Commentary Politics

Race card has indeed permeated Malaysian society, unfortunately

Celebrating a legitimate choice of the people.

Written by Aziz Hassan

January 30, 2019.

Recollections & Reflections – A commentary

THERE were many revelations in the recent Cameron Highlands parliamentary by-election won by Barisan Nasional, from opinions that spoke favourably of the contribution from a leader previously criticised for campaigning in another by-election, to videos on social media that were damning to the ruling Pakatan Harapan and to suggestions that the racial card may have helped to see BN first past the post.

Despite reservations expressed by an Umno leader over his campaigning in the Sungai Kandis by-election last year which BN lost, this time former prime minister-cum-Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s presence up in the mountains was seen as a big boost that brought in the votes for BN and this despite Najib not being part of the official BN team. Whatever the urban middle-class thinks of the many charges he has to deal with since being ousted in the May 9 general elections, the excitement accompanying someone who has a huge following on various social media platforms cannot be ignored. Well you can but you do that at your own peril.

Unlike the times when it was the opposition that condemned the slightest hint of any abuse of resources, this time the ruling Pakatan found its back against the wall and while the denials were thick and fast, as to be expected, there’s not much that can be refuted when the misdeeds were captured on video, which also showed the arrogance brought about by a new-found power of office.

The one factor that seldom escapes my sight is the one that concerns the race or religious card and this time, Cameron Highlands was said to have been overwhelmed by the former, lifting BN to its victory – the first from five in a by-election either for a state or parliamentary seat since May 9. The Pakatan side of course failed to mention that it was also the Malay tsunami that brought it home in many close constituencies in last year’s general elections although the overall Malay support for the coalition was put at only about 30 per cent.

Politics based on race or religion is nothing new in the peninsula at least and this goes back all the way to before independence in August 1957.

Granted that Malaysians past 60 generally agree that society was more tolerant those days and you have to thank the schools system then for this but most things politics were very much decided along racial lines.

The Umno that was formed in May 1946 was all-Malay, followed just three months later by the all-Indian Malayan (later Malaysian) Indian Congress. Next was the all-Chinese MCA in February 1949. Gerakan, multi-racial but predominantly Chinese, came into being in March 1968 while the also multi-racial but Chinese dominated DAP was formed in October 1965 as a breakaway from the PAP. PAS, all Malay and Islamic, was born in November 1951, following issues within Umno. In recent times there’s the all-Malay Pribumi Bersatu, a breakaway from Umno, and Amanah, a splinter of PAS. How to avoid the racial perspective when almost all your main political parties are race based?

Senior posts in non-Malay media companies far from being multi-racial

When for a moment you consign politics to the background and take a look at other aspects of life in the country, there is no denying that race has permeated Malaysian society to become firmly embedded.

Look at the racial composition of employees in businesses or companies owned by the three major races and the bias is glaring.

In fact the journalists who write critical reports and commentaries on this most unfortunate element in the country should be the first to take a hard look at themselves and ask the hard questions, for the major media companies are most guilty of this practice.

The irony of ironies is that the media companies with the most multi-racial staff mix was the one-time Umno controlled New Straits Times Press and its then subsidiary Sistem Televisyen Malaysia Berhad or TV3 which later morphed to become Media Prima. The multi-racial environment at these two media outlets for a long time was spread across the board, not just within the news department. Under Malaysia’s categorisation of Indians, the Malayalees were most prominent in these companies and many held senior posts in the advertising and editorial departments. Compare that even today to media companies owned by the non-Malays and the contrast is as clear as day and night.

But voters in Cameron Highlands have picked their choice, with the Umno-PAS working relationship said to be a major contributing factor to the BN win.

The next by-election will be for the Selangor state seat of Semenyih on March 2, where Umno was untouchable since GE 1 to GE 13 but came unstuck last year, losing the seat to Pribumi Bersatu.

This is another seat with a Malay majority of slightly over 50 per cent but which in GE14 Pakatan must have received the support of a big chunk of the non-Malay voters because Umno and PAS combined had a total of 46.43 per cent, assuming of course that most of the votes came from the Malays.

Although there was a reasonably wide swing in the percentage votes for Umno in each GE prior to GE14, the total in each election was close to 50 per cent, plus or minus a few points. Last year of course was an exception and in this context it was not a situation peculiar to Semenyih.

If voters continue to fell shortchanged by a Pakatan that has so far being giving mainly excuses for not fulfilling its promises in the election manifesto and has thus far had little success in reducing the cost of living and stem the slide in the prices for commodities like rubber and oil palm, another Umno-PAS combo may just do the trick again.







About the author


Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.