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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Fear and loathing in New Malaysia



The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.”
- James Branch Cabell, 'The Silver Stallion'
I suppose, once you leave Malaysia, you are “Malaysian”. In Malaysia you remain a racial demographic and all that entails. The prime minister’s comment about how “Malaysians” overseas are valued for their professional “skill set” is indicative of how, once you leave our country, you truly become a citizen, or at least politicians talk as if you are a citizen and not belonging to a racial group.
The fallout from the “Malay Dignity” forum has brought upon some soul searching in people who viewed a change of government as the beginnings of a new Malaysia, or a repudiation of the failed policies of the former Barisan Nasional (BN) regime.

The reality that Harapan is morphing into a neo-BN has reinvigorated the discourse surrounding the idea that non-Malays do not really have a place under the Malaysian sun.
There are three interesting comments - 'A deep sense of despair' by Michel Chng, 'Totally hopeless now' by Ho Lee Peing and 'The Chinese dilemma' by Kuik Cheng Kang, an attempt to frame the non-Malay discourse surrounding the Harapan win as one of failed expectations.
Chng’s reportage of the Malay dignity forum produced an emotional reaction: “I really thought we would finally see a New Malaysia following a change of guard in Putrajaya. I suddenly found myself choking back tears as I talked.”
Ho wonders if we should we leave this land out of sheer despair and concludes: “The nonsense uttered by our politicians and happily echoed by the black sheep in the academia serves to remind us that as co-authors of the Malaysian destiny, we cannot afford to become pessimistic, less so despair."
Kuik’s 'The Chinese dilemma' is an answer to the Malay dignity forum: “To put things forthright, the dilemma of the Malays today has been a result of their own work. Unfortunately, the Chinese community is made to take the blame.”
The problem I have with all these pieces is that they fail to address the reality that non-Malays, for decades, were complicit in supporting a regime that eventually morphed into a kleptocratic state, the apogee of which was the Najib regime.
Failed Malay policies were not only the result of Malay stewardship, but also the enabling of non-Malay political power structures. This idea that a New Malaysia could be created by replacing the former kleptocrat with one of the chief architects of the old order is ludicrous.
I am not saying this with any schadenfreude. How could I, when I was one of those people who were advocating for Harapan to name the current prime minister as a seat warmer because overthrowing the Najib regime was of utmost importance?
To be fair, I was always clear-eyed about this strategy and leading up to the elections, I always attempted to point out how the Harapan coalition was slipping into Umno/BN mode. Close associates and partisans with rancour accused me, among other things, of being an Umno saboteur.
Even now, non-Malay politicians who, before the election claimed that MCA and MIC were "running dogs” for their Malay counterparts, are realising how difficult it is to manoeuvre in the racial and religious terrain that they inherited. Keep in mind that we are not talking about novice politicians, but seasoned veterans of decades-long political conflicts who should understand how the system works because they were in control of a few states.
Even now we have partisans who make excuses for Harapan, claiming they need more time, when before the election, politicians were telling their base that there was no time. Some folks thought that the old maverick had changed, but the reality is that there are many people who view his reign as a success, and that Old Malaysia under Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad (above) is the best we could hope for.
Meanwhile, Mahathir's supporters, who are a legion, get frustrated with Harapan partisans who blame Bersatu for attempting to carry out the role Umno did. And this is not some sub rosa agenda of Bersatu. Harapan politicians, before the elections, told us that Bersatu was needed to shore up Malay support, which it did not manage to do.
Even now, some Harapan partisans are telling us that there is no one else to vote for. This was the official BN narrative for years. People think that we finally got the change we wanted, but for many people the country, its policies and racial dynamics were fine, and the only thing that was wrong with the country was Najib Abdul Razak.
There are people who are advocating leaving this country and there are people who say that we should stay and fight. My answer has always been the same. If you want people to stay and fight for their rights, you must be able to demonstrate that staying and fighting is something that is worthwhile.
We are not yet at the stage where you can point to incremental changes (elsewhere) and say that this is progress. We are a developed country with narratives that are evidence that religious and racial plurality is something we had, but lost, like many Islamic state narratives in countries all over the Middle East.
Either you refrain from voting until you have political coalitions that will fight for the Malaysia you want, or vote for coalitions that want to maintain the status quo.
At this point, either option is not a value judgment for me.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. A retired barrister-at-law, he is one of the founding members of Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan. - Mkini

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