PH uses a race-based party and a religion-based party, yes, but the way it uses those parties has a higher chance in leading to a more viable political system, writes AK.
Ahead of polling day, a lot of talk emerged about the viability of either the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, or the largest opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan, forming the next government of Malaysia.
Many have characterised the two coalitions to be so similar that a vote for either makes no difference. They point to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s (PPBM) inclusion into PH as a huge step backwards for the whole Reformasi movement, which sought to end race-based politics and discriminatory policies. This sentiment is understandable but essentially flawed, as I will argue below.
Ethnic inclusion vs racial superiority
To say PPBM is the same as Umno is too simplistic a view. Yes, the core base of PPBM offers a sort of ethnic protection of the natives of Peninsular Malaysia, mainly Malays. But it is an organisation that has been born out of necessity.
For over 60 years, Malay-Muslims have been subjected to constant paranoia about their position in Malaysia. Racial and religious sentiments have been used to foster ill-will towards other races using pseudo-colonial divide-and-conquer methodology to create an ethic group dependent on overt political representation to feel secure.
The identity of the Malay-Muslim has been entrenched in defeatism – that other ethnic groups will overtake them and erase their identity without there being strong political representation to prevent this from happening.
We see this in the type of campaigning carried out by Umno and Pas, especially the latter. Never before have I seen the pure ethnocentrism shown by Pas supporters during this election season. Many have iterated the notion that only Muslims should be voted in, that the ‘kafirs’ will undermine Islamic principles if they are in Parliament. Even if the non-Muslim has strong credentials, their Muslim opponent would be the better choice.
When criticised on this truly abhorrent viewpoint, the common bogeymen of the LGBTQ agenda, fear of liberalism and the eradication of Islam’s special position in Malaysia are brought up. Essentially, though Pas talks big about establishing a technocracy, it is doing so on a platform which is not only alienating non-Muslims but asserts its moral supremacy for doing so.
Compromise and coming to a consensus with a good combination of people is disregarded for a more top-down, Muslim-first approach, which seems to regard non-Muslims as secondary characters to be included due to the benevolence of Muslims.
Umno, as well, has for a long time put the Malay-Muslim in a position where they feel powerless without them. Moreover, those who vote for Umno essentially do not vote for BN.
There is no cohesion in BN. The strength of Umno has caused the coalition to be extremely top-heavy such that there is no difference in the policies that benefit the ideology and voter-base of Umno and those undertaken by a BN government.
Hence, Umno voters are voting for a Malay-Muslim first approach with less of a view to work together with the other component parties in BN and essentially, other races. Even if they wanted to, this would not be automatically possible due to the unpopularity of the other BN parties.
Any policy that benefits other races would necessarily have to come from the benevolence of Umno and Malay-Muslims, putting them in a place of dominion over other races, without which Malay-Muslims under Umno feel they would be eradicated from their homes.
PPBM, though it seems to operate similarly, focuses on the economic consideration rather than coming from an ideology of superiority. The rising cost of living and growing Gini coefficient is focused upon especially with the inclusion of such figures as academics Wan Saiful Wan Jan and Maszlee Malik bringing intellectual gravitas to the basis of PPBM’s policy ideas.
Not once have we seen PPBM preaching Malay superiority to the masses, but they have been actually encouraging Malay-Muslims to work together with DAP and PKR, both multi-racial parties that empower Malaysians as a whole rather than through racial considerations.
But if those in PPBM do actually care about multi-racial growth, why do they then put so much emphasis on racial empowerment? They don’t. Rather, what is seen as racial empowerment is more like racial inclusion.
Bringing the fearful into the fold
The irony is that in the 60 years of supposed Malay-Muslim empowerment, many of them have become timid and fearful. It would be nigh impossible to pull them away from their position of frailty when it comes to political inclusion without there being overt protection of their identity.
Perhaps it is an ugly truth that to make Malay-Muslims trust other ethnic groups enough to progress together without there needing to be special political protection of their ethnic group, they first have to go through a transition akin to PPBM. With it, Malay-Muslims can see a need for camaraderie with other races and come down from a notion of racial superiority fuelled by fear to really see other races as their equals.
This is what is meant when saying PPBM is a political necessity, not just to get votes but to reform the broken social structure of Malaysia. PPBM, whether we like it or not, is a step to engage with Malay-Muslims directly and would teach them, in time, that unity is not something to be feared and that their personal identity would not suffer from it.
In a party filled with ex-Umno elites, how believable is it that this ideal would become a reality? There is no notion that those within PPBM, especially those of the older generation like Muhyiddin Yassin and Dr Mahathir Mohamad, care about races other than Malay-Muslims.
But what makes it different from Umno is the realisation within PPBM that in order to serve the Malay-Muslim in the best way possible, a broken race-based approach is seen to be unsustainable.
PPBM is an acceptance that working together in a multi-racial setting is necessary, pulling the Malay-Muslims who have been conditioned to be ethnocentric to come out from their comfort zone and learn to share – if not for anything than their own personal gain – for now.
When Mahathir talks about Najib Razak’s administration, he sees his views and legacy being taken to their natural endpoint – a kleptocracy kept in power through the very tools Mahathir himself used to serve his people, the Malay-Muslims, better.
While we can all agree that both Najib’s and Mahathir’s regimes have been authoritarian and filled with cronies, what is different is that, in Mahathir’s eyes, it was done to make sure Malay-Muslims are protected and enhanced. This consideration is lacking in Najib’s administration, with the communal focus removed to be replaced with personal gain.
Mahathir has seen that what he had done has resulted in the powerlessness of his own people. So he has decided to start another party so that those in Umno who are only focused on personal gain can be stopped from removing resources away from Malay-Muslims, who will eventually suffer.
While the interplay between DAP, PKR, PPBM and Amanah works for now, with each party keeping the others in check, PPBM and Amanah are at risk of becoming like Umno and Pas in the long run.
Amanah, however, has shown itself to be much more progressive than Pas, so this risk is reduced on its part.
PPBM, filled with former Umno members, is more of a liability. This is where Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman comes in. PPBM’s membership is hugely youth-centric.
In fact, with more than half of its members being under 35 years old, Saddiq is arguably more powerful within the party than even the president. He has had a storied past opposing discrimination, and it is common knowledge that younger Malays see race as a smaller issue. Umno’s elitism is less pronounced in PPBM, lending the latter to be a better party for progressivity for now.
This is why PH is so different to BN. It uses a race-based party and a religion-based party, yes, but the way it uses those parties has a higher chance in leading to a better, progressive political system.
Those decrying PH as a carbon-copy of BN or deciding not to vote for the former only because of the racial-focus do not understand the socio-political make-up of the Malay-Muslim section of society.
For us to progress to a better political system, PPBM is a necessary compromise. Moreover, the strength of the other component parties in PH remove the possibility of a dictatorship of PPBM, at least for the time being.
Would we have seen the electoral reforms in PH’s manifesto if Mahathir and crew were as influential and powerful as before? Probably not. In any case, if they do devolve into a similar mess as BN is mired in now, the power-shift from changing the government now would automatically empower the rakyat enough to realise that these parties too can be changed easily.
So, to those still on the fence, vote for Pakatan Harapan. They’re clearly the better choice. – aliran.com
AK is the pseudonym of an Aliran reader.