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At the heart of Malay Politics

TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad is being slammed left, right and centre. On social media, among the chattering classes, most of all by those who feel he has betrayed their support of Pakatan Harapan (PH) which saw it to victory in that historic moment in May 2018. 

He has been called many hurtful things, like racist, for attending the Malay Dignity Congress earlier this month, and now even as someone who is pandering to the Muslims by attacking India’s action in Kashmir at the UN General Assembly. 


I am not an apologist for Dr Mahathir. Never have been for anyone in or out of power for that matter.

But I believe I can understand what he is trying to do which leads me - and I hope those who agree with my interpretation - to a less toxic conclusion on his political objectives.

Dr Mahathir is trying to take the lead to control the Malay political ground which is essential for the stability of the government and country.

The Malay heartland had been wrested by Umno after its recovery from the aftermath of May 2018 and, together with Pas, is being led to reactionary and extremist Malay-Muslim politics, something most dangerous for Malaysia.

What I see Dr Mahathir trying to do is to take back that Malay heartland by not appearing to have abandoned it, by relating with leaders, Umno, Pas or whoever else, who can break up support for the consolidating Malay extremism, and by bringing about Malay unity.

Where will it all land? What form will the Mahathir Malay centre ground take? Will the PH coalition hold with a conglomeration of Malay representation larger than PPBM (Bersatu)? What happens when Dr Mahathir is no longer around?

Dr Mahathir’s pure political play is no doubt about strengthening Bersatu, based on the unity of the Malays under his leadership.

He is gathering those who can bring support from whatever Malay constituency, be they from Johor, an untarnished officially elected Umno leader, a white knight for the future or even leaders from Pas.

The question is, apart from parliamentary seats now or number of constituency victories in an election, what would be the multi-racial Malaysia belief of this motley political congregation.

In many people’s mind, just as Dr Mahathir does not wish to appear to have abandoned the Malays, would there instead be an abandonment of the ‘New Malaysia’.

Let us get rid first of the total nonsense that Dr Mahathir is racist. He can be acerbic and use words that can be pedih (sharp,hurtful).

He does this with everyone, whether country or race. At the Malay Dignity Congress he actually lambasted the Malays for always expecting things on a platter and, yes, for being lazy.

There were screaming fits of anger on social media at his outburst. Dr Mahathir can be blunt. But he is not racist.Everyone gets lashed by his sharp tongue.

However, those getting together for Malay unity should tone down on the rhetoric. It scares other people and gets a response in kind.

Even if there may be differences on the content and priorities of the “New Malaysia”, it is a national responsibility not to play racial politics.

Lim Kit Siang of old was scary. Abdul Hadi Awang 30 years ago even more so, to the point of having separate mosques and burial grounds for Pas and Umno.

It is good to pull everyone in unity to the centre, but there must not be too much Malay political theatre, no brandishing of the keris, and attacking of other races.

Back to the content of the ‘New Malaysia’, there does seem to be a difference of view on how far and how fast. Even as PH fought and won the last election the greater emphasis was to oust the last government, root out corruption, reform and revitalise the institutions of governance.

This reform process must never be abandoned. A big part of it is to make the Malays understand their rights absolutely do not extend to being corrupt and to unlawful acts.Rule of law, as Dr Mahathir keeps repeating. Period.

As to the form of political organisation they wish to have, it would seem to me in Dr Mahathir’s realistic judgment they want to see unity and strong representation, which would move them from fear, insecurity and association with extremism.

It is to be hoped, in bringing this about, Dr Mahathir also leaves a legacy and inculcates among the next generation of Malay leaders a full commitment to a multi-racial Malaysia based on the Constitution of the country.

The political theatre should not be overdone.The utterances must be measured. The arguments need to be rational.

It must be a disappointment to Dr Mahathir that he has not been able to change the Malay mindset and make them more competitive after all these years. The next generation of leaders, after a hopefully smooth transition, will have a mountain to climb to achieve this.

At the social level there should also be an effort to get the Malays to go for first mover advantage rather than to first expect privilege.

Malay organisations should not be just those that go on about Malay rights and entitlement. They keep gazing at their belly-button and then all too frequently burst into a war, at this stage, of words.

It is time - and necessary - to have Malay movements that look out, make education the key, promote Malay self-confidence and capability, that tell them they are second to none if they went for it. A true Forum for Malay Excellence.

The writer,a former NST group editor, returns to write on local and international political affairs. He is also member of the Economic Action Council chaired by the prime minister