Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Malaysia: as one chooses to see it, or as one chooses to believe in it

The way the world is, is often the way we choose to see it – and that is the crux of racial politics in Malaysia.

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, soon after saying that a Malaysian of any descent can rise to lead the country, pessimistically blogged that racial politics are far from over. Predictably he hit out on both sides of the aisle. His old adversaries on the Opposition bench were described as: “…PAS, a very Malay Muslim party, and DAP, a Chinese dominated party. Even the Keadilan is made up of violently racist Hindraf Indians, Chinese dissatisfied with the MCA's representation of the Chinese in BN and self-serving Malays who could not find a place in the other Malay parties.” In a clever uppercut, Mahathir’s new opponents in the Barisan Nasional were chastised as having failed to live up to their responsibilities, which in his opinion was the cause of the March 2008 election results – and not racial politics.

It sounds convincing, a long-time premier selflessly imparting his wisdom of leadership to a people who are naïve daydreamers. But just perhaps it is, instead, a cynical icon living in a past he created, resistant of change, who chooses to see only the world as he always has, where he is right and everyone else is wrong.

Parties cannot change their histories – whether it is PAS’s connection to theology or DAP’s old connections to the PAP. And while we’re on history, Malaysians have a great tendency to have a very selective history. Like viewing Hang Tuah a little differently when one finds out he was ethnic Chinese, or wayang kulit once we realize it has Hindu links. Or putting Datuk Tan Lian Hoe on the frying pan.

What anyone can do is instead to learn from it to better affect the present, including forming a non-Muslim wing to PAS, electing a Malay to the upper ranks of the DAP, and the leader of Keadilan choosing a “ketuanan rakyat” stance when campaigning for office in Permatang Pauh– a strategy that proved triumphant against an Umno stance which included a characterization of the Chinese in this country as “squatters”. At the initial protest rally after the arrest of reporter Tan Hoon Cheng who brought that comment to print, a major highlight was the arrival and support of representatives of PAS, the so-called “very Malay Muslim party”.

Eventually even the Barisan Nasional had to concede a realization of the way the wind was blowing, seen in proposals to include direct, non-racial entry into the BN, and opinions from various quarters in Gerakan considering a departure from the coalition.

Mahathir’s view fits his ideal just a little too well. His old enemies are wrong as always, and if only the Barisan allows him to be the Lee Kuan Yew-type backseat driver, all would be well. How sad then that even well into retirement our so-called Bapa Wawasan looks to the past, rather than the longer term vision of what potential lies in our people.

He writes: “When the Barisan Nasional did badly in the March 2008 General Election, foreign observers and many in this country were jubilant because they claim that it marked the demise of racial politics and racial parties in Malaysia.
I did not agree with this simplistic view and I had put my thoughts on this blog. I believed that it was rather protest against the failures of the Abdullah Government that caused many Barisan Nasional members and supporters to vote for the opposition.”

My dear Dr M, of course it was a protest against the Abdullah Government which, one might point out, could not have been there without your initial support. But why on earth could it not also finally be a start – a good, healthy Malaysia Boleh start – away from racial politics?

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