By: Our Correspondent

May 12, 2015

Malaysian Minister says Race-based Politics is Unavoidable

by Din Merican

Malaysian Minister Paul Low is right in pointing out that race-based politics is unavoidable.That is the first decent and realistic comment he made since he assumed his ministerial post in Najib’s Cabinet.  But apart from saying that “the people” want it and Malaysian politicians are driven by “political survival”, he did not say why this was so. If  politics is not about serving the people, then what is it?

It is going to take time, that is true. There is caveat to this. Malaysian politics will not change unless we start  doing away with race-based political parties like United Malay National Organization (UMNO), (Malayan Chinese Association (MCA), Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) and  the Islam based Parti Islam Sa Malaysia (PAS).  That is ideal but UMNO does  not  want to be seen to be “abandoning the Malays and Islam”. Remember Dato Onn Jaafar tried it. When he could not, he resigned to set up Party Negara, which did not take off because this great Malaysian was too ahead of his time.

UMNO is still a major player  today. It is backed by racist NGOs like PERKASA and ISMA and others. That is why under pressure from Malay nationalists and pressure groups UMNO has been playing with race and religion to galvanize Malay support, especially in the rural heartland.

UMNO President Najib Razak is not a reformer of the Onn Jaafar mold. He will not do anything that will sacrifice UMNO and does not wish to be remembered in history as the UMNO leader who abandoned the Malay cause. Maybe he is concerned about his political survival. But if he continues with mismanaging the economy which is burdening the Malays in particular, he will find that he will lose the support of his party and his UMNO presidency. He will  be humiliated and end his premiership as well.

Both the MCA and MIC are losing support of the respective communities. The reason for this clear. They are seen to be lackeys of UMNO. To survive they must reform. That is not possible in the immediate future. The current leaders are perceived to have benefited from UMNO largesse, being content to play a subordinate role to UMNO warlords. Both MCA and MIC must too deal with internal problems. Looking ahead to the next few years as GE-14 approaches, they could face rejection from Chinese, Indian and other voters.

Pakatan Rakyat did well in 2008 when they fired the imagination of Malaysian voters. In 2013, they received more than 50 percent of the popular vote. We thought we were heading towards a two coalition party system in our country. That prospect grows dim by the day.

Following the Khalid Ibrahim saga and the incarceration of Anwar Ibrahim, we witnessed the political game played by PAS President Ustaz Hadi Awang, who resurfaced as the champion of Hudud Law. His erratic and flip-flopping conduct has put Pakatan Rakyat in a quandary as UMNO seeks to entice PAS away from the opposition coalition by the playing the Islam and Malay unity card.

PAS has reached a turning point in its history with a clash between the conservative hardline Ulama faction and the Erodogan moderate group very much in the works. There is now a strong likelihood that should the Ulamas win the contest, the Erodogans may form a new party, PASMA and seek partnership with Pakatan.

Anwar’s party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) has problems of its own . Who will succeed Wan Azizah as President?. It is going to be clash between a young and ambitious group led by party led Secretary-General Rafizi Ramli and Nurul Izzah and others who want to keep the recently elected Permatang Puah Member of Parliament as party president for as long as they can, and the supporters of Azmin Ali, the  dyanmic incumbent Menteri Besar of Selangor;  the Azmin faction wants to see a change in party leadership so that the party can be a strong coalition partner again.

The DAP, on the hand, has no serious issues within its ranks. Party elders are gradually  paving the way for a new generation of very qualified and professional leaders like  Teresa Kok, Tony Pua, Liew Chin Tong, Ong Kian Ming, Anthony Loke, Gobin Singh Deo,  Zairil Khir Johari, Dr. Ariffin Omar and Kula Segaran, just to name a few.  The party is not short on talent. But it must recruit more non-Chinese members to eliminate the stigma of being perceived as a chauvinistic party.

As far as politics is concerned, Malaysia is into exciting yet uncertain times. The ruling UMNO- Barisan Nasional regime is under threat. Its leader is fighting for his political future. One should not be surprised, in his struggle to survive, he will take his case to the Malay rural heartland, where he can be expected to play the race and religion card.  Minister Paul Low is right. We should not expect politics of race and religion  to go away anytime soon.  But that does not mean we must not strive towards an issues-based politics.