Time to do the maths

  • It's Just Politics
  • Sunday, 15 Mar 2020

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (seated, centre) with other Cabinet members. -Bernamapic

“DO the maths and start thinking of how you should vote in GE15. You get the government you deserve!

“A breakdown of the Muhyiddin Cabinet by ethnicity:

“Ministers 31: Malays 26 (83.87%), Chinese one (3.23%), Indian one (3.23%), Kadazan two (6.45%) and Dayak one (3.23%).

“Deputy Ministers 38: Malays 26 (68.42%), Chinese four (10.53%), Indian one (2.63%), Kadazan three (7.89%), Dayak four (10.53%).

“Total 69 (excluding the PM): Malays 52 (75.36%), Chinese five (7.25%), Indian two (2.90%), Kadazan five (7.25%), Dayak five (7.25%).”

This identity politics message went viral on the WhatsApp messaging platform after Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced his ministers and deputy ministers on Monday.

The next morning, former Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi of DAP posted it on his Facebook page.

I sent Ooi, who is also a columnist, a WhatsApp message asking for his thoughts on the post.

Ooi replied with a lengthy comment (worth a column by itself) which I butchered down to this: “For the general public, especially those who voted in the majority popular votes for Pakatan Harapan in GE14, they can't help feeling dejected and alarmed by the fact that the rudiments of democracy by demographics – one person one vote – has been hugely subverted through political machinations triggered by actors behind the Sheraton Move. The voters will not forgive and forget this.”

To get a different perspective, I asked the same of Universiti Utara Malaysia political science lecturer Dr Kamarul Zaman Yusoff. He first said he is delighted that Kelantan, his birthplace, had a “durian runtuh” (windfall) with five ministers and six deputy ministers.

However, he added, “I have to agree with the dissatisfaction among non-Malays that the new government does not have enough non-Malays.

“But still, the principle is there, that the composition of the government needs to commensurate with the composition of the country’s citizens, ” he noted.

“It is just that this new government does not have enough non-Malay MPs to choose from. But what is good is that even a party like PAS that is considered extreme by non-Malays mainly put forward names of their more moderate leaders to be in this new government.

“I think if this new government shows that it can be inclusive in its policies, it will eventually manage to get more support from non-Malays.”

Malaysians, according to Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research deputy chairman Dr Pamela Yong, should consider voting along quality rather than racial lines.

Do not vote based on the candidates’ skin colour, culture or ethnicity or which party they belong to, the Sabahan said.

“We should all look at the right person for the job and not look at which race he or she is.

“Representatives chosen to govern our country must be those who have good standing and credibility and can come up with strong, people-centric policies that will benefit the masses, the majority, and not just one race or community. A representative should be a person who will respect the people’s mandate even over their party’s or personal interest, ” she said.

“For Malaysia to develop in leap and bounds and build a nation that is far-sighted and progressive and prosperous – it has to come to a point when we really need to put down that race card and build this country together as Malaysians.”

On how you should vote in GE15, political analyst Dr Abdul Latiff Mohd Ibrahim contended, “Keep on the path of change. Change for a better Malaysia. The project for Malaysia Baharu that had been derailed – but with a whole set of new faces.”

When Ooi shared the “Do the maths” message on his Facebook page, I texted him to ask: “How would Malaysians with different political opinions see it? Does it mean non-Malays should vote for the Opposition (DAP and PKR) or government (MCA or MIC or Umno)?”

I suggested that the Chinese and Indians should be thinking of voting MCA and MIC representatively, as the Malay parties connected to these Barisan Nasional parties would be in power.

Also based on the maths, it would then be better for Malays to vote for PAS, Umno or Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) as they'll have the most ministers.

Many who support Pakatan Harapan (now minus Bersatu) will disagree with me. They think that enough Malay seats can be won by Pakatan for it to win the Federal Government in GE15.

How did we end up with a Malaysia where 26 out of 32 ministers (including the Prime Minister) are Malay?

It reminds me of a conversation I had with an Umno supreme council member just after GE13 in 2013, when the Chinese overwhelmingly voted for Pakatan Rakyat. It was the election result that elicited that angry Umno cry of “Apa lagi Cina mau? (What else do the Chinese want)?”

The supreme council member said then: “If Umno wanted, we could form a coalition government with PAS. But we don’t want to. We want a government that reflects the races in Malaysia. But if the Chinese voters continue to reject Barisan, we won’t have a choice but to be with PAS, ” he said.

Fast forward to the aftermath of 2018’s GE14. His words were prophetic.

Umno and PAS formed a unity pact called Muafakat Nasional. About a year later, Muafakat Nasional combined with Barisan, Bersatu, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), Parti Bersatu Sabah, Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah and STAR (Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku Rakyat Sabah) form the Perikatan Nasional-GPS government.

As a Sabahan, when Muhyiddin announced his government on Monday, I counted how many ministers my home state was getting. We only got two – Agriculture and Food Industry Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ronald Kiandee and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Sabah and Sarawak Affairs) Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili.

In the Pakatan government, there were three Sabahan ministers. In the last Barisan government, Sabah had six.

Does it matter whether there are fewer or more Sabahans in the Cabinet?

Before I answer that question, I would like to state for the record that when I'm overseas, I'm Malaysian first. When in Malaysia, I'm Sabahan first. When I'm in Sabah, I'm Kadazan first. When I'm at home, I'm Philip first.

And in answer to the question, I’d have to say it depends on the minister. Some are very pro-Sabah, some become pro-Putrajaya when they walk the corridors of power. But as Sabahans, they understand their tanah air (homeland) probably better than their Peninsular Malaysia counterparts.

For example, on the Sabah rights issue, a Sabahan minister knows the sentiments of his constituents. On the controversial “Allah” in the Bible issue, a minister from Sabah understands his state’s religious dynamics.

In the debate over the racial composition of Muhyiddin’s government, I find it hypocritical that those who claim to be Malaysian first perceive it through race-tinted glasses.

Aren't they racist when they calculate the racial composition of the Cabinet?

Or are they being realistic and admitting that identity politics is the political reality in Malaysia?

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