WHAT an exciting week it was for Malaysians. It reminded me of the highly acclaimed 1966 movie The Good, The Bad And The Ugly which starred Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Elli Wallach playing the three characters with these traits.
The good that happened was the government’s decision to make voter registration automatic and lower the minimum age to 18 at the same time. While the minimum age is still being debated, the automatic registration is a great move, I believe.
This is because the millions who are currently eligible to vote but are not registered as voters are mainly those who find it a really difficult task to do the 15-minute job of registering at easily accessible post offices.
The other great news was the tabling of the Bill on Thursday making it compulsory for employers to provide decent and centralised housing for workers. Great because currently, most tend to live in shabbily built “kongsi” (communal lodgings) and temporary sheds with poor hygiene conditions and no proper sanitation.
It was heartening to note Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran saying that this is in compliance with global standards set by the International Labour Organisation. The Malaysian Trades Union Congress should be pleased as it has been pressing for this, among other issues, to give dignity back to workers in the dirty, dangerous and difficult sectors.
Then came the ugly – downright disgusting, actually – sex-related allegations in the media. You had the horrendous story of a 65-year-old man sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl while he filmed the action, a rape allegation involving Perak state exco member Paul Yong Choo Kiong, and a lecturer offering to be a sugar daddy to a teenage student in a private college by offering her RM500 a month for sexual favours.
The ugly side of Malaysian politics also surfaced, yet again. There was the allegation that Selangor Mentri Besar Amirudin Shari is having an affair with a fellow elected representative but both have denied this. It is ugly either way, especially if this is another nefarious political plot to destroy careers, and also lives.
I’m willing to bet my last dollar that more such ugly plots will surface. Our politics seem to have reached a shameless state, with certain parties using this culture as a tool to destroy individuals, families and the nation in the process. Does anyone care out there? I’m not sure.
Now for the bad. Two events stood out, although there were more that disturbed me quite a bit. One was when the Shah Alam High Court enhanced the sentence of independent Muslim preacher Wan Ji Wan Hussin who is alleged to have insulted royalty: his sentence was increased from the nine months’ jail time given by a lower court to 12 months. And here many of us thought the spectre of the draconian Sedition Act belonged to Old Malaysia.
But my biggest disappointment in the New Malaysia that most of us voted for surfaced last week. It was what Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said when asking Malays from opposition parties, including Umno, to join Bersatu in the name of Malay unity.
The Bersatu chairman said that he found more and more Malay parties were being formed which reduced the chances of Malay parties winning the election. “Yes, join Bersatu. When our group is big, we become strong, but don’t stop others from joining the party (Bersatu), let them join,” he said in Johor Baru last week, as reported by Bernama.
But what he went on to say after that was indeed disturbing for all those who believed in the New Malaysia that PH promised us when canvassing for our votes. When asked whether there will be objections from other Pakatan component parties to his call, Dr Mahathir said: “That is their problem. We have no connection with other parties. Although (they are) in Pakatan Harapan, they too get new members.”
Instead of pushing for Malaysian unity, this move will ensure that we are stuck in a time warp. I really don’t know when certain parties will concede that Malay unity, although vital, is not the only ingredient for a successful Malaysia.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Calling for the unity of a race is fine by most counts. However, to use this communal card to strengthen the political base of one party, Bersatur, appears to be a blatant attempt to upset the balance of a coalition that stood by Bersatu, which has the second lowest number of seats in Parliament.
PKR and DAP leaders were magnanimous enough to let Bersatu leaders take key portfolios in the Cabinet despite outnumbering Dr Mahathir’s party to ensure that the coalition did not lose any of the gains made.
Dr Mahathir seems to have called for the reinstatement of Malay political supremacy, which Umno and PAS are constantly saying has been diluted by the mere presence of more non-Malay Cabinet ministers. Dr Mahathir has just echoed the views of these two Malay parties in not so many words. Ultimately, this will lead to a dangerous dichotomy.
Even a political novice will know that this will eventually be at the expense of multiracial coalition partners PKR and DAP, which is Chinese dominant. Yes, Dr M was the logical candidate for the PM’s post after the elections last year, but some people tend to forget that this was only possible with the unequivocal support of PKR and DAP, which hold 92 of the 222 seats.
If Umno’s elected representatives and members were to accept Dr Mahathir’s invitation, Bersatu will take over the driver’s seat in Pakatan and will have a big say in who becomes the Prime Minister and the deputy in years to come. Will this derail Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s bid to become the next Prime Minister? Well, it’s hard to say at this point but if I were him, I’d be worried.
With this, Dr Mahathir will eventually get his dream of a two-thirds majority in Parliament. And we can also kiss our hopes for a truly multiracial and multicultural nation that we thought was emerging goodbye.
While this move may ensure Pakatan remains in power for a few more terms, we’d probably see PKR weakening considerably and DAP put in a quandary. These two parties will either break away in protest or accept Mahahtir’s larger plan meekly to ensure they remain in power after GE15.
We will then go back to the days of one party reigning supreme in the ruling coalition and witness vestiges of the Barisan Nasional dinosaur back in control.
While GE14 saw the nation taking several strides forward to break the racial and religious barriers in more ways than one, Dr Mahathir’s announcement, which some are calling a far-sighted plan, is actually taking the country several steps backwards. If we continue focusing on political survival at the expense of core human values and a truly united Malaysia, we have lost it.
This will take us back to the colonial days of divide and rule. And the great Malaysian dream many were having will slowly but surely come to an end.
K. Parkaran is a journalist and researcher. He was a senior reporter at the now defunct National Echo, deputy editor at The Star and producer at Aljazeera TV. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.