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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Umno’s ‘Operation Silence Dr M’ in full swing



‘Do you like games, little man?’
- Ramsay Bolton, ‘Game of Thrones’
Of course, Prime Minister Najib Razak gets to play the race card in front of an audience of “local and foreign investors” because they certainly don’t care where they invest in, only in the profit that stability brings.
In my last article, I wrote that a case could be made for Umno in this current political terrain - “This is because with all its corruption scandals, gerrymandering, systemic dysfunction, race and religious politics, Umno offers stability which historically has proven to be what is important to the vast majority of Malaysians and which is extremely important to regional and international hegemons with vested interests of their own.”
So he (Najib) gets to say something like this - “Because it is the people who suffer, and we will not tolerate a few succeeding - and not on their own merits - while the many are denied opportunities, all for the interests of a selfish few” - and because the opposition has hitched their wagon to the former prime minister and because for decades they spent chronicling the scandals that afflicted this country under the former prime minister’s stewardship, they cannot mount a coherent defence.
Neither can they attack the underlying racism that such a quote exposes because if anything, minorities suffer because of a lack of meritocracy and people advance because of their race, but most importantly, incompetence is rewarded. The opposition could, of course, mount a successful defence if the former prime minister apologised for his past and spearheaded a “reform” campaign as how jailed political Anwar Ibrahim did when he was ejected from Umno paradise but since this is not in the cards, they have to make do with what they have.
As it is, opposition strategists can take comfort that this speech was made for the “urban audience” and not for the demographic that couldn’t care less who invest in this country because they have more localised concerns. Concerns that Umno more often than not is extremely quick to respond to. Mahathir knows this very well. He understands that the people who would get upset with this speech are the urban electorate that has already made peace - or so Pakatan Harapan hopes - with his position in Harapan.
Furthermore, it is pointless asking for a smooth transition of power because the Najib regime will not offer that assurance. Why would they have to? Umno propagandists point to a smooth transition of power in the crown jewel, Selangor, and (and the DAP-controlled) Penang as evidence that they respect the democratic process and the instability of the opposition (but never their wrongdoing) as the reason for the ‘coup’ in Perak.
Furthermore, this idea that there could be trouble has always served the regime well. The same threats that hung over the heads of the majority of Malaysians who voted in past Umno strongmen were always the most effective means of reminding non-Malays (and Malay dissidents) of the precarious nature of their participation in the democratic process.
But sometimes threats do not work, so someone like Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak, says that “it would be political suicide for Harapan if they face the general election promising the voters a return to Mahathirism,” which is really what the current Umno regime is deathly afraid of.
But they are not afraid of it in the way how Bersatu propagandists portray it. They are afraid that the majority of Malaysians, non-Malays and Malays, would think that the Mahathir era was when stability seemed obvious rather than it does now, may not necessarily be a bad thing.
The Najib regime may attempt to portray themselves as a stable Malay/Muslim hegemon but the fact is that the only time Umno enjoyed superiority on the battlefield with its gerrymandering, electoral malfeasances and numerous other underhanded tactics was when the former prime minister led the hegemon and it enjoyed the majority of Malay support.
Rumbles that could turn tectonic
Now, of course, it is different. If the Malay community was not fractured and the Umno hegemon enjoyed the support of the majority of the Malay community, they would not resort to these tactics in the upcoming election. They do this because their own strategists tell them that there are rumbles which could turn tectonic. Furthermore, there are many Umno folk who are extremely displeased with the compromises they have to make with PAS. Check that. Umno strategists are worried that in three-cornered fights with PAS, especially in Malay-dominated areas, would be a disadvantage to Umno.
This is why Salleh is careful to say that BN scored its best outcome when Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over because people rightly were glad to see the back of the former prime minister. This was a victory for the non-Malay component parties of BN and not solely an Umno win. However just as people grew restless under the long Mahathir watch, the same could be argued of the current Najib debacle.
This is also why the more Mahathir speaks about Malay supremacy to his urban - read non-Malay audience - and does not change his tune for his rural heartlands audience, the more agitated the Umno hegemon gets. They can keep calling him “U-turn Mahathir” but the base that keeps Umno in power are not getting mixed messages from the former Umno strongman; they are getting mixed messages from the ruling hegemon through their various outsourced propaganda organs.
If anything, Mahathir’s racial polemics against Chinese business in ‘Tanah Melayu’ or that that the current Umno prime minister has more power than the Agong plays well to the demographic that Umno wants to retain. As I wrote, the goal here is to destabilise Umno in the Peninsular. If Umno is destabilised in the Peninsular, Mahathir knows that the game is up for Najib.
Of course, the regime may actually incarcerate the former prime minister. This is why all this talk about Mahathir’s financial scandals are brought up by Umno minions and various state investigative bodies, determined to find out “what exactly happened”. Umno does this because they can lay the blame completely on Mahathir's door even though it takes a hegemon to build a kleptocracy.
If this happens, it is game over for Mahathir but more importantly, it is game over for Malay oppositional forces in this country. If the regime manages to silence Mahathir, they would effectively have managed to silence that part of the Malay community that could affect regime change and if they do this, they effectively destroy the opposition. This, unfortunately, is the Malaysian dilemma.
Since ‘Game of Thrones’ references is de rigueur, the approaching showdown between the current grand Umno poohbah and his nemesis could accurately be called ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ (Episode 9 of Season 6).

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. - Mkini

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