September 27, 2019.
Recollections & Reflections
IT’S something that has never gone away from Malaysian politics and the bet is that it will never go away, regardless of what the liberals expect and hope for.
Race politics or identity politics has been a part of the country’s political landscape since Malaya gained independence from the British in August 1957 and since the country expanded to include Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak in September 1963 to become Malaysia.
It must be noted that identification by race or relation is not confined to politics. The national identity card tells you the religion of the holder, so if it’s Islam 99.9 per cent of the holders can be safely assumed to be Malays. Some government issued forms require you to state your race, religion and gender. Employment in almost all big companies goes according to the race of the controlling shareholders, no two ways about it. There are many more examples.
Study history and you will realise that politics in this country has been almost entirely based on identity, and in the peninsula at least, this was the situation all the way from pre-Merdeka, although a few parties claimed to be multi-racial when they were in fact heavily dominated by one race.
So while multi-racialism was agreed to as the way forward, the political parties existed very much based on race, the country’s biggest majority, the Malays, dominant. Within the opposition those days, the racial composition was mainly Chinese, with the DAP leading the way for many years.
Because the Malays see themselves as the first settlers of the land since modern civilisation took root – and this is proven from historical records – one thing they will never want to lose is political power or control, while also embracing multi-racialism. That was the situation under the old Alliance and similarly under the Barisan Nasional, just as is the situation now under Pakatan Harapan.
What changed the landscape somewhat began to take root towards the end of 1998 with the formation of the ADIL political grouping which grew from the reformation or reformasi movement that followed the sacking of then deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from the government and Umno. After the oft quoted difficulties relating to registration, a merger took place in 2003, with the party growing into what is now known as PKR.
Anyone who cares to study its membership and composition of its elected representatives in the state assemblies and Parliament will agree that in the 62 plus years after independence from the British, PKR remains the only truly multi-racial party in the peninsula.
What has changed due to what happened in last year’s general elections is that the parties that used to hold a big chunk of the Malay votes, Umno and PAS, have found themselves playing the role of the opposition, which leads to the argument that Malaysia will thus take a few steps backwards towards Malay-centric politics at the expense of multi-racialism but in reality, even now under Pakatan, Malaysian politics is Malay-centric.
Again history will you that a PAS-Umno alliance is nothing new, although the first time this happened was more of PAS being a partner in the wider BN coalition, and that lasted about five years until then PAS president, Tan Sri Asri Muda, took his party out at the end of 1977 following the Kelantan leadership crisis in which Umno was very much involved and which PAS understandably didn’t find amusing.
Putting up an MCA candidate again in Tanjung Piai would do the new Umno-PAS pact a world of good
Some years ago too, after the 12th general elections in 2013, there was much talk that PAS was prepared to work together with Umno to help ensure that Malay political dominance remained intact but there appeared to be opposition within PAS, particularly from its late spiritual leader and Kelantan mentri besar Datuk Seri Nik Aziz, while those closer to current party president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang were in favour and as the supreme leader of the party, Hadi has now decided that a pact is what both parties need but just on their own, it is almost impossible for them to rule the country and the poser going into the next general elections is that which party or parties can PAS and Umno convince to join their alliance.
The first indirect test of the pact’s effectiveness and the people’s readiness to embrace them will be the Tanjung Piai Parliamentary by-election, the date of which hasn’t been announced.
In the four elections since the seat was first contested in 2004, BN had always put up a Chinese candidate from the MCA, with the party winning the first three until last year, when two-term MP Wee Jeck Seng was defeated by Datuk Dr. Md. Farid Md. Rafik who died of a heart ailment recently. Last year’s GE was described as a Malay tsunami that caused the downfall of Umno and BN after ruling the country uninterrupted for 61 years from 1957 but results in Tanjung Piai showed that the percentage support for the winners waned from one GE to the next in this constituency with a Malay majority.
But BN has always followed a power-sharing policy in determining its election candidates and is not known to disturb this formula. If there was ever a shift, any seat swapping was done only during a GE because there were seats to swap, but never in a by-election.
However recently former Johor MB and an Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin hinted that he would prefer BN to shift from this thinking and select a candidate that fits into the new pact’s muafakat nasional or national consensus and move away from identification by race. He spoke in “political circles” and was never specific so it was tough to understand what exactly he wanted but should BN decide to again pick an MCA man surely that would allay the fear that the coalition and its new Islamist party partner is hell-bent on pushing the Malay-Muslim agenda without due consideration for the wider good.