Of Malay politics and nasi kandar


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 09 Aug 2020

THE Malay political market is a bit like the Malay restaurant market near my home. There are several nasi kandar restaurants on one street – maybe you think there are many choices, but there aren't.

On the street, there is a sign that says Nasi Kandar Original, on the middle of the street is Nasi Kandar Istimewa and at the end of the street is Nasi Kandar Penang. After a few visits, there was no obvious difference. The ingredients were similar, the dishes were similar and the prices were comparable.

The conclusion is that there are many shops but not many choices. Why? I will attempt to explain.

In the early days, the first shop that sold nasi kandar attracted diners when it opened. This attracted other industry players to open a second nasi kandar shop. Then there was a third and a fourth – some of them closed down due to poor business but new ones still appeared after that.

These were similar products competing in the same market trying to attract the same customers. Of course, not everyone can succeed. Some are destined to be eliminated and the new ones especially have a greater chance of failure.

For customers, there is no benefit. Their choices are limited and there are no new gains. Over time, the taste becomes bland and hygiene standards start to deteriorate.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently organised a new Malay political party which gave me the same feeling of a new Nasi Kandar near my place. Similarly, it targets Malay Muslims and bumiputera in the fight for the Malay agenda. It sounds good – if it were to also defend the rights of other ethnic groups.

The same format can be applied to Umno, PAS, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, Parti Amanah Negara as well as Perkasa and Semangat 46.

Dr Mahathir claims that the new party is a party that is anti-corruption. It feels like the opening of a new nasi kandar restaurant with two papadum on the side to attract customers. However, even the most corrupt political parties will ostensibly hold high the banner of anti-corruption! And the word "anti-corruption" came from the mouth of Dr Mahathir – how credible is that?

Of course, the focus is on Dr Mahathir’s new party. What are its chances of success? How much influence will it have on Malaysian politics?

To be honest, I am not optimistic at all.

It cannot be denied that Malay nationalism and Islamism are in the mainstream of Malay politics. Since the 1960s, Umno has followed Malay nationalism, while the PAS has followed Islamism. The struggle between Umno and PAS was a competition between nationalism and Islamism.

Beginning in the 1980s, Dr Mahathir introduced religious elements into Umno, transforming the party into nationalism as well as a religious party. After the death of its spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat, PAS also introduced nationalism and became a religious and nationalist party.

Today, there is no difference between the ideologies of Umno and PAS – the two parties formed the Muafakat Nasional alliance, which is logical.

However, as long as the two parties do not merge, it is as if two nasi kandar restaurants are continuing to compete.

In terms of ideology, Bersatu and Amanah are “little Umno” and “little PAS”. There is only a brand competition – no market distinction and no product differentiation.

Since they are "little Umno" and "little PAS", they lack heterogeneity in the political market, hence it is difficult to highlight their product positioning. If they were to lose their comparative advantage, they would face difficulties surviving and be inevitably swallowed up by Umno.

The survival probability of Bersatu depends on Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Amanah, and they may not be able to withstand the test of the next general election. Dr Mahathir’s new party is a derivative of Bersatu, which is tantamount to “little Bersatu”. It is like a small fry living in the belly of a big fish. If Bersatu is unsustainable, then what of “little Bersatu”?

The chairman of the new party is Dr Mahathir and the president is his son, Mukhriz. It's like a father-son party – no matter how it is done, it is just a mosquito party.

To open up the existing political market in Malaysia, we cannot organise new and old political parties by the same group of old and troubled politicians. Instead, we must have a new generation of ideals and visions with innovative ideas and creative thinking, to contribute to Malaysian politics.

It is like nasi kandar restaurants, which cannot be copied repeatedly. It will end up lacking flavour and health standards. Ingredients, cooking, staff, and storefronts must be innovative and upgraded to a delicious and healthy new national diet.

TAY TIAN YAN

Sin Chew Daily deputy executive director

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