Some months before the last general election, I attended an intimate dialogue organised by a friend who is also a public policy specialist.
The discussion centred around current issues and the consolidation of power by then Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, after the 1MDB fallout and the effects this would have on Barisan Nasional and Umno – especially with the sackings and defections that took place after the Malaysian version of the night of long knives on July 29,2015, and the subsequent sacking of senior Umno leaders in the middle of 2016.
Of course, at that time, many of us who were from the government or Barisan took the view that the whole 1MDB fiasco would have no bearing on the outcome of the 14th General Election because people were more concerned with bread and butter issues. In fact, this was the official Barisan line that came from the very top. We were all told to focus on our constituencies, key demographics and support groups – it was a strategy that was labelled as “micro-targeting”.
I posited, however, if Barisan were to lose the election, then it would quickly disintegrate because at the time of this dialogue, there was a lot of unease and unhappiness over the management of Barisan. Barisan was held together by being in power. If it was not in power, then the East Malaysian components would likely chart its own path to elicit a better bargain from the new Federal Government and the West Malaysian components, like Gerakan – would likely exit so it could rebuild and renew on its own.
The dalliance with PAS that started after the 13th General Election was further eroding the small non-Malay/Muslim support for Barisan and the government's many moves to cover-up the 1MDB fiasco was taking a toll on its credibility. Many felt unhappy, but an equal number chose to keep quiet. The push for Islamic criminal law or hudud was hanging like a sword of Damocles over the heads of MCA, MIC, Gerakan and others. The prevarication shown by the Najib administration on this issue was also most disappointing.
I remember telling a colleague of mine that while the pursuit of power is legitimate, pursuing it at the cost of our constitutional precepts and values will be the undoing of Barisan. This is a cautionary reminder for Pakatan Harapan as well.
I also said that in the event of Barisan’s collapse, then Umno will be unshackled entirely and will be able to pursue a clear and unambiguous Malay/Muslim agenda with PAS in tow; that would very much be the end of the post-Merdeka consensus of unity in diversity.
Some of my more dire observations were rubbished, including that on Malay/Muslim consolidation as they felt Umno was inherently a centrist party that, despite its preponderance in post-Merdeka Malaysia, has never sought to use that power to implement hudud overtly.
We all left intellectually stimulated but with a feeling that Najib and Barisan would pull through.
Fast forward some 20 months later – a lot of what I said about Malay and Muslim consolidation is taking place.
Umno and PAS will be formalising their alliance in a massive show of support and a rally on Sept 13 and 14,2019.
Of course, certain Umno leaders, including its deputy president, has been at pains to assuage non-Malays and non-Muslims that this new pact will not adversely affect them and there will always be room for all ethnic and religious groups in Malaysia.
To digress a little – when Ayatollah Khomeini launched his Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979, he built a broad support base that included intellectual, left-wing activists and even communists. After he assumed power as the supreme leader, he imprisoned, maimed and killed all these people and established a clear theocracy. I am not saying this will happen in Malaysia but the words of philosopher George Santayana serve as a cautionary reminder: “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
So, the words of Umno and PAS leaders seeking to assuage the misgivings of non-Malays/Muslims over their theocratic alliance do not hold water – because in many ways, their precepts, approach and focus are the antithesis of the post-Merdeka consensus of an inclusive, progressive and diverse Malaysia.
Further, the call for a boycott of halal products produced and sold by non-Muslims has been unheard of before. How does it help anyone?
Second, Zakir Naik remains at large, and now Bersatu is openly patronising him. How are the non-Malays/Muslims ought to feel about it? The fact that Bersatu comprises almost exclusively proselytes from Umno – it is hardly surprising but thoroughly disappointing.
There was this fervent hope, even from people like me, that Bersatu would usher in a Malay political renaissance by moving away from rabid and divisive rhetoric and focusing on commonalities to build a new Malaysian narrative. One that balances Malay/Muslim primacy with an agenda that is progressive and inclusive.
So, as Malaysia Baru confronts Malay/Muslim consolidation – instead of focusing on a Malaysian narrative – the Malay/Muslim parties in government have chosen the path of one-upmanship, and it is terrible for the country.
At the time when the economy is slow and the average Malaysian finding it hard to make ends meet, we have a government focusing on flying cars. There is a complete mismatch of priorities.
The last thing we need is this constant fear of a racial conflagration which will spook investors. The government should not dance to the tune of the opposition – it should focus on governing as that is what governments do.
No one expected the change of government to be easy – however, the onus is on the government to rise above this petty politicking and focus on delivery. If it delivers, it needs not worry about the next election. If it fails to make the lives of Malaysians better, as the previous government did, any amount of appeasement will still see it being shown the door – that is what the last general election taught us.
Ivanpal Singh Grewal is an Advocate & Solicitor. He was formerly Political Secretary to the Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities.
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