QUESTION TIME | If anything, Bersatu’s recent annual general assembly starkly shows one thing – that it is merely an extension of the old UMNO (Baru,) and will use the model of Malay supremacy,ty and put back in place corruption via patronage politics.
The only way to check that unfortunate retrograde policy is for the other Pakatan Harapan partners, especially those who have three to four times the number of MPs Bersatu has, to exert their combined muscle to rightfully regain more influence in the coalition and restore the original reform agenda pre-GE14.
At the AGM, Bersatu vice-President Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, also a former Election Commission (EC) chairperson, termed pushbacks against delegates’ demands to be given government resources to help the party retain power as “stupid”.
Bad enough that you have the former EC chairperson advocating breaking laws but this same person was shockingly appointed in August last year to head a Putrajaya committee that will make recommendations on electoral law reform in two years time.
This same Abdul Rashid had been heavily criticised by both PKR and DAP, the dominant parties in Harapan, over his tenure from 2000 to 2008 as the EC chairperson. This continues a tendency for Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to appoint tainted,controversial and/or discredited people to important positions.
This includes Daim Zainuddin to head the Council of Eminent Persons; former Inspector-General of Police Abdul Rahim Noor (who brutally assaulted Anwar Ibrahim and gave him a black eye while in Police detention) to negotiate security arrangements with Thailand and former discredited aAtorneys-General to important positions.
Abdul Rashid’s comments at the Bersatu assembly are particularly galling and provocative and advocate extra-judicial measures to keep and extend Bersatu’s hold on power. These are clearly against the law but Abdul Rashid (photo) received a misplaced standing ovation from Bersatu delegates.
“Looking at the situation now, we cannot defend our position as the governing party because the division chiefs are being left out. It is lucky that the Prime Minister gave me a job with a big salary so that I can support my division,” said Abdul Rashid, apparently referring to his appointment to the government’s election reform committee.
“But the others, we don’t need to be arrogant by saying we shouldn’t give them jobs, that we would be taking away the jobs of others, that we should not take this or that. That opinion, to me, irresponsible. In the election, we must win by hook or by crook,” he said.
He added that although he did not like the idea of using government resources, it had to be done.
“All division chiefs should be given activities so that they can have the opportunity to defend their divisions,” he said.
Abdul Rashid also urged the government to restore the parallel village chief system practised by the previous BN government. “And our people must occupy these positions,” he said.
Village chiefs are traditionally appointed by the state government but the previous BN government appointed parallel village chiefs in states not under its control. The Harapan administration has abolished this parallel system.
“All development projects should be channeled to these (parallel) committees and the division chiefs must benefit,” he said as the crowd cheered him on.
Blown to smithereens
It is unthinkable that this man, who clearly advocates moves against current elections laws, heads Putrajaya’s committee on electoral reform. If anything, he will probably advocate changes in the law to allow these offences to take place.
Harapan leaders should forthwith put their foot down and demand that Abdul Rashid be removed as the head of the electoral reform committee as he has clearly shown, by his words at a public gathering, that he is not a fit person to come up with electoral reforms which are up to international standards.
That he had so much support from Bersatu delegates for his views is worrying, with other leaders echoing his sentiments. While Bersatu head Mahathir has said that what Abdul Rashid says is his personal opinion, he should immediately review Abdul Rashid’s position as head of the electoral reform committee.
The original UMNO was founded in 1946 to champion Malay rights in the lead up to independence. Its founder Onn bin Jaffar left UMNO after the party refused to open membership to non-Malays. Tunku Abdul Rahman took over the helm and became Malaysia’s first Prime Minister.
That UMNO was de-registered in 1987 after the courts declared it illegal. Then prime minister Mahathir formed UMNO Baru or UMNO 2.0 and organised members of UMNO, who supported him to join this UMNO Baru, excluding others who did not. There was a breakaway group called Semangat 46 formed, headed by Mahathir’s then opponent , Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
Mahathir altered the constitution of the original UMNO considerably by making it next to impossible to remove a sitting UMNO Baru President. This resulted in a progressive erosion of government accountability and transparency, eventually leading to 1MDB and its excesses. And UMNOMNO-BN’s first loss in the general election last year.
As droves of MPs start to desert UMNOo Baru, Bersatu may well become Umno 3.0 if it accepts these UMNOo MPs as members. That will irrevocably change the complexion of the coalition and alter the balance of power within Harapan.
Other coalition partners, in particular, PKR and DAP, should clearly resist this and state their irreversible opposition to such moves, simply because all UMNO and BN MPs are tainted because they knew full well of the corruption and theft within 1MDB when they decided to stand for elections.
If all of the UMNO MPs are accepted within the Bersatu fold and become Harapan members effectively and those within Bersatu who call for extrajudicial measures to remain in power are not checked, it is inevitable that Bersatu will become UMNO 3.0 and the strongest party within the Harapan coalition.
With that, the hopes of the majority of Malaysians for a fairer, more equitable country, where everybody is considered Malaysian and where corruption is a thing of the past and accountability and good governance will be practised, will be blown to smithereens.
P GUNASEGARAM says we have to guard our newfound freedom zealously instead of surrendering it back to UMNO goons and gangsters who want a return to the past. E-mail: email@example.com
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.
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”.
Lijphart identified four devices of consociational democracy: government by grand coalition, mutual veto, proportionality, and segmental autonomy. 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.
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. 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”.
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”. UMNO President, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, admitted that BN will need to undergo “rebranding” after the “horrific defeat”.
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 memoryand left an indelible scar on ethnicrelations.
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.”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.
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.
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. UMNO too suffered;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
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 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”.
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. 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.
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”.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.
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. 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.)
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.
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 – 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.
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.
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. 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.
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, 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 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.
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 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).
 Vasil, R.K. The Malaysian general election of 1969. Oxford University Press, 1972., as quoted inHeng’s article.
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 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.
 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.
 “Thousands, including Rais Yatim, attend KL rally to defend Malay rights.” The Star Online. 28 July 2018.
 “Malaysia’s Islamist party PAS says only Muslims will make policy should it come to power.” The Straits Times. 2 February 2018.
 Cheng, Kenneth. “Restoring the People’s “Third Vote””. New Naratif. 2 August 2018.
This is an article I never thought I’d have to write. Somehow, the strange post-election events have sparked off a stream of socio-political events that are even stranger than the idea of a 93-year-old man once dubbed Public Enemy No. 1 being back in the Prime Minister’s seat.
The series of harsh statements by students and activists against Anwar Ibrahim, his wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and their daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar shocked me more, in some ways, than the commando raid of his house in 1998. I feel compelled as a citizen to recount not just what happened in 1998, but my feelings and positive growth as an individual, a citizen, a Muslim and an academic for the benefit of a new generation of Malaysians.
In 1998, Anwar Ibrahim was unceremoniously sacked by the Prime Minister and UMNO President. The charge was firstly about some guy named Nalla who owned a gun, but then we heard whispers of flings with women, and ultimately the big headlines in Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian and The Star on the alleged sodomy of Azizan the driver, Munawar Anees, his political brother, and Sukma Darmawan, his adopted Indonesian brother.
As I recall, Munawar and Sukma were detained under the ISA while Azizan sang like a canary. A few weeks later, an exhausted Munawar and Sukma were brought to court to confess to the accusation of sodomy. After they were freed, they both retracted their confessions and recounted the torture the Police had inflicted to force the confessions. The Judiciary, Police and academia ignored their retractions and let an innocent man stand trial in a Malaysian kangaroo court.
Then came the incredible and dangerous drama of balaclava-clad commandos with machine guns storming the house of the former Deputy Prime Minister. Anwar was whisked away without anyone’s knowledge of where he was being held or what condition he was in. A few days later, he emerged with a bloodied black eye amid news that he had been beaten by the “gangster” Police Chief, Rahim Noor. Anwar’s famous black eye appeared even in foreign media like CNN, Newsweek and Times.
After that came damage control efforts with the Prime Minister accusing Anwar of inflicting the injury on himself. I will never forget the sneer on his lips as he spoke, describing how Anwar could have given himself the black eye. I will also never forget how a member of his Cabinet, a loud-mouthed woman, demonstrated with a drinking glass how Anwar could have pulled it off. We heard later that Anwar had suffered a severe spinal injury and almost lost his life, left to bleed after the “heroic” efforts of the then-Police Chief who has now been appointed as a peacemaker.
I also need to mention how the court allowed the Chief Public Prosecutor to bungle the dates and change them so many times, even allowing the prosecutor to place the sodomy incidents at an unfinished condo at an unknown date and time. The accused was supposed to have committed the act from one date to another, which amounted to several months in total. No specified day or time. Only many specified days and times. And the “honourable” court allowed that.
Then came the trial of Anwar, with sordid details and the unforgettable parading of mattresses in and out of the courts. The court allowed this funny but shameful act while the prime minister and his Cabinet watched from the comfort of their homes – in glee, I assume.
No one said anything about how the law and justice was shamed and desecrated. No mufti said anything. No vice-chancellors said anything. No highly paid public servant said anything. The whole nation watched as one man’s honour, dignity and integrity was raped in front of RTM, TV3 and the newsprint.
Finally, Anwar was convicted – not of sodomy, but of “abuse of power” by asking the Police to extract a confession on a planned political assassination. So he was convicted and sentenced to six years in jail. He was imprisoned before the trial, during the trial and after the trial.
Outside the prison, the then-President of UMNO mercilessly bashed Anwar’s legacy, character and contributions at every UMNO convention – no different from the antics of Rahim Noor, punching a blindfolded man whose hands were tied. For this, the UMNO President was considered a Malay hero with a morality second only to the Prophet. The great Malay hero berated his rival, knowing full well that the man in prison had no means of rebuttal. Such was our prime minister then – the great leader.
What did this all mean to me?
In 1998, I was appointed as an Associate Professor at a public university in the south. I was 36. My career was just beginning to take off, with my books, media articles, public talks and television appearances on the issue of Islamic and heritage architecture.
While building up my career, I read every piece of news and attended every ceramah on Anwar and the Reformasi at every chance I got, sometimes dragging my wife and two daughters to wet padangs filled with mud puddles. I bought every CD I could find on speeches by PAS leaders and Ezam, Saifuddin, Azmin and Mat Sabu. I still have the CD of the Deklarasi Permatang Pauh where the Reformasi was born.
The first thing I learned from the first decade of Reformasi was that a prime minister could be powerful enough to let Anwar be taken off like a terrorist without his loved ones knowing where or how he was. It was hard for me to imagine how my wife and daughters would feel if I were in Anwar’s shoes – not knowing where her husband was or whether their father was dead or alive.
I was shocked not only at the sheer amount of power but also at the attitude of our highly paid religious officials, professors, judges and civil servants. Never mind the police, they were acting like the personal army of the prime minister and Umno. Wahhhhhh, I thought, you can simply pick a fellow up in the middle of the night while brandishing an M16 at him, his wife, his children and his unarmed friends, then take him, beat him up and come out telling us that he punched himself in the eye.
Is the prime minister a person elected by the people in trust to uphold law and justice and preserve the dignity of citizens, or is he no better than a godfather or triad boss who can toy with lives at will? I cannot describe the shock to my social, psychological and religious system of life and understanding.
Before 1997, we were the darling of Asia, looking towards a multiracial and multi-faith nation under the hardworking ethos of Mahathir and the civilisational values of Anwar. Before 1997, I thought we had discovered the Malaysian Renaissance as opposed to the Melayu Reminiscence. But in 1998, we became, under the Prime Minister’s colourful leadership, a third-rate nation ruling with guns and murders. That was when I understood that what we had was not democracy, but a modern feudal version of the old Malay raja-ship criticised by Abdullah Munshi for being uncivilised and unIslamic.
If Najib Razak popularised the term “cash is king” in 2016, in 1998 it was “titles and projects are king”. I learned that the higher the status of a person in society paid by taxpayers, the quieter one becomes in accepting what would normally constitute indecency and pure unadulterated corruption of power.
The new generation of Malaysians shouting at the steps of the education ministry and the 30-something-year-old NGO activists must know that Anwar could have easily left the country in the months before the commandos stormed his house. In fact, I think the prime minister and Umno would have loved it if Anwar had followed those of his friends who fled to another country and were safe as houses. But Anwar stayed on and went on a whirlwind ceramah tour until the Prime Minister and UMNO saw the damage and unleashed their “private muscle”: the Police. The Police were supposed to be an institution enforcing what is constitutionally right, but the leadership of the force understood only “titles and projects”. Harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi.
If Anwar had left the country, we would not be where we are today, I think. Knowing the gullible Malay society, as long as there was UMNO and a Malay presence in the Cabinet, the universities, the army and the police, things would go on as before.
I am not a professor of political science, but I think Anwar’s unjust incarcerations on two occasions not only brought down a despicable racist party in UMNO Baru (formed by Mahathir after the 1987 tussle with Ku Li), but also put a serious dent in the vast institution of the Judiciary, Police and shameful public universities.
Of course, historians are always quick to point out that one man alone can never take charge of the course of history, but truth be told, history is littered with the ideas and suffering of individuals: one Muhammad, one Gandhi, one Mandela or one Martin Luther King. Today’s activists and students may cry foul upon reading my article and say it is melodramatic or worse, a propaganda piece paid for by the Anwar camp.
But I have been writing for 20 years against the mainstream of Malay and official Islam, which has nearly cost me my career. I have done so because of my sentiments following the first 10 years of Reformasi. That decade was my coming of age as a Muslim, a Malaysian and an academic.
We must know who the rightful leadership of this country should be, and the only clues we have are in our history. Who was the victim, and who was the leader who became corrupted by power? I believe people can change through great suffering. Leaders who have never tasted true suffering can work with anyone and make pacts with any party as long as their personal agendas and egos are satisfied.
The first decade of Reformasi taught me never again to fully trust politicians in power, high or low ranking religious officials proclaiming the morality of Islam while collecting honourifics and projects, vice-chancellors of public universities without conscience, and the police force which has neither the morality nor the integrity to uphold the law.
In choosing a leader, I would prefer one who has gone through great suffering because of his beliefs, not one who switches camps and approaches like riding a wave, as if he were the great emancipator. My choice is governed by what I witnessed in the first decade of Reformasi.
The new generation that woke up and came in at the end of the second decade of Reformasi does not understand its origins. If the new generation does not learn to choose a leader from an appreciation of history, then I think our new-found democratic freedom does not serve an honourable path for our country. It only serves our own selfish and narrow perspectives and a false, egotistic comprehension of truth, justice and integrity.
The childish poem of a Prime Minister titled “Melayu Mudah Lupa” may be true in many senses, but this Melayu has never forgotten and hopefully never will.
Tajuddin Rasdi is a professor of Islamic architecture at UCSI University.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
A former UMNO MP has urged moderate parliamentarians from the party not to take sides between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim, but to remain as an independent and progressive bloc.
“Penerapan nilai-nilai Islam” or Malay Decadence?
Speaking to FMT, Tawfik Ismail said Mahathir and Anwar started Malaysia on the path to ultra-conservative Islamisation in the 1980s, with the then-Prime Minister establishing the powerful JAKIM and Anwar pushing his idea of “Penerapan nilai-nilai Islam” in the government.
Given the seemingly directionless and weakened state of their former party UMNO after the May 9 polls, he added, both Mahathir’s PPBM and Anwar’s PKR were now waiting with bated breath.
“A plague on both your houses I say,” said the former Sungai Benut MP, taking a line from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”.
“I’m cynical of UMNO, PPBM and PKR because they’re all fragments of UMNO Baru, which was unrecognisable from the original UMNO.
“People say UMNO is dying, (but) that’s not accurate because UMNO already died in 1987 when it was declared illegal along with its noble ideals.”
They forgot that they started the rot but I don’t–Din Merican
Tawfik said because UMNO Baru was now “dead”, he believed many of its leaders wouldn’t hesitate to ditch the party and join either PPBM or PKR to secure their personal interests.
“At the end of the day, if this happens, will we really see a different Malaysia?At least where ultraconservative Islamisation is concerned, I have to say no because neither PPBM nor PKR seems to really want to kill what Mahathir and Anwar created.”
He said the “ex-UMNO Baru” bunch in PKR and PPBM seemed reluctant to appear “unIslamic”, whether in addressing the issue of child marriages, deinstitutionalising religion or pushing for change where religious matters were concerned.
“The religious agenda continues to be driven by the very same people who made it more important than it should have been. It’s both lawmakers and civil servants.”
He said moderates like Mustapa Mohamed and Anifah Aman, who left UMNO earlier this week, would find real change impossible if they had to join either Mahathir or Anwar.
“There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty in Malay politics at this rate but rather than take sides, like warring camps in UMNO did in 1987, why don’t the moderates in Umno form a non-aligned, progressive and moderate bloc on their own?
“If you take sides, it will just be a return to the ways of UMNO Baru. The likes of Mustapa, Anifah and Khairy Jamaluddin don’t have to side with others. If they remain moderate, they can draw moderates not just from UMNO Baru, but from those outside of UMNO Baru, including non-Malays.”
He said there were bound to be moderates in PKR and PPBM, just as there were radicals in the two Pakatan Harapan parties and UMNO Baru.
He added that forming a moderate bloc, aligned to neither PPBM nor PKR, would keep the two parties from going down the path of race and religion while helping them stay true to the spirit and ideology of the original UMNO.
“Whether we like it or not, Malaysia’s political fundamentals are anchored in a race-based power sharing ideology, thus race politics will stay and BN is an established structure to effectively serve that purpose. All that BN needs is to adopt a moderate and inclusive approach moving forward.”–Darshan Singh
A lot has happened since May 9, when Malaysians decided to alter the political landscape of the country, electing a loosely formed coalition called Pakatan Harapan (PH) into government. A devastating blow landed on the once mighty UMNO-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition when, for the first time in over 60 years, it lost the mandate to rule.
Never had I thought that this would be possible in my lifetime. I expected BN to lose a couple more seats but to win the election as usual.
While the majority of non-Malays were expected to vote for the PH coalition, what surprised me was the fact that a sizeable percentage of the Malay electorate decided to ditch BN as well. Traditionally, the majority of the Malay population had voted for BN, fearing a loss of political power if they did otherwise. This trend was expected to continue but unfortunately this time, it didn’t. Dr Mahathir Mohamad had successfully provided the necessary comfort in assuring that Malay rights and privileges would continue to be protected even if BN was no longer in power. After all, it was Mahathir who had indoctrinated the concept of supremacy during his previous 22 years as prime minister.
It will be interesting to see if the Malay electorate continues to vote for PH post-Mahathir in GE-15.
UMNO Baru: More of the same racist politics under Dr. Achmed Zahid Hamidi from Pornorogo–Hidup Melayu
Personally, I think it was the inability of the former Prime Minister to offer any reasonable explanation for his alleged involvement in financial scandals which influenced the end result. It is a little far-fetched that BN did not expect to lose power, and even more amazing that the former Prime Minister was detached from ground realities.
Warning signs were all over that the people were disappointed and angry with the BN brand of politics, which was plagued by alleged corrupt practices and abuse of power and complete disregard for the principles of transparency, accountability and good governance. The only democratic value left was probably holding general elections on time.
True enough, with the seizure of hundreds of millions in cash and belongings from premises linked to the former Prime Minister, public perception on embezzlement is slowly becoming reality.
Since losing power, BN has been in disarray, desperately trying to recover from the shock election defeat. In such a situation, it does not help when one-time allies decide to jump ship and walk away with those who have newly acquired power. Effectively, there are only three parties left in the BN coalition, and at this point in time, it is not even certain if it will stay this way. There are obvious cracks visible even among its surviving members.
In reality, this election defeat should be viewed positively as an opportunity for BN to review its structure and ideology, correcting the mistakes of the past and emerging stronger. Being in the opposition can be useful to test the newly laid foundation which can be continuously improved until the next general election is called. People will surely appreciate an opposition which roars responsibly in Parliament.
UMNO Baru’s Malay First President
Whether we like it or not, Malaysia’s political fundamentals are anchored in a race-based power sharing ideology, thus race politics will stay and BN is an established structure to effectively serve that purpose. All that BN needs is to adopt a moderate and inclusive approach moving forward.
The majority will continue to claim rights and privileges while the minority will scream racism. This will not change even if the odds are tilted in any other way as we are a selfish and racist society.
Darshan Singh is a FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was chosen as UMNO-Baru President. Forget about reforms. Forget change for the better of Malaysian society as a whole. Think more of the “same-old, same-old” Malay supremacy, and Islam will continue to be their best rhetoric.–Mariam Mokhtar
COMMENT | UMNO-Baru leaders crave respect. What they cannot have by proper means, they will grab through violence or by the creation of fear. Some senior leaders and key members of society are aware that the only way for these leaders their careers to advance was to be loyal to the leader.
While Malaysia was gripped by change and the need to reinvent itself as a proper multi-cultural, equal and just society, many UMNO-Baru members appear to have been in denial.
To make UMNO-Baru acceptable, a few drastic changes will have to be implemented. The deadwood must be thrown out. The concerns of the young and the grassroots must be addressed. Their intolerant racial and religious rhetoric have to be switched off.
Their leaders must dare to be different and stop blaming others for their faults and misdemeanors.
To show the rest of the country that they mean business, the leaders would need to charge those who were let off lightly, or those who evaded prosecution for crimes committed in the past, because certain members of the judiciary were their “members”.
There exists in the party, a give-and-take community. The leader promised dedak or positions of power; his minions offered their allegiance in exchange for these offerings.
Last Saturday, we saw the fruits of this labour, when former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was chosen as UMNO-Baru President. Forget about reforms. Forget change for the better of Malaysian society as a whole. Think more of the “same-old, same-old” Malay supremacy, and Islam will continue to be their best rhetoric.
Good at manufacturing respect
UMNO-Baru leaders are good at manufacturing respect. Every five years, They make the poor queue-up to receive aid in the form of money, or food parcels. It is pitiful to watch sane, able and decent men and women rush forward to receive aid, especially after a ceramah. It is dehumanising.
The leaders probably felt a rush of adrenaline as the taxpayers’ money was used to demonstrate their largesse. They wanted to buy the people’s respect.
Perhaps, the recipients of the aid had little choice. What chance would they have of enjoying these simple perks, at other times? Little did they know that, over the years, they were so accustomed to receiving “freebies” that successive governments have found it difficult to wean them off this dedak (bribery) and handout culture.
Sadly, the UMNO-Baru party presidential election is a reflection of this dedak phenomenon.
Long before the members of UMNO-Baru voted for their President, most Malaysians wished them well. Concerned Malaysians hoped that in the interests of true democracy, a strong leader would guide UMNO-Baru and form a worthy Opposition party.
The party and Malaysian society have long been tarred with accusations of money politics and corruption. UMNO-Baru members swore blind loyalty to the leader, allegedly took money he offered in exchange for their silence, closed one eye to corruption, and despite allegations in overseas reports of rampant theft of the taxpayers’ money, were full of praise for their leaders.
UMNO-Baru–The Status Quo Dedak Team
They may have been shocked by the excessive lifestyles of the leaders (and the leaders’ families). They may have been secretly envious of the trappings of power that the leaders enjoyed, but few senior politicians said anything.
Greed had enslaved both them and their leaders. Fear of losing their position and being left out in the cold, when favours were being dispensed, preyed on their minds.
In the run-up to the UMNO-Baru presidential election, we wished common sense would prevail and they would reject tarnished candidates, but this was an impossible task.
From the start, the three most experienced and viable candidates were the same recycled politicians. Two other candidates had attempted to bid for the presidency but they were not household names.
He is no Reformer–He is a Plutocrat cum Dedak in Chief
When the results were finally made known, later in the day, it was clear to all, that they had sealed the fate of the party. Their choice of Zahid does not bode well for the party or the nation. Perhaps, miracles can happen.
The man whom many despise for attacking Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad for his great-grandfather’s foreign roots was allegedly born in Indonesia, to Indonesian parents (in Ponorogo).
At least Mahathir’s grandparents and parents were Malayan, but not Zahid, whose parents were definitely Indonesian, until they allegedly decided to settle in Malaysia, in the early 1960s.
When the former, disgraced PM, Najib Abdul Razak knew he had to face the 93-year-old Mahathir in GE14, his cabinet, especially Zahid, were prepared to sling as much mud in Mahathir’s way as they could find.
As then Home Minister as well, Zahid would dismiss claims by the people that violent crime was rising. He claimed that Malaysians were confused by the “perception” of rising crime.
When your Home Minister says you are wrong, who do you approach to help you, when it is your word, your trauma and your loss, against the authorities?
You may think that the business of UMNO-Baru and the election of Zahid as president is not our business. On the contrary, it is!
Malaysia will be held to ransom unless UMNO-Baru members stage an internal revolt or vote of no confidence. New blood is needed to rejuvenate the party – or form a new one.
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.