A decade ago, PKR politician Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad wrote his book, Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st, because he felt his community’s future was best assured with progressive politics.
He also believed that the fate of such progressive politics in Malaysia was in the hands of the Malays.
At that time, Nik Nazmi was (and is still) pushing for a more progressive paradigm where Malaysians would be at ease with their country’s diversity.
His book, Moving Forward, argued that the state of mind of the Malays was crucial if any change in Malaysia is to be sustainable.
“Malays are by sheer number the biggest community in the country; we are also the fastest growing. Constitutionally, historically and culturally, we occupy a special position in Malaysia, ” he wrote in the preface of the updated edition of Moving Forward published this year.
Ten years after the publication of the book, the author observed on WhatsApp groups, Facebook page and mamak shops that the Malay community across all segments have become more worried.
“The issues of LGBT rights and child marriage exposed the deep divide in Malaysian society. This came to a head when the government spoke of ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) – a convention ratified by all Muslim majority countries except for Malaysia and Brunei – resulting in a massive rally combining PAS, Umno and right-wing NGOs, ” he wrote.
“In light of these events, Moving Forward is just as relevant today as it was in 2009. While the content remains largely the same as it was when it was first published.”
On Thursday, I interviewed the Setiawangsa MP at his service centre in Kuala Lumpur to get his insight on his community, their challenges and political future:
> How should the Malays move forward?
We are talking Malay equity being little. The New Economic Policy (NEP) has succeeded in creating a Malay middle class. There’s no question about that.
But if you look at the numbers deeper – there are books like Muhammed Abdul Khalid’s The Colour of Inequality: Ethnicity, Class, Income and Wealth in Malaysia – the NEP has created a gap which it can’t overcome. We see a large gap between rich Malays and poor Malays.
What we need to look at is how to solve the issue. But we need to address the problems that are affecting the B40 (bottom 40% households) which is mostly Malay Bumiputra.
But if we purely apply a race orientated approach, which many of our policies are based on today, the ones who benefit will be rich Malays – the Taman Tun Malays, the Damansara Malays. Whereas the Felda planters, paddy farmers, fishermen, the urban poor will not get the benefit.
What I’m saying is that it creates a gap between the rich and poor Malays. It also creates other issues – the poor Malays have been given this illusion that their problems happen because of the non-Malays. I accept that there are problems with private sector discrimination and all that because our system is a zero-sum game.
But at the end of the day, they will look for a bogeyman to blame. These issues are played up by the elites in a way for them to continue to get the power and to continue to get this preferential treatment.
> What’s the difference between 2009 when your book was published and 2019?
What happened in GE14 is historic. But there is a great sense of insecurity. Malay political identity has various parties representing the community. You have Umno practically splitting up into Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, and you have PAS splitting into Amanah.
But at the same time, you see PAS and Umno – the original Malay parties – getting closer and closer. So, in the short term, it makes sense for them. They look at what’s happening on WhatsApp, the likes they get on Facebook, and it’s easy to be carried away with that.
But for the future of this country, where do the non-Malays, which still consists of a huge proportion of the country, stand?
Umno’s strength has always been traditionally with Barisan National. PAS’ biggest gain was when it joined Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (which had a loose coalition with Gagasan Rakyat), Barisan Alternatif and Pakatan Rakyat.
The implication is when Umno and PAS get closer whether it can win power, and if it wins power, at what cost?
Now Umno has nothing to lose, in a sense for them, they can try to win power at all cost. Previously, they were leading the government. They were very reliant on the (non-Malays) at a certain extent. Now they feel that it doesn’t matter.
This is bad for the country as a whole.
> Why is the Khat, Zakir Naik and boycott non-Muslim products controversy happening now?
It is the result of political insecurity. As I said, the strategy that Umno and PAS are choosing now is to play up race and religion. This is not the PAS of (party spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat). This is not the 1Malaysia which (former Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak) used to talk about. In a way, you can understand where they are coming from. They need to think we need to win first, and if the nation burns, then the nation burns.
With Zakir Naik, some Malays think that they are giving up their identity because it is a DAP-dominated government. That is the narrative created. It stems from their insecurity... this cultural insecurity that religion and race are under threat.
Plus, as I said, fundamentally it is from economic insecurity, so they are looking for who to blame – Chinese bosses or the Pakatan government? And Pakatan government and Chinese bosses tend to overlap.
> Pakatan is getting an average of 30% of the total Malay votes, how can the coalition go beyond that?
We did well in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka and Johor. We did badly in Perak, Kedah and we lost Perlis and Pahang. We didn’t win a single seat in Terengganu and Kelantan.
My take is Umno and PAS are always traditionally present in Malay society. From birth to marriage to death, their interactions are with the ketua kampung who is usually appointed by Umno and the imam who is generally from PAS.
But on the flip side, the society is changing. There are more Malays in urban areas, and Umno and PAS do not influence their life.
Umno represents race and royalty while PAS represents religion. Between the two parties they already got the 3Rs which are traditional in Malay politics. It is something comforting and easier to stomach compared to complex ideals like multiracialism and all that.
And simply because they have been there forever. Umno has been around since the 1940s and PAS since the 1950s whereas the Pakatan parties are new.
> In GE15, how can Pakatan maintain the Malay seats it won or win more seats from the community?
How far Umno and PAS unity will take place is also a question. A marriage is always nice at the dating period, which is where they are now. And then who pays how much of the bills – which means who gets the seat and all that?
Najib tried to do it before GE14 but there was a revolt in Umno in Kelantan.
I agree we cannot look at it lightly. If it doesn’t happen, it’s a bonus. But if it happens, how do we face it?
We have to work harder. And I think all efforts should be on the economy. It doesn’t have to be race-oriented. The moment we are talking about helping people at the bottom and the middle of society, the bulk would be the Malays, without leaving behind the Indians, the non-Muslim Bumiputra and some Chinese who were in that category.
I don’t think a Malay who can afford (to buy) a bungalow for RM5mil should get a discount whatsoever. But a working-class Malaysian, who is predominantly Malay, earning RM2,000 to RM3000, should be assisted to afford a house.
Ultimately, we need to address economic issues – bread and butter.
I think GST had a bigger role in Najib’s defeat than 1MDB. 1MDB, of course, provided a nice narrative – ‘Where did our money go? To the super yacht? To the young, pudgy boy? To the diamond?’
But do you think people would care if the economy was doing well?