On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

When the going gets tough…

Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin. -filepic

FINALLY, some sense prevails from a top Umno leader, Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin, following the amplified rhetoric of race and religion lately, which in some instances, included the dismissive tone of several party leaders towards the non-Malays.

The Umno vice-president assured Malaysians that the party was committed to a spirit of moderation, expressing gratitude to MCA and MIC for their roles in the Barisan Nasional coalition.

While much criticism has been hurled at Umno for their cooperation with PAS, he said the two parties had agreed to continue walking on the road of moderate politics with Umno. The former Johor mentri besar vowed that Umno would keep protecting the interests of Malaysia’s multi-racial makeup.

“To the non-Malay community, this is our promise. Despite any past weaknesses and shortcomings, we will continue to hold on to the spirit of moderation in our political dealings. We will never turn our backs on the non-Malay community because our decades-long political journey is full of great stories of a plural society that ought to be imitated the world over.”

The reconciliatory approach was a far cry from that of Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz’s, who is apparently no longer the coalition’s secretary-general, and rightly so, given his combative approach, even when dealing with the partners, which can only damage Barisan’s cause.

Nazri slammed MCA and MIC, saying they were free to leave Barisan if both parties no longer shared a common goal with them, and that such a move wouldn’t be a loss to the coalition.

“They are free to find new alliances and move on with other parties that have left Barisan after the 14th General Election. I do not think it is a loss,” he had said.

Nazri said this after MCA and MIC decided that they were left with no choice but to move on from Barisan and explore a new alliance which reflects the true identity of unity in diversity.

In their statement, they also described Nazri’s appointment as Barisan’s secretary-general as illegal and unrecognised by MCA or MIC. Nazri’s loose cannon style may fire him into the headlines, and he may even earn brownie points from Umno members but it’s a shabby showing, really.

Malaysians booted the Barisan out because of several key reasons – massive corruption, the leadership of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and let’s not forget, the arrogance of some Umno leaders.

A year later – just two months shy of Pakatan Harapan’s first year in office – and Malaysians are grumbling again, and loudly too.

Many Malay-Muslims are upset at the actions and approaches of DAP leaders in federal and state governments. Unfortunately, as unhealthy and fictional as it may seem, survey findings indicate that many Malays-Muslims believe the DAP is calling the shots at the federal government level.

The survey by IIham Centre, said to be run by people close to Amanah, and the Penang state government-funded Penang Institute, revealed that nearly 60% of Malays weren’t happy with the performance of the Pakatan Harapan government.

The survey found that 60% of the respondents believe non-Muslims are now in control of the government and that the DAP is making key decisions. The survey encompassed interviews with 2,614 Malay respondents, from between Oct 24 and Dec 24 last year.

The point here is that politics isn’t about what it is, but what it appears to be, and the truth is rarely close behind.

“Politics is always about perception. It’s the one thing that gets people elected and governments defeated. There is no more powerful agent of change,” wrote political writer Tom Clarke.

These ground sentiments – among the predominantly Malay voters – of frustrations over the rising cost of living, and the inexplicable and silly statements of some PH ministers, have placed the PH government in a different light. And now, the balance is slowly shifting.

If the Malays think the DAP is calling the shots, the Chinese, on the other hand, are angry that the economy is heading nowhere. Case in point: the Inland Revenue Department is looking for crumbs from the bulk of individual Chinese taxpayers, who have rightfully questioned the return of mega projects, which seem to be considered based on political and not economic reasons.

We are told that Malaysia has no money, and yet, we are announcing decisions in which feasibility is doubtful. There seems to be a lack of direction – and even urgency – and again, perception is everything, though I could be wrong.

The urbanites can laugh at Najib’s “Malu Apa” and “Bossku” sales pitches, but he is getting traction, and is literally mobbed at places he visits. And this isn’t some social media stunt, which his cynics would like to believe.

His audience includes the disenfranchised young Malays who feel they are heading nowhere, and the middle-class Malays who have found themselves slipping towards becoming the urban poor.

Having large families with a sole breadwinner living in the city is a danger sign for the government, if they choose not to assist this group. This is a political time bomb waiting to go off.

Against this backdrop, it will be foolish for the Barisan to “close shop” because politics has become very fluid now. The dynamics are getting harder to read and predict, and it will be more so when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad retires.

Umno-PAS feel they can mount a strong challenge to PH. Their combined votes and edge on bringing the Malays to Barisan or PAS could be game the changer. But Umno-PAS have also realised that talk of Malay-Muslim unity hasn’t gone down well, and in a progressive nation, this is not healthy for plural Malaysia.

The politicians from the two parties are merely engaging in “double talk” now as a face-saving endeavour and are trying to tamper growing fears.

If Barisan were to pack it in, it would be difficult for Umno, MCA and MIC to ever register themselves as a coalition. A new alliance will never get registered and be approved by PH. So, for branding purposes, it’s smarter to keep the dacing (weighing scale) logo – which is instantly recognisable.

It will be dicey and strategically unwise for MCA or MIC, or other component parties, to contest using the Umno logo. The truth is, PAS and Umno will forge a pact, but it makes sense for opposition parties to combine their strengths to generate an effective challenge against the ruling party. There is no need for a formal Umno-PAS coalition at the expense of the Barisan. And why just Muslim unity, and not Malaysian unity?

If the MCA and MIC were to leave Barisan, and leave things entirely to just Umno and PAS, it would create an unhealthy situation of a Malay-Muslim majority opposition pitted against a more diverse ruling coalition.

As much as MCA and MIC have lost its support from non-Malays, both parties need to remain in Barisan, strengthen multi-racial cooperation, promote diversity, work harder to regain support and create a more moderate political environment.

The MCA may only have one MP, but Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong has provided constructive criticism without using the thunder and lightning approach, an old school opposition method. And to be fair, Najib has posed basic questions to the government, and that’s what Malaysians want of opposition politicians. Fight on facts and figures, and issues.

Our founding fathers understood the importance of power sharing and the politics of consensus, and they understood that for Malaysia to move forward, all races must remain united and assured they have a place in our beloved country.

At a time when many nations with dominant ethnic groups have started to embrace diversity, and allowed their countries to become more plural, Malaysia must not be seen to regress, but to, instead, strengthen our multi-ethnicity and build on it as an asset.

Malaysia needs a two-party system of multi-racial coalitions, which fights for issues affecting the people, and there’s certainly no room for the divisive politics of race and religion anywhere in there.