WITH one Umno MP withdrawing support for Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and rumours swirling that others are expected to follow suit, expectations are that Muhyiddin will yield to Umno pressure and have elections take place as soon as Covid-19 recedes.

Even if elections take place, the three main partners in Perikatan Nasional (PN) – Umno, Bersatu and PAS – are going to face enormous difficulties in burying their differences and acting as one, going by the current track record.

This gives some room for Pakatan Harapan (PH) to manoeuvre itself into a comfortable position to inflict casualties if the Malay vote is divided between the three. Of course, there is an outside chance of agreeing to seat allocations, in which case, PH’s task gets much tougher.

Either way, the only counter to these “Ketuanan Melayu” parties, whose ideology is anchored on Malay supremacy and nothing else, is to go back to the multiracial, inclusive stance adopted by PH, which won them the 14th general election in May 2018.

But they, stupidly, believing false assurances, let that cunning old fox – Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad of the Ketuanan Melayu mould himself – into the henhouse to wreak havoc among the coalition partners, planting the seeds of discord and dissension among them, and all but destroying the raison d’etre for the coalition.

If not for that fateful mistake, PH would have continued to be in power and we would have had a chance for reform. Now, PH will have to resurrect itself to have a chance of winning early elections. That requires a new, unshakeable alliance among PKR, DAP and Amanah.

Events, which must now be taken as lessons moving forward, have shown that there are deep divisions among the three main PH partners that can be exploited by their opponents. These cracks must be shored up and properly patched.

A new narrative needs to go beyond mere talk and be anchored unwaveringly on the original federal constitution, which is the only real social contract there is. That means equal citizenship rights with specified Malay privileges continuing, equal treatment under the law and freedom of religion.

Now is the time to come together as Malaysians to protect and uphold the constitution, and for everyone to think about progressing as Malaysians and do the best for all of them, instead of looking out myopically for the interests of just their own races and people.

Merdeka on August 31, 1957 meant the birth of a new country that aspired to take care of the interests of all in Malaysia – the Malays, Chinese, Indians and others. And then, in 1963, Sabah and Sarawak joined in, with indigenous people being given equal status as the Malays in terms of special privileges and being collectively known as Bumiputeras.

For a while, it worked splendidly, with Malaysia being the second-most prosperous country in Asia after Japan and held up as a model of multiracial harmony and prosperity for the whole world – until the 1969 riots in Kuala Lumpur, which were rooted in the schism between the two main races: the Malays and Chinese.

These rifts, despite over 50 years of affirmative action, not only remain now, but have widened. They arise from two extreme viewpoints, both of which are not wholly right. On the one hand, the Chinese/non-Malays believe they work much harder and are smarter than the Malays/Bumiputeras, whom they see as slow and lazy and, therefore, deserve their lot in life.

Merdeka on August 31, 1957 meant the birth of a new country that aspired to take care of the interests of all in Malaysia. – Twitter pic, January 12, 2021
Merdeka on August 31, 1957 meant the birth of a new country that aspired to take care of the interests of all in Malaysia. – Twitter pic, January 12, 2021

On the other hand, the Malays/Bumiputeras feel that they have been given, in the land that they think belongs more to them, a rotten deal because of the continuing gap between them and the non-Malays, especially the Chinese, whom they see as usurping their riches.

The New Economic Policy following the 1969 riots and its subsequent successors are mostly good on paper, and the indications are that all races largely accept them. But all races are sick of the abuse of these policies that resulted in the enrichment of select, favoured Bumiputeras, who contributed little or nothing towards business.

Within Umno itself, there emerged the so-called “Umnoputras”, who benefited from government contracts, often producing substandard work and subcontracting much of the work to non-Bumiputera companies that had the capability to do it. This has not only angered and alienated non-Bumiputeras, but also the poorer Bumiputeras who have been largely left out of it.

An increasingly corrupt Umno sought more and more to play the race angle to win elections, but at the same time, did little in terms of increasing the lot of the average Bumputera through proper education, rural infrastructure and agricultural industrialisation. Often, they colluded with businessmen in corrupt deals to give away lopsided contracts to them.

Umno-Barisan Nasional lost the plot, eventually leading to the kleptocratic government that we had gotten rid of, and now, has sadly re-emerged through the back door because of the failings of Dr Mahathir and the divisions within PH he exploited. Kleptocratic Umno itself is seeking to re-emerge as the saviour of the Malays through fresh elections, reflecting the ridiculousness of the current situation.

New PH narrative needed

The only way that PH can get back in power if elections are held soon is to be united again, and offer a new narrative and articulate it clearly to the masses, one that includes the interests of all Malaysians. Only then does it have a chance of beating back the racial invective that the three Ketuanan Melayu parties are likely to unleash.

That means they have to work collectively on a joint plan. That means acknowledging the rights of all Malaysians for a fair shake in this land of ours. That means a plan for economic and social well-being. No matter which party in the coalition holds important ministries, policies and implementation must be based on the plan, not helping the people who gave them a mandate.

Not for nothing has DAP been castigated as anti-Malay. It was a poisoned chalice that Dr Mahathir gave to DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng when he presented him with the finance minister post.

Lim was widely seen as cutting allocations to rural development by a few hundred million ringgit. But at the same time, he very publicly hastened the refund of some RM35 billion in goods and services tax and income taxes, getting Petronas to declare a special dividend for this purpose. Now, how is that going to look?

It is, therefore, necessary for PH to plan ahead on how they are going to handle such things in the future, and to get parties to genuinely formulate policies and implement them in a manner that will benefit all, and especially the poor. By doing so, they will help the Malay-Bumiputeras narrow the income gap, too.  

Battle against graft 

If non-Malays gripe constantly against the affirmative action for Malays-Bumiputeras in government, they must be prepared to not discriminate against Malays and other races in the private sector. While discrimination by Chinese companies against Malays and others have been established by some studies, this does not get as much press or gripe when compared with government discrimination against non-Bumiputeras.

There must be an acknowledgement that Bumiputeras are the most disadvantaged in the country, not always because they refuse to work hard, but because the odds have been stacked against them through deprivation. But again, it has to be emphasised that anything done to help most of the people in the country will help the Bumiputeras the most.

For this, the fight against corruption is paramount, so that government policy and the awarding of contracts are not compromised. During the short time that PH was in power, there were disturbing signs that they were not paying enough attention to this. They truly did not do anything in terms of institutionalising efforts against corruption.

Also, no country has made great strides in social and material progress without an excellent education system that reaches every nook and cranny of the country. Great efforts must be made to improve the national education system and make it a tool for unity and integration, transforming it once again as the preferred choice of most Malaysians, the way it once was. And please, give due importance to English.

If PH fails in this new narrative to convince voters, it needs to continue to work on it, refine it, restructure it, and redouble its efforts to make everyone realise it will benefit all Malaysians. Maybe they will listen next time.

The only way that PH can win the elections is for it to regain the middle ground – for all Malaysians. – The Vibes, January 12, 2021

P. Gunasegaram, editorial consultant of The Vibes, says it is normal for kleptocrats to paint themselves as the people’s champion

Note: This is the second in a series of articles on the elections.