LAST Saturday, I attended the first annual general meeting of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Pribumi).
I spent 2017 studying new Malay-based parties in the country, especially Parti Amanah Negara and Pribumi. So, when I received the invitation to observe Pribumi’s AGM, of course I didn’t waste the chance.
The first thing I noticed was how tight security was. Clearly Pribumi has learnt from its Nothing to Hide 2.0 forum in August. The event that featured party chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was halted when chaos erupted, including the hurling of flares and chairs.
This time, it felt like we were going through security checks at the airport.
Other than the delegates debating in the afternoon, the main attraction was the speeches by Dr Mahathir and Pribumi President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Muhyiddin’s speech came first. His speech was carefully structured to fire up the crowd.
He started with a reminder to the delegates about the history of the young party. The early members had to raise funds to pay for the formation of the party, including setting up divisional offices across the country.
The hard work paid off. In just 15 months, they set up 137 divisions, with another 21 in the process of being registered.
Muhyiddin also took the Registrar of Societies to task. He claimed the party never received formal replies quickly enough. And that it struggled to get definitive answers directly from the ROS, only to later hear through the media of threats of deregistration.
As can be expected, he also listed various allegations against the Government. He claimed that in Budget 2018, RM30bil, or 75% of the total GST collection, had to be set aside just to service debts.
I hope the Government will respond to this allegation because it is a huge sum, more than twice the allocation to the Higher Education Ministry.
When Dr Mahathir took to the stage, he upped the ante. His speech was designed to create a distinction between Pribumi and Umno.
In his line of argument, Umno has changed from a party that was guarding the interests of the Malays and the country to one that is being used by its leaders only to save themselves.
Pribumi on the other hand, despite being new, was the one continuing the fight to safeguard Malay interests, said the former prime minister.
This is a big claim and I am sure many others will argue both for and against it.
It is an attempt by Dr Mahathir to claim the right to speak for and represent the Malays. This is an important narrative to legitimise the existence of Pribumi as a Malay party.
I am not sure if Pribumi can convince the country with this narrative quickly enough for GE14.
Umno is entrenched in the psyche of both rural and urban Malays. Dislodging it from that position is not going to be easy.
In fact, I think among the Malays, the urbanites are more difficult for Pribumi to attract than the rural villagers. They may be more educated and analytical, but in reality, they have a lot more to lose if a change were to occur.
The urban, middle- and upper-class Malays also tend to complain in private, but the pretend heroism does not follow outside of their comfort zones. Pribumi will have trouble getting them into its ranks before GE14.
I asked several delegates how they feel about the party.
The vast majority are clearly committed to Pribumi’s cause and they see it as a long haul, way beyond Dr Mahathir or Muhyiddin.
To them, it is about the survival of the Malay agenda under honest leadership.
Their biggest worry is how the mainstream media will portray them.
One person even became rather hostile when I told him that I am a columnist for this newspaper. They simply do not feel the media is fair to them.
Personally, I relish the establishment of new political parties. It does not matter whether these new parties are with Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Harapan or neither. The most important thing for me is political competition.
A liberal democracy functions only when multiple parties are strong enough to challenge one another. The establishment of new political parties is a good thing. As we get closer to GE14, let me say, may the best party win!
Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
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