Umno-BN continues to manipulate ethno-religious issues to delay the emergence of a New Politics that is associated with justice, equality and freedom, and the push towards a more democratic two-party system, writes Francis Loh.
Part 2: Getting our analysis right
Have these public debates on ethno-religious matters contributed towards ethnic tensions? No doubt they have.
So, are ethnic tensions worsening? Many of us are inclined to agree. If we are one of those who think so, then we should, logically, turn to the Umno-BN leaders for help. For, unlike the Opposition coalition, Umno-BN has accumulated 55-plus years of handling ethnic tensions in Malaysia.
In fact, we must get our analysis right. We must locate these events and issues which are ethnically tainted, into a wider context.
Look around us. Remember that there is now an alternative multi-ethnic multi-religious opposition coalition, the Pakatan Rakyat. Are they strange bedfellows as the mainstream media, especially Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian, the New Straits Times, and The Star, make them out to be?
If we believe the mainstream media’s reporting on goings-on within the PR, they should have split up or crashed a long time ago. In fact, it appears that they work with one another rather well, probably better than the BN parties do, which is clearly dominated by Umno.
At a PKR Youth dinner held in Penang on 24 August 2012, which featured Nurul Izzah Anwar, Mohd Rafizi Ramli, N Surendran and the famous artist Wong Hoy Cheong, they reminded us that the PR and PKR style of work was very open and transparent. They have different points of views within the party, they clarified. And they tend to argue with one another openly. Hence it looks like they are always quarrelling with one another! By contrast, the BN seldom allowed their differences to be aired openly. In fact, the other BN parties are always scared of Umno. So, they quietly stab each other in the back instead, they explained!
Or look at the politics in virtual space. Nowadays, one can find websites and blogs, and opinions posted on non-partisan blogs and sites that are rabidly racist. At the same time, who can deny that there are websites, blogs, postings and social media which express opinions which are clearly non-racist, although the issues touched upon, sometimes, might be considered ethnically sensitive.
Remember Bersih 2.0 and Duduk Bantah 3.0
Recall Bersih 2.0 and Duduk Bantah 3.0. Weren’t these very multi-ethnic mass rallies? In fact they involved not only people of different ethno-religious backgrounds, but people of all ages, male and female, and apparently from different strata of society.
On Aliran’s part, we have also been trying to build multi-ethnic coalitions. Via our executive committee members based in the Klang Valley, we have participated in various multi-ethnic coalitions involved in Berish 2.0, the Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA, KemSMS Kempen Sejarah Malaysia Sebenar, the Gerakan Bertindak Malaysia, the Anti-Water Privatisation campaign, Jerit, the Coalition Against Healthcare Privatisation, etc. In Penang, we have also worked with various groups to organise the Bersih 3.0 Duduk Bantah, the Penang Forum, the Local Democracy Initiative, and an anti-racism campaign (with the Islamic Renaissance Front). We have also held dialogues with Pas leaders including Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, the MP for Kuala Selangor, on what Pas stands for including their new concept of the Islamic welfare state.
So, what is the context for locating those ethno-religious issues we elaborated on in the first part of this article?
It must be stressed, again and again: the real political struggle that’s occurring is not one due to ethnic or racial tensions. Neither is it one between the religions. Nor is it a struggle between the upper and lower classes, in spite of our hopes that the oppressed will be liberated sooner rather than later
Plain and simple, it is a struggle of New Politics vs Old Politics.
Old Politics vs New Politics
The Old Politics is relatively simple to determine. It is the politics of race and religion which emphasises differences and difficulties in working things out. So you need big brother, namely Umno-BN. It is in this manner that they make themselves important, even indispensable.
Earlier, Dr Mahathir declared: “In this country we are very racist…even more than before.” Accordingly, for him, “the next election is going to be about race…who gives what, who gets what based on race”. And he added: “When the government is weak, it caters to demands which are not going to be good for the country in the long run” (The Malaysian Insider, 28 June 2012). He was referring, of course, to the BN’s loss of 82 federal seats and five state governments in the 2008 general election.
In fact, he also clarified (as reported in The Insider, 28 June 2012) “that Chinese voters will decide who forms the government after GE-13 as the Malays are divided among three parties”. So all three Malay parties “butter the Chinese voters”.
Or listen to this old record played by MCA chief Dr Chua Soi Lek (The Star, 3 Feb 2012):
“Chinese voters did not understand that a vote for the DAP would only help Pas realise its objective of forming an Islamic state and implementing its brand of hudud.” Chua made these remarks even when the Pas leadership had just sacked the extremist Dr Hassan Ali from the party and got him removed from the Selangor State Exco, for expressing views and acting in opposition to the policies and positions that the PR coalition had agreed upon and adopted.
Chua has also argued that the PR government had yet to build a single Chinese school anywhere whereas his MCA had succeeded in persuading the federal government to make available land and funds to build several Chinese schools, had got scholarships for Chinese students and won them entrance into particular courses in the universities.
Subsequently, on several occasions, he has threatened the Chinese electorate that if they do not vote for the MCA in this upcoming elections, the MCA will not participate in the next BN government! There will then be no party representing the Chinese in the next BN government. Of course, Chua fails to see that it might not be a Umno-BN coalition that will come out tops! It might be the Pakatan Rakyat instead!
It is clear that Chua wishes to prolong the Old Politics based on race. After all, this is his party’s raison d’etre. It is understandable for him to criticise the PR. But he should not patronise the rakyat with out-of-date Old Politics arguments!
It must be clarified that this Old Politics is riddled with cronyism and money politics, and a lack of transparency and accountability too. Recall the issues that were sidelined when the pro-BN-Umno politicians and mainstream media started highlighting the Nurul Izzah, the kafir harbi, and other ethno-religious issues. Again, the intention was to sideline the Scorpene and NFC scandals, the AES and other sweetheart deals for the cronies, the Klang North Port exposes, and the latest reportedly RM40 million ‘contribution’ from some businessman to Umno Sabah.
Towards a new politics
At any rate, after 55 years of Merdeka, Malaysia is no longer the society and economy it once had been. It has been transformed from a tin- and rubber-led commodities-based economy to an export-led manufacturing- and services-based economy. With rapid growth and industrialisation, the size of the industrial working class employed in the industrial estates and the free industrial zones has grown. In February 2010, the total registered foreign workers stood at 2-odd million. They, too, were contributing to Malaysia’s economic growth.
Similarly, the size of the middle-class has expanded rapidly. Whereas there once used to be a single university, today there are some 25-odd public universities, another 20-plus private universities, and hundreds of other private colleges. Plus, thousands continue to return to Malaysia after studying abroad every year. These graduates constitute the youth who often are IT-savvy. They read the alternative online dailies besides blogging, tweeting and have their own Facebook accounts. They made a difference in the 2008 election. They were amongst the hundreds of thousands who participated in the Duduk Bantah Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere in the country on 28 April 2012.
Besides, a large proportion of people involved in the new economy and higher education are also women. As is well known, women account for more than 60 per cent of enrolment in public universities. Surely, the rising numbers of the educated, IT-savvy middle-class, especially the youths, male and female, make a difference to Malaysian politics!
With the successful implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP, 1971-90) and its continuation under other auspices like the National Development Policy (1991-2000), a large proportion of those engaged in the new economy, at the upper, middle and lower echelons are bumiputeratoo.
The results of the 2008 elections are yet another indicator of the decline of old politics. Not only did some 50 per cent of the electorate vote for the alternative multi-ethnic coalition. But the various races crossed racial lines when they voted. The evidence is available to show that Malays in the urban areas actually voted for the DAP while non-Malays in the semi-urban constituencies actually voted for Malay candidates who contested under the PKR or even Pas banners. Apparently, these voters voted for change to a new politics.
Some of us will also recall our anxieties on the night of 8 March 2008, when the electoral results were coming in. Many feared the worst as it was being announced that the BN had lost its two-thirds’ parliamentary majority and that the Opposition had captured five state governments.
In fact, we had neglected to remind ourselves that our society had been transformed and that we have had a history of inter-ethnic cooperation as well in earlier times. The formation of the Pakatan Rakyat governments in four states is further testimony that Malaysians can see through those who resort to racial baiting. Malaysians are not steeped in ethnic exclusivism as the advocates of Old Politics want to influence us to believe. We can transcend ethnic ties and sentiments. It is time to bury the ghost of May 13, 1969.once and for all!
Put another way, tremendous transformation of Malaysia’s economy and society has occurred. If this is so apparent, it should also be apparent that Malaysian politics has also been undergoing change. For the new middle-class, especially the youths, are demanding political reform and democratisation. Why, the ghost of May 13 is now being displaced by the multi-ethnic solidarity displayed in the recent Duduk Bantah.However, be forewarned, there are many, not least in Umno-BN who wish us to return us to the Old Politics. They will continue to resort to ethnic sentiments and manipulation. But we must push ahead with New Politics.
Aliran’s task as a people’s think tank is to focus on the big picture. One of our roles, I believe, is to help fellow Malaysians see the forest beyond the trees. In this case, we are highlighting that there is now a series of ethno-religious controversies occurring only because the old politics that is based on ethnic exclusivism and cronyism is being confronted by a strong push towards a new politics that is more democratic, just and respectful of our ethno-religious differences. Our support for the New Politics is clear.
This is a revised version of a speech 0that Dr Francis Loh delivered at Aliran’s 36th Annual General Meeting on 25 November 2012.