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Sunday, February 28, 2016

No salvation amongst the Najib refuseniks


“Ideology knows the answer before the question has been asked. Principles are something different: a set of values that have to be adapted to circumstances, but not compromised away.”
- George Packer
COMMENT One of the first topics I wrote on was the fracturing of the “Malay” polity into various schisms based on “ethnicity”, religion and political power. I believe and still do that the consequences of this would be dire.
Not only will there be sectarian violence within the Malay community, but most probably - as has been documented in various parts of the Muslim world - the nature of the conflict would be religious based.
If we are lucky, it would be between two extremes; but the reality will probably be that non-Malays will either have to leave this country, or latch on to whichever side that offers the least subservient role.
The least subservient role is the only option available in lieu of any firm policies put forward by the opposition since its remarkable gains in previous elections.
There are, of course, many factors which handicap the opposition in its goal of political dominance - electoral malfeasances, the vote banks of Sabah and Sarawak, political infighting and dubious political alliances.
However, the underlying dissonance is the reality that by paying lip service to egalitarianism and equality, no systemic alternative has so far been offered in a serious political game changing manner.
Malay “unity” as propagated by Umno and, by all indications, in a sub rosa manner by the opposition, is based on race, religion and political hegemony.
The irony of Pakatan Rakyat
The honourable gentleman from Gelang Patah, MP Lim Kit Siang, recently reiterated: “I have said enough since last year about a ‘Save Malaysia’ campaign which transcends race, religion, region, political parties, and individuals and our efforts to see this goal come to fruition.”
The irony is that Pakatan Rakyat was supposed to be a coalition of disparate political forces that put aside their political, religious and racial differences, in an effort to assume the leadership role of this country. Look how well that turned out.
The ejection of former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin from the Umno gravy train and his subsequent reformasi-like stance, is indicative not of a changing ideological perspective but rather the tremors felt when a political hegemony turns on its own.
Najib refuseniks have had trouble coalescing into a credible threat - even though led by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad - because the “cash is king” ethos which Mahathir previously nurtured has become a monster of its own, and controlled by the current PM.
Muhyiddin lamented, "What has happened to the value system in Umno? Have values such as honesty, sincerity, courage to state the truth and oppose what is wrong disappeared?
"Has the fighting spirit in Umno leaders melted away? Is the desire for power that is fraught with deception the only thing that triumphs?"
What fighting spirit is he talking about? Until recently, Umno has never had to fight for anything. An ineffective opposition, electoral sleights of hand and the reality that Umno buys its way out of every problem, has made Umno a cartel answerable only to itself.
Muhyiddin warned that Najib is turning into a dictator, yet that is the underlying politics of this country. Najib is not turning into a dictator because anyone who leads Umno is already a dictator since post-1969 and the subsequent Mahathir years.
Umno and its presidents have only dictated policies without regard to any kind of democratic institutions or principles.
Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli yesterday proclaimed that, “for the first time, we may just reach the critical point where a majority of our society, irrespective of their background, understand why we cannot delay reforms anymore".
The choice of words is unfortunate - or telling, depending on how cynical one is. Malay alternative power structures have always struggled with the Malay vote. The reality is that decades of brainwashing with racial and religious propaganda have narcotised the Malay community into believing that Umno is their salvation.
This is especially true in the rural heartlands, where political dependency means sustaining one’s family.
Shift in voting patterns?
In other words, the “critical point” and “the majority of society” actually refers to the Malay polity and the hope that the Najib refuseniks could shift voting patterns in the Malay community to the benefit of Pakatan Harapan.
And Muhyiddin (always portrayed as a soft touch) knows this very well. A couple of years back, I commented that the then DPM's clarion call for Malaysians - specifically Malay-Muslims - to unite under the BN banner, is problematic for a variety of reasons.
However, he is absolutely right when he reminded non-Malays to be cognisant of the fact that “the future of the nation depended on Malay-Muslim unity".
On the other hand, at the very least the fallout from the Umno schisms could result in the usual political backstabbings and sabotage, which could offer gains to the opposition.
The opposition political insiders I talk to are very well aware that the opposition has made the most gains when Umno is at war with itself.
“It is not just to demand that the PM step down, but to reject a political institution that has failed to fulfil the aspirations of the rakyat,” said the former deputy prime minster.
Is this an acknowledgement that the Umno institution has to go?
Because for the life of me - and I am not downplaying the fact that the current political scandals are perhaps the greatest in Malaysian history - the reality is that the Umno way of doing things is what created this mess in the first place.
Is Muhyiddin willing to destroy Umno to save the country? Is anyone from the ranks of the Najib refuseniks willing to do so?
The only other ex-Umno insider who managed to shift the ground under the party’s feet is the incarcerated former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who did so with shrewd political manoeuvrings, charisma, and an unbelievable ability to make believe that his personal political struggle was a struggle for the soul of a nation.
And even he did not manage to change Umno the way how his nemesis, Mahathir did, when the latter had declared war on the Umno old guard and won.
Sceptics wonder if Muhyiddin’s ouster will have any impact on Umno politics. That’s the wrong question. The real question is what will happen when the cash runs out and the disenfranchised Malay majority wakes up.
When this happens, Umno will not be spared. Nobody will.

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

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