“The framers of our Constitution firmly believed that a republican government could not endure without intelligence and education generally diffused among the people. The Father of his Country, in his Farewell Address, uses this language: Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”
- Ulysses S Grant
The only reason why I am not writing about hate preacher Zakir Naik is because Stephen Ng’s excellent piece on the fugitive should be required reading for those interested in the fact that Malaysia is fast becoming a Mecca for Islamists seeking shelter from the trouble they start outside Malaysia.
Two statements made by the current Umno grand poobah are worth investigating - for me at least - because those statements are true but not for the reasons the prime minster thinks they are.
The first statement is the claim that the opposition uses an “ends justify the means” stratagem when dealing with unseating Umno.
While I won’t go into the mundane details that establishment politicians from opposing sides uses to win elections and which are unfortunately part of mainstream politics the world over, what most people think of - anecdotally that is - when they read about the opposition these days is the presence of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
No matter what opposition politicians say and even though they may take their shots at the former Umno strongman, Mahathir is the de facto opposition leader of this country. Malaysia is the house that Mahathir built and while Umno may claim to be the main tenants, they do so on the imprimatur of the former prime minister who has salvaged a stumbling opposition for his own purposes.
All of Umno’s efforts are geared towards bolstering the narrative that the former prime minister wants to destroy Umno because he cannot control it any more and the opposition is opportunistically aligning with the man they (the opposition) claim was a dictator and a ‘mahafiraun’ to usurp power from Umno and establish a new paradigm that would “destroy” the Malays.
While social activists (which in my definition include academics, journalists and grassroots level organisers), who for years have been in the trenches, have cautioned that such an alliance will bring no benefit to the forces of change in this country, they have been dismissed by opposition partisans as a necessary “evil” to vanquish Najib Abdul Razak from the Umno throne.
Indeed, the former prime minister has made it clear in statements in the press - mainstream and alternative - that dethroning Najib is paramount and the details of the alliance could be worked out later.
You have to understand one thing about Umno and the former prime minster. They are scared of him.
It is akin to Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint in the movie ‘The Usual Suspects’ who says that he believes in God but the only person he is afraid of is Keyser Soze. Similarly, many Umno operatives believe in Allah but the only person they are afraid of is Mahathir Mohamad.
This is why most Umno operatives prefer to leave the dirty work of publicly going against the former Umno president to those who are close to Najib’s inner circle and loathed to be collateral damage in Mahathir’s war to not only overthrow Najib but also redefine the political landscape once again.
Whether you believe that Mahathir is the means to justify the ends is beside the point because this late in the game, what opposition supporters are left with is a Hobson choice of their own making.
Time for controversial solutions
As to his second claim - that the opposition does not want the Malays and Islam to develop - this is both true and a lie. It is a lie because the opposition, if anything, panders to the Malay votes, sacrificing those egalitarian principles they claim to have on the altar of political expediency. Opposition politicians and state governments pour money into “Malay” and “Islamic” institutions to prove that the “Malays” will not be abandoned by a new alliance.
The opposition pays homage to “Malay rights” and “privileges” and chastises those who argue for more inclusive policies saying that those who harp on certain issues are “anti-Malay” and “anti-Islam”. Malay opposition personalities do not openly back their non-Malay comrades when it comes to secular issues and instead waffle along predictable religious lines about how the sensitivities of the community must be observed or attempt to change the discourse using their religious preoccupations as a guide to secular conflict resolutions.
With all this pandering to the Malay community by the opposition, it is obviously a lie that the opposition does not want the Malays and Islam to “develop”. Indeed, it would seem that Umno and the opposition are on the same page and if you were a Malay voter who believed in this strategy, there is the added bonus that the non-Malay component of the opposition is just as interested in protecting your “racial rights and privileges” to secure your vote much as Umno does.
However, the “truth” of the statement is that neither Umno nor the opposition is really interested in developing the Malay community into a developed progressive polity. If politicians were interested in developing the Malay community, they would abandon policies that estrange the Malay community from their fellow citizens.
Maybe I am being too optimistic but I think some opposition politicians are beginning to see the light. In PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli’s Malay dilemma, I wrote - “Indeed, when Rafizi says that ‘We (the opposition) must honestly accept failings and offer solutions that may be controversial’, it becomes clear that for some Malay politicians, mainstream Malay political dogma is failing the opposition but not Umno.”
Yes, this is time for controversial solutions. This is what Umno fears the most - that new opposition policies aimed at the rural poor and the disenfranchised of society will spark an electoral rebellion that would displace them from power. This all depends on what kind of vision the opposition has for Malaysia beyond the possible future without the current Umno president.
Political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim said it best in his op-ed piece - “This has put Malaysia at a crossroads: it can either return to its rightful place as a shining political and financial star in a developing world desperate for such successes; or it can descend to the role of yet another Muslim-majority country with a failing democracy and economy.”
So the question really is, is the opposition willing to slay Umno defined sacred cows to return us to our rightful place or are they willing to play Umno’s game and abandon us when we descend into that Muslim-majority failed state?
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.- Mkini