay-Muslims must be the paramount political class, and any others relegated to a secondary class. PAS President, Hadi Awang, has articulated this most explicitly, saying that only people who adopt the national ideology and faith (Islam) shall decide national policies.[22] As any Non-Malay parties that join this opposition bloc will need to concede to these MMN-influenced demands, it is difficult to see how they can be popular with the non-Malay electorate.

Several factors affect whether this comes to pass. First,  the fragile health of Hadi Awang. PAS under his leadership is unlikely to form a political pact with any parties that are in a political alliance with DAP, leaving only UMNO as the biggest potential partner. But if Hadi exits the political landscape before the next election, it may open up new possibilities of alliance.

Second, there are the positions of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim, the designated Prime Minister-in-waiting. Mahathir’s age acts as a natural term-limit to the premiership.  The impending transition of power will affect the position of Mahathir’s party, the two-year-old Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), which has only slightly more than a quarter of the seats in Parliament held by Anwar’s party (13 against 50). PPBM’s top two leaders, Mahathir and Muhyddin Yassin (who is recovering from an operation to remove a tumour and chemotherapy) are vulnerable and it has no obvious successor.

The current cabinet is quite evenly distributed among the four PH parties, but this may change when Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad gives way to Anwar. The head of the executive will then come from PKR, which also has the most legislative seats (by contrast, Mahathir’s Bersatu has the second fewest among PH parties). PKR has made it clear that they should be granted more cabinet ministers too.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is a multiracial party with the largest number of seats in Parliament. Led by Anwar Ibrahim, the designated Prime Minister-in-waiting, this party’s positioning on identity politics reflect the temperature of the average voter and may determine the fate of the Pakatan Harapan government.

PKR is a multiracial party which relies on non-Malay support in mixed seats. If Anwar courts the Malay right to consolidate power, his party will suffer electorally. At the same time, Anwar needs to maintain a sufficient threshold of Malay support in the face of the MMN challenges. This delicate balance might deter the new government from implementing truly significant breakaways from the past – the reconstruction of New Economic Policy, university quotas and ethnic-based admission, a complete ban on child marriage, curtailing the power and size of an excessively large Islamic bureaucracy, and moral policing (in September, two women were publicly caned in Terengganu for “attempting to have lesbian sex”).

In contrast to the overcrowding of political parties competing for Malay electorate, there is little viable challenge to DAP (and to a certain degree, PKR) for the non-Malay electorate. This unhealthy lack of competition may replicate the non-Malay dilemma under BN’s consociationalism. This segment of the electorate may be unsatisfied with the government of the day, but find that any alternative party is aligned to the even more unattractive MMN. The return of local elections, promised by PH, is a welcome step to usher a healthy level of competition in a functioning democracy,[23] so that new political parties can emerge at the local level. The present barrier of entry is too high and smaller (local or regional) parties, like Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), find it hard to survive and have any meaningful impact under the FPTP system. The proposed Electoral Reform Committee[24] is thus a welcome and crucial intervention.

The story of consociationalism is a story of Malaysia, a plural society forging paths ahead while dealing with ethnic differences. Consociationalism stabilised a plural society to render it governable and – with one or two exceptions – contained ethnic conflict from escalating into violent outbreak. But it is also closely tied to anti-democratic practices and consequences. The demise of Barisan Nasional’s ethnic-elite consociationalism may be celebrated as an end to elite-based ethnic politics, but history and events elsewhere counsel caution in approaching the vacuum that has been created. The heralding of racial progress in America and Indonesia following the first African American president and the first ethnic Chinese governor of Jakarta respectively proved to be premature. Malaysia may have brought down the rule of an ethno-elite cartel, but the people of Malaysia must be vigilant to guard its democratic progress against potential backlash. They must also continue to demand accountability and transparency from their leaders to shape a Malaysia that is truly representative of the will of the people and which protects the basic democratic rights of its diverse citizenry.



[1] Lijphart, Arend. “Consociational democracy.” World Politics 21, no. 2 (1969): 207-225.

[2] Lijphart, Arend. Democracy in plural societies: A comparative exploration. Yale University Press, 1977.

[3] Mauzy, Diane K. “Consociationalism and coalition politics in Malaysia.” (1978). PhD thesis. The University of British Columbia. 1978.

[4] “BN needs to be suspended, says Umno.” The Malaysian Insight. 10 August 2018. https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/86388

[5] “Ka Siong: MCA won’t carry water for UMNO anymore, BN only alive in name.” The Malay Mail. 2 June 2018. https://www.malaymail.com/s/1637626/ka-siong-mca-wont-carry-water-for-umno-anymore-bn-only-alive-in-name

[6] “Nazri: Umno better off alone, BN is a gone case.”Malaysiakini. 13 June 2018. https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/429595

[7] “Umno and BN to undergo rebranding – Zahid.” New Straits Times. 1 July 2018. https://www.nst.com.my/news/politics/2018/07/386137/umno-and-bn-undergo-rebranding-zahid

[8] Cheah, Boon Kheng. Red Star Over Malaya: Resistance and social conflict during and after the Japanese occupation, 1941-1946. NUS press, 2012.,P40.

[9] Koon, Heng Pek. “Chinese Responses to Malay Hegemony in Peninsular Malaysia 1957-96.” Japanese Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 34, no. 3 (1996): 500-523.

[10] Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s family, while not related to the palace, is a privileged one. His grandfather was a prominent religious leader and nationalist, notably being a founding member of the Islamist party, PAS. Current UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s family migrated from Indonesia, while former president and current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s family was of common background (His father was a school headmaster).

[11] Vasil, R.K. The Malaysian general election of 1969. Oxford University Press, 1972., as quoted inHeng’s article.

[12] Ratnam, K.J, and Milne, R.S. “The 1969 parliamentary election in West Malaysia.” Pacific Affairs 43, no. 2 (1970): 203-226.

[13] Gomez, Edmund Terence. “Resisting the fall: the single dominant party, policies and elections in Malaysia.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 46, no. 4 (2016): 570-590; Chin, James, and Wong Chin Huat. “Malaysia’s electoral upheaval.” Journal of Democracy 20, no. 3 (2009): 71-85.

[14] Wong, Chin-Huat, James Chin, and Norani Othman. “Malaysia–towards a topology of an electoral one-party state.” Democratization 17, no. 5 (2010): 920-949.

[15] Ong, Kian Ming. “Malaysian political parties and coalitions.” In Routledge handbook of contemporary Malaysia, pp. 44-57. Routledge, 2014.

[16] Grant, Jeremy. “Global Insight: Malaysia’s ‘Chinese tsunami’ puts Najib in a bind”. Financial Times.May 7, 2013.

[17] Naidu, Sumisha. “Najib places Bumiputera at centre of Malaysia growth plans as elections loom.” Channel News Asia. 19 April 2017.

[18] “Sad day if no Chinese rep in new government: Najib”. The Sun Daily. 27 April 2018; “Najib: Chinese will suffer from DAP’s ‘direct contest’ strategy against MCA and Gerakan”. The Star Online. 23 April 2018.

[19] After Liow Tiong Lai won the MCA presidency from Chua in 2014, there was a cabinet reshuffle in June 2014 to allow for the return of MCA into the cabinet. Liow was appointed Minister of Transport from then till GE14.

[20] Mohd Sani, Mohd Azizuddin. “The emergence of new politics in Malaysia from consociational to deliberative democracy.” Taiwan Journal of Democracy 5, no. 2 (2009): 97-125.

[21] “Thousands, including Rais Yatim, attend KL rally to defend Malay rights.” The Star Online. 28 July 2018.

[22] “Malaysia’s Islamist party PAS says only Muslims will make policy should it come to power.” The Straits Times. 2 February 2018.

[23] Cheng, Kenneth. “Restoring the People’s “Third Vote””. New Naratif. 2 August 2018.

[24] https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/441183

Ooi Kok Hin

Ooi Kok Hin is Monbukagakusho scholar and research student at the Graduate School of Political Science, Waseda University and Research affiliate at Penang Institute.

Malaysian reform dynamics

December 8, 2018

Malaysian reform dynamics


by  Andrew Harding, NUS


The pattern of political reform following a regime change is usually predictable: the reformers gain popular support, make changes to the constitution and then use constitutional politics to achieve their ends. But Malaysia’s current period of political change is straying far from this pattern. Instead, Malaysia is proving that peaceful transition and reform may be possible without debates about constitutional amendment.


Image result for asri and mahathir


The new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government — a coalition of four political parties — was unexpectedly elected to power on 9 May 2018, replacing the incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government. Much of the PH’s current political leadership team were part of the BN’s largest member party and now discredited United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), including a former prime minister, two former deputy prime ministers and a slew of former ministers and members of parliament.

The election also revived the political career of former and now incumbent Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Mahathir had gone down in history as one of the strong men of Asian authoritarianism. His recent campaign replaced this image with one of a moderate democrat who believes in a free press, a two-party parliamentary system and the rights of citizens.

Mahathir’s campaigning against his old party carried enough rural Malay voters into the PH fold to overturn the BN’s dominance. Voters were appalled at the level of corruption in former prime minister Najib Razak’s government. The contrast was stark between voters’ own economic struggles — including the extra burden of a goods and services tax — and the wanton expenditure of leaders like Najib and his wife.

While the PH have not yet changed a single word of the constitution, it has already redefined the state as one based on good governance, the rule of law, parliamentarism and the separation of powers. The PH has proposed signing the international human rights covenants (except for ICERD), abolishing the death penalty, and addressing the political and legislative autonomy of East Malaysian states Sabah and Sarawak.

The question now is whether the reform process is politically sustainable and can be constitutionally entrenched.

One challenge facing the PH coalition is that any ordinary legislative changes — let alone constitutional amendments — can easily be blocked in Malaysia’s upper house, which is still controlled by senators appointed by the former BN government. The upper house has already rejected a bill to repeal the Fake News Act that was rushed through parliament by Najib before the election to restrict criticism of the government regarding the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

There are fears that the PH coalition may simply revert to the Malaysian dominant-coalition stereotype. These are partly fears that the leader of the People’s Justice Party Anwar Ibrahim — the largest party of the PH coalition — will assert what he sees as his entitlement to the prime-ministership.

There are also worries about factionalism within Anwar’s party, quite apart from tensions between the four coalition partners. As matters stand, Mahathir is supposed to hand over to Anwar within two years of the election. At 93 years old, Mahathir could hardly plan to go on longer than that, whatever the politics dictates.

For the time being at least, the reformers are in charge.  Attorney General Tommy Thomas and Legal Affairs Minister Liew Vui Keong are implementing the PH’s campaign promises. These include the good-governance reforms that Mahathir wryly suggests would not have been so extensive had the PH expected to win the election. Bringing those guilty of corruption to account is the major priority at this point, and ensuring that problems such as the 1MDB scandal will not occur again is also high on the agenda.

Despite the flurry of reforms, announcements, prosecutions and policy changes since the election, most legal changes — such as abolition of the death penalty — remain to be implemented. These depend on parliamentary arithmetic.

But over the next two to three years, as current senators leave office, there will be opportunity for the PH government to gain much more control over the reform process. These reforms may well involve changes to the Senate itself, which has far too many appointed members and no longer fulfils its original purpose of protecting states’ rights. This of course assumes that PH will remain stable and reform-oriented.

Entrenching the reforms in the longer-term may also be a challenge. While an extended period of constitutional debate would be beneficial for the somewhat ad hoc current reform proposals, politics can change quickly. This could side-line reform and reemphasise ethnic and religious issues. The PH still has to establish its credentials with the majority of Malay voters. At the same time, Anwar has consistently advocated democratic reforms and suffered in jail as a result of overweening executive power.

These reforms are so long overdue that many of them could become fiats accomplis, or matters of consensus rather than contention. For the moment, the further down this road the reforms go, the harder it will be to reverse them.

Wanted: A new National Narrative

December 4, 2018

Wanted: A new national narrative


Forward thinking: When Datuk Onn Jaafar founded Umno over 70 years ago, he relentlessly wrote and cajoled the Malays to work hard, to study hard, to send their daughters to school, to be entrepreneurs, to be brave and confident, to take risks and be their own bosses. — Photo courtesy of National Archives

Forward thinking: When Datuk Onn Jaafar founded Umno over 70 years ago, he relentlessly wrote and cajoled the Malays to work hard, to study hard, to send their daughters to school, to be entrepreneurs, to be brave and confident, to take risks and be their own bosses. — Photo courtesy of National Archives


IN my agama school in Johor Baru in the 1960s, I learnt about Iblis (Satan) who refused to bow down with the other angels before the first human (Adam) that God crea­ted. When God asked why, Iblis said, “I am better than him; You created me from fire and you created him from dirt.” For his contempt and his disobedience, God cast Iblis out of heaven.

This parable has remained in my mind as it is this belief in one’s superiority that is the root of cruelty and injustice in the world. To think that one is better, one is greater, one is superior than the other in the name of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, caste, class, leads to all manner of injustice against those who are different from us – for no other reason than the fact that they are different. It is the logic of Satan.

At last Tuesday’s seminar on Islam and Human Rights organised by JJAKIMakim and Suhakam, the de facto Minister for Religion, Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof, made an impassioned plea for Muslims to recognise that human rights are a part of Islamic belief. He sprinkled his speech with verses from the Quran and stories from Prophet Muhammad’s life to illustrate the values of justice, compassion, dignity, freedom of religion, non-discrimination, and anti-racism.

Human rights, he said, constitute “darah daging” (inherent in) Islam. There will never be peace, he warned, if one side insists that its race or its religion is superior as the other side will then retaliate with its own claim of superiority. Two Malay men who had entered the hall in tanjak and keris regalia to display their “superior” Malay identity slinked away in silence after the speech.

Mujahid said he wanted to create a new narrative for a new Malaysia. I believe this is an imperative given the dogged efforts by the supremacists of race and religion to destabilise this new government and derail its change agenda. And I hope Mujahid’s colleagues in the Cabinet and the Pakatan Harapan leadership and membership will share his courage of conviction to do the same. For Malaysia cannot afford to go on being polarised on the basis of race and religion.

Events over the past few weeks reveal the continuing agenda of these desperate demagogues to incite hate and escalate further the sense of siege and fear among certain segments of the Malay community. These mischief makers are priming for violence, with threats of blood being shed and another May 13 being engineered. Such incitement to hatred and violence constitute criminal acts that must not be allowed to go unpunished.

It is obvious that those baying for blood are those who have lost political power and lucrative financial entitlements that they were used to. If they can no longer plunder the country at will as in the past, let’s tear this country asunder so that no one else benefits, seems to be their plan. And they dare proclaim they are doing this in order to protect the Malays and Islam? What an insult. You can fool some Malays some of the time, but you can’t fool all the Malays all of the time.

Enough Malays stood up on May 9 to say enough is enough and voted for change. Let’s get real here. While Pakatan Harapan might have garnered only 30% of the Malay votes, Umno’s share of the Malay votes plummeted by a whopping 15%. There was not just a significant Malay swing, but also a youth swing against Umno and all that it stood for – epitomised by a leader who thought it was all right that RM2.6bil could enter his personal bank account, countenanced by his cabinet and his party leadership.

The challenge before this Pakatan Harapan government is to find effective ways to build more Malay support for its change agenda. Who really pose a threat to the well-being of the Malays? Those who claim to speak in their name and yet plundered the wealth of the nation for personal gain cannot possibly be the champions of those left behind.

The focus of affirmative action must be on those left behind. They have a right to feel aggrieved, not the privileged UMNOputras whose gravy train is wrecked, with no spare parts in sight. Rising inequality and low wages must be addressed immediately so that these demagogues who exploit the vulnerabilities of those left behind have little space to advance their us-versus-them hate narratives.

Datuk Onn Jaafar would be crying in his grave to know that almost 100 years after he relentlessly wrote and cajoled the Malays to work hard, to study hard, to send their daughters to school, to be entrepreneurs, to be brave and confident, to take risks and be their own bosses, the party he founded is today led by those who manufacture endless threats in order to keep the Malays feeling insecure and fearful, instead of building their confidence and their capacity to embrace change.

Onn was obsessed since the 1920s with the backwardness of the Malays, and the need to “betulkan orang Melayu” (get the Malays on the right path). I choke at the sight of our 93-year-old Prime Minister still obsessed with this same mission.

It is a tragedy that 72 years after the founding of UMNO, 61 years of being the dominant party in power, 47 years of affirmative action, these UMNO leaders and Ketuanan Melayu agitators still cannot figure out what they might have done wrong if the Malays still feel insecure and left behind in the country’s development. Obviously, their priority is not to find solutions. Their priority is how to get back into power. Since the rakyat have lost confidence in their leadership, and refuse to buy into their race and religion under threat mantra, they are upping the ante by publicly baying for blood and violence. What a disgrace, what a betrayal.

But how do you get those Malays who feel threatened by every conceivable difference to deal with the realities of the Malaysia and the world they live in today? How does this new government undo the damage of decades of indoctrination and demonisation against the Chinese, the Christians, the DAP, the liberal Muslims, the LGBT community, the Shi’as, the Ahmadiyyahs, and against principles and standards that uphold equality, non-discrimination, human rights, liberalism and pluralism. These were all constructed as bogeymen used to divide the nation in order to build Malay groupthink for their Ketuanan Melayu and authorita­rian brand of Islam to maintain power and privilege.

This pipeline of hate and mistrust must be plugged.The latest Merdeka Centre survey on religious extremism in Southeast Asia shows that narratives matter. Muslims who believe in the diet of conservative beliefs such as a literalist understanding of Islam, the primacy of hudud law, and reviving the Islamic Caliphate are those who feel animosity towards others who are different from them and who hold violent and non-violent religious extremist tendencies. Around 66% of Muslims in Malaysia want non-Sunni sects to be banned, and only 41% support multi-faith education, compared to 73% non-Muslims who believe that students should learn the religious beliefs of all groups. What is also disturbing is the attitude towards Christians, Buddhists and Hindus. Muslim respondents in Malaysia look negatively towards these “outgroups”, when asked to rank their attitudes towards others. Malaysian Muslims also scored the highest in terms of support for Jemaah Islamiyah (18%) and ISIS (5%), compared to Muslims in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

May 9 has given us hope that change is possible. The new Malaysia must build new dominant narratives on a just and compassionate Islam in a Malaysia that is big enough for every one of every hue and colour.

Those in government, in academia, in business, in the media, and in civil society must take the bull by the horn in loudly challenging the hate spewed out by these supremacists who use race and religion to divide the nation for political and personal gain. Rule of law must be upheld and the authorities must take firm action against those who incite racial and religious hatred. The responsibility to steer this nation to embrace diversity and differences belong to all of us.

There is no other choice. We need to reimagine and rebuild this new Malaysia if we want to live together in peace and prosperity in an inclusive country that should be a model to the Global South and to the Muslim world. We were once that country. We will, we must, we can, once again, be that model.


When it comes to ICERD, New Malaysia is the Old Racist Devil again

November 25,2018

When it comes to ICERD, New Malaysia is the Old Racist Devil again–BACK TO UMNO 1946. This time with PAS

By S Thayaparan


I said the old devils are at it again,

And it’s right now like it was back then,

The old devils are at it again.

– William Elliot Whitmore, ‘Old Devils

Image result for icerd malaysia

COMMENT | In an interview, DAP’s Lim Guan Eng was reported to have said “the situation needed to be pacified, it should not stop people from continuing to express their views on ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination).”

Really? So, let me get this straight.

Image result for icerd malaysia

ICERD–MY  WAY or JUST HIT The North-South Highway

 DAP, which has not given its official stand on the ratification of ICERD, wants people to express their views on this issue?  DAP, who routinely mocks MCA for being subservient to UMNO wants people to express their views even though it has not declared its own position on the issue after the cabinet decided (by consensus) not to ratify Icerd?

DAP, the purveyors of the Bangsa Malaysia Kool-Aid, wants people to express their views, even though it has warned the Chinese community (and others) to be wary until after the December 8 anti-ICERD celebration?

So, the Finance Minister of this country, who has made these tirades about speaking the ‘truth’ even though it is economically or politically disadvantageous to do so, suddenly seems to have lost his ability to speak when it comes to the issue of ICERD.

But don’t worry folks, I am sure you will speak up on this issue, even when Lim, if asked to comment, will just deflect, leaving you holding the bag.  Another DAP leader, says this country needs a vision which highlights the virtue of the middle ground.

When politicians babble on about the middle ground, what they forget to tell you is that it is contextual. Here in this country, when I talk to people about what they think the middle ground is, they speak of middle Malaysia with two definitions.

Image result for icerd malaysia

The first is the social contract. It is not a real document but rather it is an unspoken understanding. The middle ground is that there are policies and ideologies in place that benefit the majority, and as long as minorities can exist comfortably, albeit with limited freedoms, they must not question the inequalities of the system, even if that system which claims to “uplift” the majority is in reality detrimental to the community.

The second definition was borne out of the political turmoil that split the Malay community when Anwar Ibrahim was ejected from the UMNO paradise. Or at least, that’s the narrative that we are most familiar with.  This middle ground is defined by concepts like equality, secularism and numerous other progressive ideas championed by the urban educated electorate.

So when people talk of Bangsa Malaysia for instance, they are really talking about the idea that everyone is equal in law and the aspirations to certain fundamental freedoms that people in other countries take for granted.

Here’s the thing though, ICERD was that vision of a middle ground that Pakatan Harapan claimed fidelity to. It is in their manifesto and the rhetoric of the more outspoken members of its coalition.

Rational (Harapan-aligned) critics of ICERD did not make the argument that the treaty would destroy the Malay community because they could not point to anything that did that.

What they argued was that the ratification of ICERD would be politically disadvantageous – or so they claim – and that the present government would lose its credentials as protectors of race and religion. This neatly falls into the first definition of the middle ground.

The reality is that ICER was a symbol and a declaration which is actually a baseline for functional democracies for the second definition. The religious far-right who oppose Icerd did so because they believed in the supremacy of their race and religion. What Icerd did was to say everyone should be equal.

Threats of violence work

By not ratifying Icerd, the government did two things. First, it legitimised the views of people like PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang. This really does not bother me. Hadi is the politically incorrect face of Malay supremacy.

As I said earlier – “The funny thing is that state governments controlled by the opposition bend over backwards to accommodate Muslim preoccupations and have to continuously defend themselves against charges of racism and yet the mainstream Malay establishment does not disavow someone like Hadi.”

Think of it this way. Has any Malay-Muslim Harapan politician come out and say that Hadi is wrong when it comes to issues of race and religion? Have any of these politicians offered an antithetical view of Hadi’s numerous toxic narratives?

Sure, some political operatives have made meek protestations and gingerly attempted to offer a counterview, but nobody has had the cojones to say Hadi’s view of Islam is wrong.

So I am not so worried about the first point because the foundation of mainstream Malay politics is racial supremacy, but what has happened over the years is that mainstream Malay power structures have done a reasonable job in balancing Malay and non-Malay expectations so we did not turn into just another failed Islamic state.

The second point is far more dangerous. When Harapan rejected ICERD, they sent a message to the religious far-right that their threats of violence work.Now, some would say, hasn’t this always been the case? No, this time is different because Harapan, which claimed to be a progressive force, caved in to the religious far-right.

This was not the UMNO decades-long hegemon playing to the gallery. This was a supposed multiracial coalition telling the racial and religious far-right that they were afraid to confront them even though they had federal power.

It sent a signal that the Harapan government could be brought to its knees when the issues of race and religion are used. The problem here is that the racial and religious far-right could turn every issue into a religious or racial issue and by attrition, bring down a democratically-elected government.

If this sounds scary, it really isn’t. What the Harapan government should do is determine which kind of middle ground they want to occupy. This would mean jettisoning those ideas which they have long promulgated to rile up the base.

Chin Tong is wrong when he talks about a non-Malay periphery electorate wanting to fight fire with fire. What they want – and I doubt they are a periphery – is for Harapan to occupy the second definition of the middle ground. This puts them in conflict with those who view the first definition as pragmatic and conducive to maintaining power in this system.

Harapan, and the DAP specifically, has to find its scrotal sac and define the middle ground even if it means acknowledging that there is no new Malaysia, only a BN Redux.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.