What are our Malaysian values,Dr. Mahathir?


July 11, 2018

What are our Malaysian values,Dr. Mahathir?

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for political islam in ‘new malaysia’

What happened to his Bangsa Malaysia? It became Bangsat Malaysia. Let us get real and ask ourselves whether Mahathir 2.0 a reformer that we make him out to be.

COMMENT | Is Pakatan Harapan(Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in particular) deliberately insulting our intelligence, and lying to us, about a foreigner, who condones the hatred of non-Muslims, and who has been given Malaysian Permanent Residency (PR), and allowed to remain in the country?

This is not fair! Malaysian children born out of wedlock, the Orang Asli who delay the registration of the births of their children, and children born to illiterate estate dwelling Malaysians, are all deemed stateless.

For many, GE14 was a declaration of our desire to be ruled by common sense and the rule of law. Determined to postpone criticism until the 100-day mark has been difficult, especially with the development of disturbing trends.

How can the women in Harapan sit still when, in 21st Century Malaysia, child marriages still occur? The 11-year-old who was married to a 41-year-old man is not the first to create headlines.

Image result for Wan Azizah and Nurul Izzah Anwar

Would Harapan MPs condemn their own children to a similar fate? Will they stop hiding behind the Muslim man’s assertion that it is his right to marry an underage child and have four wives, even though he can barely afford to feed himself?

Malaysians did not vote Harapan for our MPs to allow JAKIM (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) to keep its bloated budget and continue its divisive work. Malaysia must stop exporting extremism. Perhaps, Muslim Harapan MPs need reminding that they can be kicked out of office, in GE-15.

Image result for Najib Razak the criminal

 

Malaysia will put you in jail: Don’t waste our time, just plea bargain and go to jail

When in the history of Malaysian justice has a criminal been allowed to barter his bail? When has a criminal been able to manipulate the language used in the High Courts? The disgraced former Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak appears to be calling the shots from behind the scenes. Why?

Malaysia is perhaps the only nation where many of its citizens are afraid of their own nationality. At the height of Najib’s 1MDB scandal, many Malaysians, when overseas, were ashamed to admit they were Malaysian, as Najib represented corruption and a complete lack of moral fibre.

At home, we seldom talk about Malaysian values. We only refer to Malay, Chinese or Indian values, many of which are common to all the cultures, like family ties and filial piety.

Rebuilding Malaysia is about giving people hope

It took a lot of courage for many Malaysians, to take a leap in the dark and vote for Harapan in GE-14, thus ending 61 years of oppression.

Phase I in rebuilding Malaysia, was about giving people hope. That was the easy part. Phase II, which is currently experiencing a multitude of teething problems, is re-establishing Malaysian values. It is long term work.

In Phase I, we ejected Najib and UMNO-Baru from Putrajaya. It was about giving people control of their own destiny because change is possible, if we acknowledge that the first step towards change is always the most difficult.

In Phase II, we need to forge a Malaysian identity, and for that we need to re-establish Malaysian values; the values that have been eroded by 61 years of corruption and criminality.

We should try to live by Malaysian values in our daily lives. We have a common aspiration and we should derive our Malaysian values from the various aspects of our rich multi-cultural heritage.

If we were to ask the average Malay about his definition of Malaysian values, he would probably refer to Arabic, Islamic values.

For the Malays, religion can be a stumbling block to the forging of a common Malaysian identity. We have become more Arabicised and adopted Arabic phrases and clothing, because we confuse the adoption of Arab culture with being a better Muslim. We crave to be the perfect Muslim and become worse humans because of this. Our interpretation of the religion, has corrupted our morals. Don’t blame the religion.

Today’s Malay is blinded by materialism and the promotion of the self. Can he remember the core values of his grandparents’ generation? The community spirit, the engagement and interaction with people of other cultures, are largely missing. What happened to having a bit of fun, like dancing the joget at a wedding, attending a rock concert, or performing a ballet, and not feeling guilty about it?

Many Muslims have been so cowed by JAKIM, that they are afraid to speak out against it, even though they hate the organisation; just as they were afraid to speak out against UMNO-Baru, which they also hated, because they knew it was oppressing them.

Under UMNO-Baru, the Malays were force-fed a diet of quasi-superiority and bumiputeraism. They looked down on non-Malays, even though this group thrived and became successful by a combination of thrift, true grit, hard work, struggle and sacrifice.

In many parts of the world, including Malaysia, the young have been exposed to Western lifestyles. This has eroded our own core Asian values, like personal sacrifice, and family ties.

Two of the five “Singaporean values” are “putting the nation before community, and society above self” as well as making the “family as the basic unit of society”.

“Japanese values” are steeped in family, work, thinking of others, doing one’s best, and social interactions.

“English values” are incorporated in democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs.

The forging of Malaysian values does not diminish our individual cultural values. On the contrary, Malaysian values should help bring down barriers and forge closer ties with the other communities.

In the spirit of the new Malaysia, let us re-establish our Malaysian values. Those values are familiar to all those who grew up before the 1980s.


MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). Blog, Twitter.

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

Naik and Mahathir–Pandering to UMNO-PAS Politics


July 11, 2018

Naik and Mahathir–Pandering to UMNO-PAS Politics

by Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“You perceive the force of a word. He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense… Give me the right word and the right accent and I will move the world.” – Joseph Conrad.

I think the reason why Zakir Naik is not deported – secret deal or not – is that the Malaysian government does not consider what he is alleged to have done in India a crime. They probably justify those charges as religious persecution against a beloved Muslim preacher. They probably think that anyone who disagrees with what Zakir Naik says is Islamophobic.–S. Thayaparan.

COMMENT | It is really a funny question, right? When I say “our” and there are people who were born here, like Letchumie Sinnan who has been given the run around by the bureaucracy for 20 years and been stuck in permanent resident limbo, while a demagogue, alleged money launderer and extremist sympathiser like Zakir Naik get feted by the political and social elite.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of Indians and Chinese who have to eke out a living and contribute to the economy but are not considered citizens of this country. Over the years, I have met and attempted to help – in my own small ineffectual way – dozens of Malaysians to get their MyKad. It is really galling to witness a religious hatemonger like Zakir Naik being defended by the political elite in this country of the Islamic persuasion, while so many – a legion, I would say – have no one to speak up for them.

Image result for Mahathir pandering to Islamophobia

The fact there are Indians and Chinese in this country who are considered, for whatever reasons, permanent residents (if they are lucky) and the state wilfully refuses to recognise them as citizens, while Zakir Naik gets to spread his horse manure in comfort, is an insult for anyone who has served this country, either in the state security apparatus, in the teaching profession or whatever else capacity that has made this country what it is today.

Let me say this. I bet my last ringgit that all these Malaysians who have been denied their citizenship, who have been given the run around by the bureaucracy and who toil in menial jobs unable to get a foothold, I bet that they have contributed more to this country than the radicals like Zakir Naik. All those people I have attempted to help over the years display a profound love and loyalty to this county, even though they have been marginalised.

Someone like me often wonders, how could you love this country when it doesn’t even recognise you? How can you be loyal to this country when it has willfully abandoned you? We live in a great country is their common refrain. Yeah, a great country, where the likes of Zakir Naik get to say what he likes and (now) to be deported only if he misbehaves.

 

Tell me, what does “not creating problems” mean? What would it take for Zakir Naik to be kicked out of this country? What exactly is the threshold here?

We all know that Zakir Naik uses words to instigate, demean and mock other cultures and religions. We know that his words are meaningful to large sections of the Malay polity, even though they may not understand him. We know that he remains unrepentant since he has probably met with every Malay power broker of note in this country. So, what exactly does misbehaving mean? His kind of Islam is supposedly the antithesis of the kind of Islam Harapan wants to propagate. Or is it?

Kudos to P Ramasamy, the Penang Deputy Chief Minister II, for giving it his all when it comes to the extradition of Zakir Naik. What I want to know is why aren’t the rest of the Harapan gang coming out with a unified comment on this issue. Are the major power players in Harapan reserving comment? Are they too busy, thinking up ways of how not to spook the Malays?

Freedom of speech?

Every time I write about Zakir Naik, I get many emails from people – Malays – berating me for insulting this man. I sincerely do not get it. When I provide evidence – Zakir Naik’s own words – of the racist, bigoted and inflammatory speeches he has made, it is ignored. When I explain why non-Muslims would be offended by what he says about our religions, it is ignored or dismissed, as not understanding his intent.

Image result for Mahathir pandering to Islamophobia

The Harapan Prime Minister is playing UMNO-PAS politics

When I attempt to provide an analysis of why, even if you were not religious, Zakir Naik’s words amount to incitement against secular democracies, I am told that he is an expert and thus qualified to speak about everything under the sun. Why do we need this man in our country? What possible service has he done for Malaysians that warrant the political elite to think of him as someone who is an asset to this country?

And here’s the thing, if there was freedom of speech like the kind Zakir Naik has for everyone, nobody would have an issue with him. But we have blatant double standards that border on malicious. It is the smirk which tells us that he can say things without consequences but the ‘kafirs’ have to take it.

The last time I wondered if Zakir Naik was a security threat, I got hate mail up the wazoo. Here’s what I wrote – “However, Zakir is a special case. In a time when the Islamist agenda in this country is taking new forms and the agenda is promulgated by new alliances, a preacher like Zakir who specialises in deepening already established cultural and religious rifts is a threat to national security.”

I get it. I see all these huge rallies, and the Malay/Muslim hegemons don’t want to be the Muslims who deported Zakir Naik to India. The country, which even our local preacher took a dig at in a poem which managed to insult the Hindu community, but he insisted was a personal letter to the Prime Minister of India. Nobody wants to be the pious Malay/Muslim political leader who said that Zakir Naik does not belong in this country.

Ramasamy hammers the point home when he reminds the Malaysian government that they deported Chinese Uighurs and Sri Lankan Tamils back to their countries of origin. What is the hold up with Zakir Naik? Why is he a special case?

You know what I think. I think the reason why Zakir Naik is not deported – secret deal or not – is that the Malaysian government does not consider what he is alleged to have done in India a crime. They probably justify those charges as religious persecution against a beloved Muslim preacher. They probably think that anyone who disagrees with what Zakir Naik says is Islamophobic.

Why is it, for some people, the beauty of their religion is only found in the vilification of other religions?


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.

Rethinking race and its appeal in Malaysia


July 11, 2018

Rethinking race and its appeal in Malaysia

by Tan Zi Hao

Tan Zi Hao is a PhD candidate in Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. He is also a conceptual artist whose artworks can be viewed at http://www.tanzihao.net. As both artist and writer, he is interested in the arts, language, cultural politics and mobilities.

http://www.newmandala.org/imagined-minorities-rethinking-race-appeal-malaysia/

Image result for Rethinking race and its appeal in Malaysia

Despite the game-changing outcome of the 14th General Election, the spectre of race lingers in Malaysia. Appointing an ethnic Indian and Christian Tommy Thomas as the Attorney General has already attracted some predictable flak. When Hindu Rights Action Force 2.0 (Hindraf 2.0, a Hindraf splinter group) demanded that MARA University of Technology (UiTM) be opened to entry by all races, an online petition was immediately kickstarted and has collected more than 150,000 signatures in the first two days. The new Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng—also Malaysia’s second Chinese finance minister after a 44-year break—was condemned for uploading a Mandarin translation of his statement, even though it was officially released in Malay, and later translated to both English and Mandarin.

Image result for Racism in Malaysia

If race remains as a potent category of exclusion, its perpetuation must have an emotional appeal rooted in the realities and assumptions of those who embrace it. However, public intellectuals who wish to do away with racism tend to give a response that is dismissive in nature: sociologist Kua Kia Soong proposes outlawing racism, law lecturer Azmi Sharom considers racists bereft of ideas, Dialog Rakyat committee member and academician Omar Abdul Rahman pushes for a greater collective effort in eradicating racism.

But these criticisms refuse to acknowledge the sentimental affect of racism. Key to most racial thinking is the seductive appeal of imagining one’s own race as a living minority in need of some protection. It enables a majority to be convinced of their own vulnerability, and to live as, to borrow from Benedict Anderson, an “imagined” minority. Without a doubt, the most vocal imagined minorities in Malaysia are the ethnic Malay majority, and the largest ethnic Chinese minority. They are the two “racialised” ethnic groups who succeed in the enterprise of self-minoritisation.

Image result for Racism in Malaysia

To be an imagined minority is not only to assume victimhood, but to believe in the appeal that one’s own vulnerability is racially unique and significantly more urgent than that of others. The more vulnerable your “race”, the better your prospects. Unsurprisingly, the most controversial of all race-related debates in Malaysia revolved around the competitive narcissistic posturing of the Malays and Chinese. Actually-existing minorities—such as the Orang Asli, Orang Ulu and Dayak, or Anak Negeri—hardly make the cut.

The Malays and Chinese each have at their own disposal a plethora of rhetoric to foster their brand of imagined minorities. Among this is their special attention directed to tradition and heritage. From national institutions (e.g. Muzium Negara, and the Malay Heritage Museum) to privately-funded Chinese cultural institutions (e.g. the Malaysian Chinese Museum or Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum), in museumising what is in dire need of preservation they are able to articulate better their vulnerability.

Each of these museums emphasises narratives of loss and sacrifice, while de-emphasising narratives of elitism and privilege. Whenever narratives of privilege are presented, they are framed as an overdue accomplishment, an exemplary success whose arrival is the fruit of previous sacrifices. Additionally, while anti-colonial struggles are highlighted and detailed, complicity with colonialism is sloppily summarised and omitted.

Beyond infrastructural facilities, another effort in self-minoritisation is to think through racially-oriented solidarity movements and protests. For the Malays, Muslim solidarity movements with the Palestinians, Rohingyas, Pattanis, or Moros, yield a new awareness of being an imagined minority in places beyond Malaysia; for the Chinese, issues pertaining to the dignity of the Chinese language and the official recognition of Chinese independent high schools offer an avenue through which the imagination of being minorities can be constantly reinvigorated.

These movements are valid political expressions. But it remains crucial to question their almost organic proclivity for attracting only a specific ethnic, racial, or religious group. At the outset, their protests appear as reactionary and racially exclusivist, but in fact the principal premise is strikingly similar: a vulnerable minority against a dominant majority, the powerless against the powerful. The very impossibility of imagining cross-ethnic solidarities in these essentially anti-hegemonic movements in Malaysia is, in and of itself, a testament to how one is more appealed to race (or religion) than to the actual oppression at stake.

Image result for Mahathir Mohamad and The Malays

That these solidarity movements only lend credence to identitarianism should compel us to question the limits of solidarity among Malaysians. Can a Malay who antagonise the Israeli occupation of Palestine stand in solidarity with a Chinese who calls for the abolishment of Bumiputra policies in Malaysia? Can a Chinese who insists on the recognition of Chinese independent high schools stand in solidarity with a Malay who demands for the recognition of the Pattanis in Thailand’s deep south?

More provocatively, can a Malay who applauds Indonesia’s assimilationism that had stigmatised and marginalised the Indonesian Chinese minority truly empathise with the marginalised Pattanis?

Truly empathise with the marginalised Pattanis? Can a Chinese who disregards the implicit Chinese privilege in Singapore genuinely lament the prejudicial effects of Bumiputra privilege in Malaysia?

These hypothetical questions, at a cursory glance, have little to do with race, but they bespeak the exclusionary temperaments of racial thinking.

The affect that these protests reveal, or at any rate create, is more fundamental than what the movements advocate. One finds in these ritualistic public demonstrations the highest realisation of imagined minorities: the subliminal emphasis on racial–religious identity over power inequality helps mould the psychological temperament that one is born into victimhood. They become symbolic tokens for self-minoritisation. Whereas the abovementioned museums exhibit narratives of loss and sacrifice, these protests stage and perform them, in public and in action. Under this operant self-minoritisation, it is not too far-fetched to claim that to become a “Malay-Muslim” or a “Chinese” in Malaysia, is to first learn to become a victim and to think like minorities.

“Opponents of racism need to understand that proponents of racial politics do believe in race. We need to listen to and explain these affective temperaments rather than dismissing them outright. It is only by first understanding the appeal of race and the complex imagination it summons that one can begin to find ways of uprooting racism”.–Tan Zi Hao

Many who still question why an ethnic Malay majority requires institutional protectionism miss the point. Recall what Arjun Appadurai provocatively identifies as the “anxiety of incompleteness”, whereby postcolonial ethnic majorities are burdened by an unfinished project of obtaining authenticity: equipped with temperaments of loss, a demographic majority will remain “incomplete”, “inauthentic”, and live as imagined minorities in fear of actually-existing minorities.

What is lost to the Malays in colonialism is lost to the Chinese in migration. Both imagined minorities seek to rectify their “incompleteness” by pinpointing, even racialising, one another as the dominant “imagined majorities” obstructing their attainment of an originary authenticity.

There is a seductive appeal to this track of imagination that liberal analysts and public intellectuals disregard. It is an imagination that is grounded on the fact of being “Malay” and of being “Chinese”.

However unscientific or unfounded these racial categories, the temperaments contained in them are disturbingly honest, intimately personal and subjective. Part of the affect of being “Malay” is to first identify how “Chinese” became the cause of their grievance, vice versa.

Opponents of racism need to understand that proponents of racial politics do believe in race. We need to listen to and explain these affective temperaments rather than dismissing them outright. It is only by first understanding the appeal of race and the complex imagination it summons that one can begin to find ways of uprooting racism.

FELDA–Tun Razak’s Legacy– is the Next 1MDB


July 9, 2018

FELDA–Tun Razak’s Legacy– is the Next 1MDB

by Dr. M Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California, USA

FELDA (Federal Land Development Authority), the massive plantation development scheme that was Tun Razak’s brainchild and crown jewel of his rural development program, threatens to rival the massive scandal of 1MDB in terms of corruption, grand larceny, and inept management.

Image result for Shahril Samad of Felda

IMD/IMEDE-Educated Laundromat Entrepreneur, Shahril Samad

Its new head (now former, with UMNO’s rout in the May 2018 elections), one Shahril Samad, admitted that title to the prime property on which its head office is sited was transferred to a developer without his or his agency’s knowledge! This character claims to have an MBA (from IMD/IMEDE–Switzerland) but his private venture up till then was to run a laundromat. He, in turn, had replaced the scandal-ridden Isa Samad (no relation) who earlier was found guilty by UMNO for “money politics.”

Image result for Isa Samad

FELDA Chairman, Isa Samad

FELDA is now a large, diversified agro-based GLC having morphed from its origin as a modest federal agency. It boasts revenues (2017 figures) in excess of RM17 billion. The profit picture, however, is another story and best reflected by its stock price which languishes at about a third of its initial offering price. When FELDA was listed in 2012 as FGV (FELDA Global Ventures), it was the largest in Asia and globally second only to Facebook.

Visit FELDA’s settlements today and compare them to the 1960s or 70s. Nothing much have changed. The settlers’ standard of living has not improved. If there is any economic enterprise on those settlements, they would be under the control of FGV. The social and economic dynamics of those settlements resemble the old company town, except that the company here, FGV, is not in the least benevolent.

There is one significant change which the settlers are not even aware of, or if they are, not appreciate the full financial and other ramifications. Whereas before they had title to their land (about 16 acres each), today that has been subordinated to FGV as part of the IPO. When FGV shares tumbled, those settlers’ assets went with it.

Those settlers as well as FELDA managers do not understand such sophisticated financial instruments as dividends, stock offerings, and capital gains. FGV should have emulated Nestlé and invested in its settlers and not be enthralled with pseudo high finance. FELDA is uniquely positioned to execute that as its leaders and managers are Malays, as are the settlers. As such there would be no cultural barriers in appreciating their problems, unlike Nestlé’s European managers had with their African growers.

Image result for The Felda Settlers

FELDA has done little to stimulate entrepreneurial activities among its settlers. It has not encouraged them through funding or training to be FELDA’s vendors, suppliers, or subcontractors, nothing beyond harvesting the palm nuts and tapping their rubber trees.

I would have expected that with the huge profits FELDA often brags about, the schools and clinics in its settlements would be among the best so as to give those settlers’ children a flying head start, as those of Nestle’s African cocoa growers. Instead FELDA schools perform below average. Regrettable considering that the mission of these GLCs is “national development foundation,” in particular that of Bumiputras.

FELDA has only recently set up a residential school exclusively for the children of its workers. Over half a century later, and only one school! FELDA brags ad nauseum about the few successful “AnakFELDA” (children of FELDA). They are outliers, not the consequence of enlightened policies.

As for the settlements, few have electricity or piped water, much less a clinic. Again, compare that to what Nestlé is doing to those African cocoa growers. Those Malay managers and executives at FELDA ought to be ashamed of themselves and their lousy performances!

Image result for felda kids

 

FELDA has introduced little innovation to make the settlers’ lives and work more bearable and less dangerous. Oil palm is harvested in the same old, crude, and dangerous manual ways as it was in the 1960s. FELDA have not introduced hydraulic lifts (like the ones telephone repairmen use to fix overhead lines) to make the harvesting of palm nuts more efficient. Those workers still use pitchforks and bare hands to collect those nuts. Not only do the pitchforks damage the nuts, their sharp shells often scrape the workers’ hands giving rise to painful tumor-like growths (granulomas). Those chores are archaic and literally backbreaking; they should have been mechanized.

Only through such innovations could you increase your workers’ productivity, not endlessly exhorting “work harder!” or “be more efficient!”

FGV is the largest employer of unskilled laborers, meaning, illegal immigrants. Instead of investing in the skills and productivity its workers, as well as modernizing its plantations to be less dependent on unskilled workers, FGV took the easy way out by importing them and with all the attendant social problems.

There is also little research done on maximizing the use of land, as with growing flowers and vegetables or raising livestock in between the trees to raise the settlers’ income.

FELDA has many subsidiaries. All look impressive until you examine their activities; few materially advance the settlers’ plight. Those subsidiaries are but crass opportunities for politicians and civil servants to earn extra-lucrative directorship fees by being appointed to their boards, all at the poor settlers’ expense.

With the resources it has and freed from the micromanagement of the the civil service, FGV could have superb build schools to benefit the settlers’ children.

These GLCs as exemplified by FGV have failed in their primary mission of developing Bumiputra human capital. They succeed only in duplicating existing governmental programs, and adding to the costs. They do not bring in added value despite the tremendous resources, financial and otherwise, expended on them. Good enough reason to get rid of them.

Malaysia: Dr.Meredith Weiss on GE-14


July 7, 2018

Malaysia:  Dr.Meredith Weiss on GE-14

Image result for Dr. Meredith Weiss

On May 9, 2018, Malaysians threw the bums out, voting decisively against the Barisan Nasional (National Front, BN), the coalition of broadly right-wing and center parties that had governed Malaysia since independence in 1957. The election poses the question: has Malaysia bucked a global anti-democratic trend?

The conventional wisdom is that a feisty, beleaguered opposition coalition made up of a somewhat motley mix of leftist catch-all, progressive Islamist, and communal parties bested the behemoth BN by force of ideals, pluck, and the charisma of a former “dictator,” as the new prime minister now delights in branding himself. The BN’s decrepitude, born of too many years of untrammeled authority and political inbreeding in a cronyistic, dynastic order, cleared the way for new leaders. All the while, rising costs of living, increasingly stark economic inequality, and spreading awareness that the state- and party-controlled mainstream media were not telling the whole story had left the mass of voters hungry for change.

The Malaysian narrative is one of voters reflecting critically on a well-lubricated patronage machine and rejecting it, at least in part, out of aspirations for democracy, justice, and good governance. But like any good story, this one has a more complex plot line than that, peppered with stratagems, reversals, and ironic turns. What too-pat narratives obscure is the wider context and what we might expect — and voters might seek — to change or maintain.

The Scene As It Stands

Image result for Mahathir Wins

At the helm now, thanks to a weird twist of fates and strategy, is one-time Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, one of the world’s longest-serving heads of government — and also now among the oldest, as he approaches his ninety-third birthday. Although he did voluntarily step down in 2003, after twenty-two years in office, Mahathir has continued to yank at the strings of state since then, and had become increasingly apoplectic at incumbent Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s running the party and government, per Mahathir’s reading, into the ground through rent-seeking verging on plunder.

To hear breathless popular accounts of the “Mahathir factor,” one might assume ethnic Malays — who, together with smaller indigenous groups, collectively termed Bumiputera, comprise slightly more than two-thirds of the population — to be blindly feudalistic, swiveling to heed the call of their once and future master. (Just under one-quarter of Malaysians are of Chinese ethnicity and about 7 percent, Indian.) Mahathir does have his devotees, but to some extent, this common narrative reflects media sensationalism more than reality. Frustration with rank corruption, inequality, and poor governance galvanized many or most opposition supporters, independently of the icon propounding those messages. Nevertheless, Mahathir’s savvy articulation of his coalition’s objectives and BN pathologies, as well as his charisma, helped to tip the scales.

Initially organized as the three-party Alliance, the BN structures itself largely along communal lines. Its core parties represent ethnic Malay, Chinese, and Indian Malaysians, respectively. First among nominal equals — and increasingly dominant over the years — is the United Malays National Organisation, UMNO, Mahathir’s home since its founding in 1946 until he left and launched Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Malaysian United Indigenous Party, PPBM) in 2016.

Essentially ideology-free otherwise by this point, the BN claims support for having delivered development, with something for (almost) everyone. Opposition parties tend to cluster largely in an Islamist camp dominated by the Parti Islam seMalaysia (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, PAS), or else along class lines, from a Socialist Front defunct by the early 1970s; to the social-democratic Democratic Action Party (DAP), rump successor to the People’s Action Party after Singapore’s short-lived merger with Malaysia in the mid-1960s; to the small but embedded Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).

To take on the BN required merging these camps. First-past-the-post voting rules, coupled with heavy-handed gerrymandering and constituency malapportionment, often make three-cornered fights difficult for the opposition; pre-election coalitions are a must. That imperative is at the heart of any assessment of how far Malaysian political alternatives have come and where they may be going: Malaysia’s sociopolitical landscape makes for quirky pairings.

Coalitions require glorification of the least common denominator. Starting in the late 1990s, that galvanizing, offensive-to-few message came to be “justice,” centered initially around sacked, then imprisoned former UMNO deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and his purpose-built Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, People’s Justice Party). Now, in the wake of one of the world’s largest money-laundering and graft sagas, that of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign-wealth fund, the message centers around an obvious anti-corruption theme.

The coalition had maintained a non-communal premise since an initial foray as the Barisan Alternatif (Alternative Front) in 1999. Now it includes a Malay-communal party: Mahathir’s PPBM, made up mostly of his fellow exiles from UMNO. Having made incremental, inconsistent headway in cementing cooperation and securing seats since the late 1990s, the opposition coalition — reconstituted first as Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact), then as Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) — gained control of several states, and now the federal government.

In the last election, in 2013, Pakatan Rakyat won a slim majority of the popular vote but fell short of winning the federal government. This time, Pakatan Harapan won the government with just shy of a popular-vote majority, given divided support for the BN and the no-longer-in-Pakatan PAS, which remains independently potent in Malaysia’s northeast.

The BN is left in shambles, its remains eroding further by the week. Pakatan Harapan is up and running, but it is not entirely clear yet how far or how fast.

Pakatan Harapan will surely make positive, progressive changes to what has become an ossified, decreasingly legitimate, increasingly illiberal system. Already they have begun investigating ousted prime minister Najib Razak and wife Rosmah Mansor — whose penchant for exorbitantly priced handbags rivals Imelda Marcos’s yen for shoes — and the 1MDB saga, the convoluted, seedy story of how Najib and various others misappropriated an estimated several billion dollars from a state investment fund launched in 2009.

More than that, the new government has spoken plausibly of plans, once parliament convenes in July, to revise or revoke controls on media, association, and speech; to release the political reins on schools and universities; to implement open tender and stronger oversight on government contracts; and more. Heads of statutory boards are starting to roll, and bloated or needless government agencies are coming under scrutiny.

Most cabinet appointments, finalized only in mid June, reflect real expertise rather than political concessions, as under the BN model. The coalition itself is far more equally balanced among its component parties than the BN ever has been — and that those parties do differ in meaningful ways, in their goals or membership, ensures a wider range of alternatives may reach the policy table.

Already the results have reset the stage for states’ rights, too. Leaders of awkwardly incorporated, underdeveloped Sabah and Sarawak, states on the island of Borneo, hundreds of miles across the South China Sea from the peninsular mainland, have broken with the federal BN — not just eviscerating their former coalition, but staking a firm claim to fairer status and reward in the federation.

If Malaysia is to emerge from its increasingly authoritarian past, having this new government emplaced is a good thing. Yet of course, it will not change all things, and it may achieve far less than years of opposition manifestos have pledged in terms of ushering in a more equitable, consultative order.

Two lenses are especially germane in understanding the capacity and limits of reform, given this mix of old and new: economic policy, including the extent of communalism (as codified especially in far-reaching race-based preferential policies); and the tension between a highly personalized (however party-centered) and more issues-based or ideological politics.

Where Paths Lead

First, economics. Survey after survey suggests the key issue for Malaysians, election after election, is the economy, and particularly rising costs of living. However, a thick tangle of affirmative-action policies to favor Bumiputera, dating to British colonial times but strengthened under the 1970s New Economic Policy (NEP) and a series of successor plans, tempers what it means to prioritize household economics.

The UMNO-led BN has held pro-Malay policies to be sacrosanct. Revising the criteria for qualification to be need-based rather than race-based would not dramatically shift the beneficiaries; race and class substantially align, particularly since the benefits of preference have flowed disproportionately to already-wealthy “UMNOputera,” the well-connected ruling-party elite. A better lens on economic voting in Malaysia considers not just financial standing, confidence, and progress since the last election, but which party voters trust to manage the economy.

Here we see an ethnic divide, with Malay voters typically disproportionately trusting UMNO, whatever they think of the party otherwise. The most plausible explanation is that these voters believe the best way to ensure their economic wellbeing is by maintaining preferential policies, on which opposition parties, but never UMNO, have equivocated.

The Malaysian constitution grants Bumiputera special stature in the polity; accumulated norms (backed by potent sedition legislation) translate that standing to irrefutable political dominance and economic privilege. At no time has Pakatan seriously challenged Malay primacy, but they have promised a less communally structured economy.

Pakatan’s embrace of the communally focused PPBM shifts the key. Critical to the coalition’s gains this time, especially in winning over Malay voters, appears to have been the reassurance Mahathir — whose early writings inspired and informed the NEP — and his party offered, that Pakatan would uphold pro-Malay policies. Now in office, the coalition has limited room for maneuver, especially with their main opposition still Malay-based (in UMNO as well as PAS) and only a slim parliamentary majority.

Importantly, since taking office, Mahathir and his government have insisted on their determination to maintain an even keel: to push back against some mega-investment from China, perhaps, and to cancel at least one particularly costly boondoggle — a high-speed rail line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore — but to keep investors confident.

Mahathir is Malaysia’s original mega project mastermind: the “national car” intended to galvanize industrialization in the 1980s (Proton, short for Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional, or National Automobile Company, 49.9 percent owned by China’s Geely Holdings as of last year), the Petronas twin towers, an extravagant new capital at Putrajaya: glamorous, expensive grand gestures intended to signal Malaysia’s developmental success. His newly appointed finance minister, the DAP’s Lim Guan Eng, previously the chief minister of prosperous, opposition-held Penang state, likewise caught flak there for his coziness with developers and embrace of ambitiously grand infrastructure and real-estate projects.

Related image

Mahathir’s Council of Eminent Persons (L-R): Robert Kuok, Zeti Aziz, Hassan Marican, Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram and CEP Chair Person Tun Daim Zainuddin

An appointed Council of Eminent Persons, named after the elections to advise on economic policy, includes the renowned, respected, and progressive economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram, but also billionaire tycoon Robert Kuok and Mahathir’s erstwhile UMNO bagman Daim Zainuddin — so their advice could pull in any of several directions. (Already, members have come under fire for meddling beyond their mandate.)

These economic impulses and incentives taken in sum, we should assume an at least somewhat more transparent, less cronyistic system, but still with a heavy emphasis on foreign investment–led, large-scale developments (with requirements intact to ensure Malay contractors’ protected share in the bounty), faith in the blessings of neoliberalism, and politically fruitful (commonly dubbed “populist”) wealth-sharing to amplify otherwise-tepid trickle-down effects.

More broadly, both coalitions are neoliberal at their core. Both offered a host of makeshift measures to reduce the pinch of rapid, top-heavy development, ranging from targeted cash-transfer and voucher schemes (for children, students, seniors, newlyweds, the bereaved, housewives, entrepreneurs, and the poor), to subsidized utilities, to reduced road tolls. But neither suggested any fundamental branching from that economic path beyond, for instance, expanded educational opportunities to prepare Malaysians better to embrace the modern economy.

Image result for dr michael jeyakumar

Indeed, Pakatan essentially shut out the anti-capitalist Parti Sosialis: in allocating seats, the coalition offered the socialist party a meager one constituency in which to contest (in which PSM was the incumbent). When PSM insisted on standing in others, Pakatan revoked even that paltry offer and competed against PSM’s Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, defeating him. (In pushing on to prove their point, both sides took the very real chance of splitting the vote and delivering the seat to the BN.)

Second, like the government it replaces, Pakatan is highly leader-centered, to the point of obscuring an emphasis on issues or ideology. Its commitment to term limits is a definite improvement (while Mahathir’s old age offers reassurance of his own commitment not to outstay his welcome; the plan is to hand the reins to Anwar within about two years). Yet Malaysian politics has been and remains deeply clientelistic across parties, despite  significant overseas and internal rural–urban labor migration, economic diversification, and sufficient state capacity that party machines should be off the hook for welfare services. A “personal vote” matters even when parties are at their most pulled-together — and even those candidates able to coast on their party’s coattails prioritize “going to the ground” for grassroots constituency service and mingling among the masses.

However much media and pundits exaggerate the extent of his personal responsibility for Pakatan’s win, Mahathir did help to tip the scales, and it remains to be seen what Mahathir the man represents vis-à-vis a reform agenda. More to the point, that the best Pakatan could do in terms of a broadly palatable leader — realizing the imperative in Malaysia of a leader to lead the charge, no matter how deeply unpopular their rival — was the long-retired Mahathir, architect of the system now in place and whom so many within PH once reviled as a despot, could bode poorly for its sustainability and depth of support.

On the other hand, Pakatan has a clear advantage on this score — though less in Mahathir’s PPBM than in its partner parties. Spurred not least by predations during Mahathir’s previous longue durée, Malaysia has developed a vibrant civil society, encompassing not only largely urban, middle class–based advocacy NGOs, but also mass-based Islamist organizations, deeply embedded communal and cultural associations, and more. Many of these groups, from Chinese educationists to Muslim dakwah activists to human-rights campaigners, have a clear political, and often partisan, orientation. That rootedness in civil society gives Pakatan not only a loyal base of volunteers for get-out-the-vote and other efforts, but also reinforces its orientation around issues of better governance, social justice, and civil liberties.

That said, Pakatan’s record of governing at the state level revealed greater ambivalence than many activists had expected about their collaborating with advocacy NGOs in particular. Even many Pakatan legislators who cut their political teeth in those same NGOs came to consider their one-time colleagues too single-issue-oriented or impatient for improbably sweeping change and found the constant pressure irksome.

Promises of reserved seats for civil society activists in appointed local councils, for instance — as a stopgap remedy until Pakatan could restore local-government elections, halted since the 1960s — withered in Pakatan-held Penang and Selangor over the past decade. (Pakatan’s national manifesto does not promise restoration of local-government elections, but pressure is sufficiently high that progress toward that goal seems likely.)

Moreover, women’s organizations in particular have urged all parties to improve the gender balance in representation in public office. While these efforts have yielded aspirations and quotas, no party has come close to meeting them, even for appointed offices with a clearly sufficient female pool from which to draw. So while the close ties between civil society and Pakatan parties bode well for generating sufficient new leaders to sustain real competition, among candidates with skills and experience for leadership roles, recruitment could still fall short in terms of enhancing representativeness and idealism in practice.

And at the end of the day, there is always another election ahead. Pakatan developed under BN rule; it may hesitate to change the rules of a game it has only so newly mastered. Nor can it risk losing its lead. Some Pakatan support is proactive: champions of change, away from the too-long-entrenched BN and toward cleaner, more accountable and responsible governance. Some, though, is reactive: voting against Najib, but without necessarily seeking any dramatic overhaul beyond that purge — hence the appeal of not-too-different PPBM and Mahathir.

To win a second time, Pakatan needs to keep both camps in its corner. Unless electoral rules change (unlikely, although entirely reasonable to consider) or something else goes really awry in Malaysia (always possible), the wider frame of these recent elections suggests observers keep their expectations of systemic change in check.

Malaysia is unlikely to return to the old Mahathirian model, which Najib stretched to its extremes, of an excessively strong executive, rapacious ruling party, and snowflake-sensitive public authorities. On the other hand, quick, dramatic change toward a much more politically competitive or economically progressive order is equally unlikely, given the pull of the status quo. (Nearby Indonesia, having just marked twenty years since the Reformasi that ousted Suharto and his New Order regime, is a sobering Exhibit A.)

What the wider context suggests is something in between: an order that increases the political space for, and responsiveness to, alternative voices and ideas, within and outside parties; that does less to stifle efforts within civil society toward more coordinated, efficacious advocacy; and that encourages — even just by dint of a multipolar electorate and fissiparous coalitions — real competition around principles as well as personalities.

Malaysia has opened the door to fundamental reform, even if new leaders do little more than peek around the corner in these early stages, and even if its citizens opt ultimately to update the décor rather than shift the socioeconomic foundations of the state.

About the Author

Meredith L. Weiss is professor of political science at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

Rejoinder by  Dr.Rais Hussin: Bumiputeraism is not the root issue

http://www.malaysiakini.com

American political scientist Dr. Meredith Weiss has done extensive field research in Malaysia. The country needs more academics like her to cast light on the dynamics of Malaysia. However, the accolades stop there. Her article in Jacobin recently has all the drama and flair of a New Yorker literary piece. Yet, it went off on a tangent. How?

First, Weiss warned that the new electoral landscape is not necessarily new. While she did not warn of the spectre of Mahathirism, which implies a return to authoritarianism, she hinted strongly at the complexity of unravelling the National Economic Policy, which in her view amounted to all the same anyway. Again, how?

Entrenched Malay interests in the political, corporate and other sectors would be too deeply embedded. A single electoral victory from Pakatan Harapan, even one led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, now the seventh prime minister of Malaysia, would not be enough to alter the dramatic and complex landscape.

Second, Weiss averred that any reforms would not be smooth sailing, especially when the tensions between the top members of the coalition look all but impossible to overcome.

Therefore, the significance of May 9, 2018, would fade in due course. The internal solidarity of the elites forged before and on that date would crack. While she didn’t specifically mention the causal or ideological factor that could lead to its fissure or implosion, Weiss implied that their personal animus and histories are enough to warrant deep concern.

Third, Weiss argued that Pakatan Harapan is bound to make progress in light of the insidious practices of UMNO that had set the bar so low, the mere rejection of corruption alone would be Harapan’s defining moment. Just by saying ‘no’ and the latter would enjoy more confidence from the public. Wrong.

In fact, Weiss is wrong on all counts. To begin with, the optic she adopted is one devoid of variant analysis. Even before the events took place, she had already claimed that everything else would either fail or fail to move forward. But then how does Weiss explain the power of the May 9 election?

Voters were given a choice between more billion-dollar handouts and subsidies by the Najib-led BN, or liberation from becoming the object of international ridicule.

While 45 percent of the voters rooted for UMNO, this also marked the Malay behemoth’s dramatic fall from grace. From a high of 88 parliamentary seats in the 2013 election, Umno now only has 52 parliament seats, and the numbers are still dropping as elected UMNO members declare themselves independent.

Corporate and economic reforms are bound to be difficult. Not for the reason of race or race-based preferential policies alone i.e., bumiputeraism, which pervades Weiss’ article, but the massive size of the national debt due to liabilities from government-linked companies.

Image result for edmund terence gomez university of malaya

Research by Edmund Terence Gomez and his associates show close to 900 such entities have accepted some form of government bailout and are swimming in a sea of red ink. The gravity of the situation begins from the Gordian knot of these companies, not the problems rooted in bumiputeraism.

Finally, why should the egos of the different Harapan personalities matter, when the coalition has merely won the general election once? Unlike how UMNO warlords, who had won in quick succession since 1955, had a sense of self-entitlement and invincibility, Harapan leaders know that if they screw up, the coalition will be booted out regardless of whether Mahathir or Anwar Ibrahim is at the helm. In other words, perform, or be put out to pasture.

Not surprisingly, some MPs had tried to remain in their comfort zones before the election but this backfired for some.

Tan Kee Kwong was not even nominated by his own party. He had to give up his Wangsa Maju seat to another PKR candidate.

Liew Chin Tong, marginally lost his seat in Ayer Hitam in Johor, thus depriving him of the chance to be the transport minister, as his successor Anthony Loke admitted.

Indeed, DAP fielded more Malay candidates under 40 across the board in GE-14, more than even what UMNO could attempt. These and other factors are more important to understand how the new Malaysia came to be rather than how old Malaysia will be resistant to change.

To begin with, sheer defiance of a kleptocratic regime is a given. Members of UMNO like Bung Mokhtar even claimed that the ill-gotten gains of Najib Razak are the assets of UMNO. Najib, meanwhile, insists many were gifts accumulated over his over 36 years in politics. Does he mean the business of being a politician is to be in business? Now that Najib has been arrested, more of the truth will be unveiled.

Anyway, Weiss is welcome to undertake more research on Malaysia. But she should understand that change, in fact, is happening at breakneck speed. There is the Council of Eminent Persons, the Harapan manifesto, and cabinet orders to reform the country within 100 days and over the next five years. Meanwhile, 17,000 political appointees have been terminated, and more are expected to face the same fate.

Even politically appointed Ambassadors of Najib Abdul Razak will not be spared. Heads of government-linked investment companies, such as Abdul Wahid Omar of PNB, have resigned.

Rome was not built in a day. The Harapan government is learning through adaptation to see which elements of the previous policies can be kept, and which policies cannot be phased out immediately, or, suspended, in order to allow a thorough review of various projects with Chinese private construction companies.

If Weiss were in Malaysia at Mahathir’s side, she would be shocked at how the doyen of Malaysian politics is slashing the excesses of the previous government, in order to set things right. It is far too easy to be an armchair critic, and Weiss seems to have made that faux pas to critique from the safe confines of her ivory towers in US.


RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Bersatu and heads its policy and strategy bureau.

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

 

The Struggle for Political Islam in ‘new Malaysia’


July 6, 2018

The Struggle for Political Islam in ‘new Malaysia’

Despite PAS’ electoral wins, the new government belies the cliches of monolithic Islamist politics.

There was a limit to playing identity politics during the 14th General Elections (GE14), but it’s now too simplistic to say there’s a “new politics” where race and religion no longer matter in Malaysia. Malaysia is not totally free from elements of Bumiputraism and Islamism, yet there are diversifications and transformations of discourses and practices in political Islam. And these changes will continue to shape and be shaped by political contestations in this “new Malaysia”.

Opposition party PAS and victorious Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition party Amanah are unlikely to cooperate in the name of Islam. Although both claim to be Islamic parties, their approaches are rather different. PAS is a more Malay-oriented Islamic party with its strongholds in Kelantan and Terengganu, while Amanah is a more cosmopolitan and reformist-inclined Islamic party with a support base in the urbanised Klang Valley. Such Pas–Amanah competition might be also framed as a contestation between orthodox versus moderate Islamism, Islamism versus post-Islamism, or political Islam 1.0 versus 2.0; of course, the realities are more much more complex than these differentiations. Hence, it is a mistake to claim that Malay Muslims in the Klang Valley are less “Islamic” than those in the east coast states, just because they did not vote for PAS.

Image result for political islam in ‘new malaysia’

At GE-14, PAS won 18 parliamentary seats while Amanah secured 11 seats. However, the “Islamic voice” in the winning PH coalition also exists in its other component parties PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) and even PPBM (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia), as there are leaders with ABIM (Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia) and IKRAM (Pertubuhan IKRAM Malaysia) background in both parties. In short, PAS is no longer the only dominant force representing political Islam in Malaysia, as it’s facing strong challenges from other political parties and also NGOs with Islamic credentials.

Many Malaysians, including Malay Muslims, voted against Najib Razak and issues such as the GST and corruption in GE-14. Yet where these Malay protest votes go are configured by political orientations among Malay Muslims, depending on regions. In the southern states such as Johor, Malay nationalism is strong and PAS is not an important force. Hence the anti-Najib voters’ swinging to PH.

Image result for political islam in ‘new malaysia’

Also Read here: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/46227/THESIS%20pdf.pdf?sequence=1

But in the east coast states, PAS is strong on its own. After successfully denouncing Amanah and consolidating its hardcore supporters, the party ran extensive campaigns against the GST and corruption to attract anti-Najib voters. It may be inaccurate to claim that many Malay Muslims in Kelantan and Terengganu were voting for RUU355, a parliamentary bill proposed by PAS president Hadi Awang to enhance existing Syariah laws.

In the Klang Valley, potential PAS voters are much more diverse and sophisticated than those in the east coast. Aside from the PAS hardcore, there are also supporters of Anwar Ibrahim, ABIM, Ikram, and other Islamic movements. At GE14, the PAS hardcore stayed loyal yet others, especially those from ABIM and IKRAM, ran effective campaigns for PH, lending the coalition much-needed Islamic credentials. They have successfully persuaded many former PAS voters in the Klang Valley to vote for PH.

Many observers have focused on PAS’ winning Kelantan and Terengganu states on its own, attributing its victories to religious factors and describing PAS voters as a “moral constituency”. However, such analyses often wrongly suggest Muslims who have voted for PH are less “Islamic” and less concerned about “moral issues”. Many have also taken urban Muslim supporters of PH for granted.

Take the case of Sungai Ramal (formerly Bangi), a Malay-majority urban state seat in Selangor. By exploring how PAS and PH (represented by Amanah) competed to win over pious urban Muslim voters, by offering different approaches to political Islam, its results tell us more about the transformation of political Islam in urban Malaysia.

Like Shah Alam, Bangi or to be more accurate Bandar Baru Bangi (Bangi New Town) was an urban development project under the New Economic Policy (NEP) to increase the urban Malay population. The state assembly seat of Bangi, renamed Sungai Ramal in 2018, had previously been won by PAS in 1999, 2008, and 2013. Yet it was captured by PH in 2018. The main offices of ISMA (Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia) and HTM (Hizbut Tahrir Malaysia) are located in Bangi, while many ABIM and IKRAM activists also reside in this township.

Bangi is generally seen as a “middle-class Malay Muslim” township. It’s also known as “bandar ilmu” (“knowledge town”, where UKM and KUIS are located) and “bandar fesyen” (“fashion town”, where many Muslimah boutiques and halal eateries are situated). During the GE14 campaign, some Amanah leaders also called Bangi “bandar Rahmatan lil-Alamin”—an inclusive Islamic township which is “a blessing for all”.

After the controversial redelineation exercises nationwide by the Election Commission (EC), the state constituency of Bangi not only got a new name (Sungai Ramal) but also an increase in Malay voters, from about 66% to 80%. Such demographics might have indicated a higher chance for PAS to retain the seat or perhaps enabled UMNO to wrest the seat back. However, as I have observed during the election campaign, Bangi was a battleground between PAS (represented by Nushi Mahfodz, a celebrity ustaz) and Amanah (represented by Mazwan Johar, a lawyer and ex-PAS activist), given that UMNO was not popular among many urban, educated middle-class Malay Muslims.

In order to engage with its middle class and youth members, as well as to win over support from a broader set of pious Muslims, the PAS leadership in Selangor knows its religious credentials alone are not enough. Party strategists have introduced the idea of “technocratic government” (kerajaan teknorat), running events such as “town hall” meetings featuring the party’s youth leaders from professional backgrounds. But religious issues are still central to the PAS campaign. It fielded Nushi Mahfodz, a lecturer at KUIS (Kolej Universiti Islam Selangor) and a celebrity ustaz, as an attempt to win over pious voters. PAS also had certain controls over mosques, religious schools and kindergartens across Bangi.

But there were some uncertainties and dissatisfaction among PAS supporters during GE-14, and they posed challenging questions to party leaders over the campaign. According to PAS ceramah attendees I met, there were different levels of support toward the Islamist party. Some were hardcore PAS members, some were dissatisfied members considering voting for PH, while others who were unhappy with the party leadership still stayed loyal to the party. One of them used the analogy of a classroom: “the teacher might be wrong, but the textbook is always correct. We can criticise the teacher, but we can’t throw away our textbook”.

Pakatan Harapan was well aware it was not enough to campaign solely against the GST and corruption if it wanted to win over pious Muslim voters in Bangi. So it wasn’t a surprise that Amanah arranged a dialogue in Bangi during the GE14 campaign featuring Ustaz Nik Omar, the eldest son of the late Nik Aziz, the revered former PAS spiritual leader. In that dialogue, Nik Omar suggested that his father was not only fighting for the party (PAS), but also more importantly for Islam and for dakwah. For him, dakwah was an “Islamic outreach” towards the broader Muslim community and non-Muslims as well. Compared to “inward-looking” PAS, Nik Omar found PH a better platform for dakwah. In some ways, he carried the legacy of his father, emphasising the need to engage with broader societies while upholding an Islamic agenda.

But Nik Omar himself suffered a heavy defeat in Kelantan, where PAS hardcore supporters in the east coast were ideologically committed and highly loyal to the party. Yet Nik Omar played an important role in helping PH win over fence-sitter Muslim voters, especially in the Klang Valley. If Dr Mahathir Mohammad with his “Malay nationalist” outlook convinced some previously UMNO voters to switch their support to PH, Nik Omar with his “Islamic credentials” persuaded some previously PAS voters to swing their support to Harapan.

By hailing Nik Aziz as an exemplary Muslim leader in its elections campaign, Amanah emphasised social inclusiveness, working with people from all walks of life including non-Muslims. Yet, at the same time, it maintained certain conservative religious and moral viewpoints. For example, some of its leaders committed PH to not allowing cinemas and alcohol sellers in Bangi. In addition to Nik Omar, many ABIM leaders living in Bangi including its first president Razali Nawawi and fourth president Muhammad Nur Manuty also gave their support to PH candidates. A local PKR leader who ran one of the campaign offices was also from an ABIM background. The main campaign team for the Amanah candidate included youth activists from IKRAM.

As the results showed, a combined effort by Amanah, PKR, IKRAM and ABIM activists defeated the incumbent PAS candidate in this urban Malay Muslim-majority seat. The PH coalition won with 24,591 votes, with PAS securing 13,961 votes while UMNO only got 9,372 votes. As compared to the 2013 elections, there was a huge decrease in both PAS voters (dropping to 13,961 from 29,200 previously) and UMNO voters (to 9,372 from 17,362 previously). In other words, about half of previously PAS and UMNO voters swung their support over to Pakatan Harapan.

Various reasons contributing to this change of voting patterns include the possibility that a significant number of former PAS voters are also supporters of PKR, ABIM, IKRAM, and other Islamic organisations. They are pious voters who consider Islam as an important factor in their voting but they’re not loyal PAS supporters. At GE14, many of them indicated their acceptance of PH as an “Islamic alternative”. Despite that, PAS was still able to keep its 30% support base of Muslim voters in Bangi, suggesting that the Islamist party still has influence among urban Muslims in the Klang Valley. It might be premature to conclude that PAS is only a regional party with influence in the east coast and northern states.

The GE-14 result reflects the enduring influence of PAS and it remains one of the key players of political Islam in Malaysia. Yet at the same time, Amanah and PKR, and to a lesser extent, PPBM, together with IKRAM and ABIM, have offered a viable “Islamic alternative” for pious Muslim voters. Over the next few years, can PAS rejuvenate or expand its support base in the Klang Valley? Can Amanah make further inroads into the east coast states?

The competition for pious Muslim voters will continue to shape and be shaped by Malaysian politics. Anwar Ibrahim recently visited his comrade Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, while Nik Omar and some Amanah leaders have also made references to Erdogan. Some liberal Muslims have questioned the suitability of Maszlee Malik as the Minister of Education because of his perceived “Islamist” background, and he replied such critics by pointing out “being religious is not a crime”.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has stated his intention to revamp the federal government’s Islamic affairs bureaucracy JAKIM, leaving the room open for further competition among different Islamic groups in Malaysia. Such competition will also be configured by the engagement of Muslims from various backgrounds—from traditionalists to modernists, from secular-minded to Islamist-minded, from progressive to conservative. And there are the interactions with non-Muslim Malaysians to consider as well.

DUN Sungai Ramal(formerly Bangi) 2018Total voters: 54,961

Malays 80%   Chinese 9%

Indians 10%   Others 1%

2013Total voters: 53,268

Malays 66%   Chinese 19%

Indians 13%   Others 1%

BN-UMNO 9,372 17,362
PAS 13,961 29,200
PH-Amanah 24,591

Election results in the Sungai Ramal state seat (formerly Bangi) in 2018 and 2013 [data from https://undi.info]