From now on, it’s a Malay vs Malay contest

― Ooi Kee Beng
The Malaysian Insider
Dec 05, 2012

DEC 5 ― As Umno general assemblies go, the one held last week was rather tame in its rhetoric. It was certainly memorable for its lack of vitriolic language.

And it was expectedly so ― therein lies its significance.

Things were quite different back in the days before 2008, when ethnocentric exhortations were run of the mill, and Umno Youth was the amplifier of racial extremist voices. This year, showing party unity was the order of the day.

Much of the credit must go to the fact that Malaysia today has a surprisingly stable two-party system in place. As we know, such a competitive structure has a strong moderating effect on extremist voices, be they racial or religious. After all, gaining the middle ground is how electoral victories are won.

The fact that the incumbent prime minister, Najib Razak, reportedly cited ― as a warning to his followers ― significant errors made by Republican challenger Mitt Romney in his defeat at the hands of United States President Barack Obama, tells us that even at the highest level, the possibility of the hitherto invincible Umno being toppled is being taken seriously.

Indeed, the bipolar Obama-Romney battle is being reflected in the clash between Najib and Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the opposition.

What this actually reveals is the most important point that anyone can make today about the dramatic changes that have been taking place in Malaysian politics, not only over the last five years but also over the last decade and a half.

Opposition forces within the Malay community have come of age. That is the fundamental difference. We are witnessing a Malay-Malay battle.

Despite the rhetoric, the Malay community ― perhaps because of its increased relative size, its comparative youth, its growing urbanity or its heightened educational level ― is showing a political confidence it did not have before.

Its questioning of Umno’s claim to being the only plausible champion of their interests as a community ― in fact, questioning the limitations of communal politicking ― is an expression of that very maturity.

One Malay leader is pitted against another Malay leader, and each is backed by an assortment of non-Malays. Such a situation, strangely enough, does not encourage racial or religious politics. This goes for Umno as well as the Islamist opposition, PAS.

Instead, the new issues are about wealth distribution and governance, not those of race against race, or religion against religion.

Now, issues of governance are not simple things.

They are comprehensive, covering difficult matters such as cronyism, corruption, rule of law, the state of the civil service and the electoral system, among others.

What all this boils down to once elections come around is: Who will be the next prime minister of Malaysia, Najib or Anwar?

Abdullah Badawi was replaced by Najib in April 2009 in punishment for letting so much support for Barisan Nasional slip away. Najib’s job, therefore, is to win back that support. To his mind, the best way to do that is to continue with the reform agenda (he has preferred the term “transformation”).

However, should support for his coalition not rise markedly in the coming elections, there is a real risk that he will be replaced in his turn.

But why this sudden wish for reform and transformation on BN’s part?

No doubt, Anwar has a lot to do with it. He was after all the man behind the pivotal Reformasi movement that started in 1998 after his sacking by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

But the fact that Abdullah’s impressive electoral victory in 2004 could not bury that movement for good tells us that the forces pushing for change have deep roots in society, and in the times.

What Anwar managed to do after his release from prison in 2005 was to become a bridge for the major opposition parties on the one hand, and a lightning rod for general social discontent on the other.

And so, although at one level, the fight is between two Malay leaders, the election, whichever way it goes, is at a deeper level about how governance in Malaysia is to develop ― how Malaysia is to develop ― in the coming years.

And within that equation, the role of East Malaysia will increase since both coalitions will be fighting to win votes there. Since the racial and religious ― not to mention political ― conditions in Sabah and Sarawak are so markedly different from those found in West Malaysia, the heightened significance of these states is bound to transform the socio-political situation.

Predicting Malaysia’s political future has become a much harder gambit. ― Today

  1. #1 by Dipoh Bous on Wednesday, 5 December 2012 - 4:51 pm

    As I see it, GE13 will definitely be the end of NR reign as PM as it’s very unlikely that he can achieve the needed 2/3 majority to guarantee his premiership is safe. He will be forced to hand over to the no.2 now.

    Now, do we want that to happen? Lets hope Malaysians are not going to let that happen by voting PR to power. NR will be more than thankful if that happens as he doesn’t need to vacate his throne like his predecessor…

  2. #2 by monsterball on Wednesday, 5 December 2012 - 5:52 pm

    No will be Malays Vs Malays for the 13th GE..and Najib knows majority Malays hates him…thus delay the 13th GE to enjoy false hopes..false tittle…as long as he can.
    He has no will power to face the music.

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 5 December 2012 - 6:18 pm

    Exactamente! This is why Mahathir is no statesman and no true Malay because he was most privilleged enough to have seen it coming a mile away.

    It was inevitable that the Malays threw away the yoke of feudalism given how open our economy was and the best and brightest took their education in the West. UMNO/BN feudalistic organisational structure had to change sooner or later and even Mahathir himself warned for a long time that corruption would be UMNO’s downfall.

    Yet Mahathir did nothing before or after he left office. Badawi tried to do something and instead of supporting him, he was more concern about HIS business & his cronies interest and competing with the new cronies. Najib came into power and made sure not to compete with him and his cronies BUT Mahathir also did nothing..

    When the NEP was conceived, it was always suppose to be temporary because it was always known to be corrupting and even today, no one dare say its NOT suppose to be. At best those that think its suppose to go on forever relabeled/reclassified it to mean “Malay rights” or other wishful thinking..

    With the internet and the democratisation of education AND travel, the UMNO feudal structure end is in sight. A RESPONSIBLE and CAPABLE PARTY would have gotten GET AHEAD OF THE CURVE AND RE-INVENT THEMSELVES instead of trying to keep the old structure for as long as possible..The OLD UMNO – the one created by Tunku WOULD HAVE GOTTEN AHEAD OF THE CURVE – all over the place those that remember what the old UMNO was like SakMongkol find it unbelievable that their old party can’t do it anymore.

    But of course, the UMNO today is UMNO B, not the old ones also known as UMNO A that would have adapted and get ahead of the change.

    If one was a true Malay leader, the excuse that many or even majority still support this UMNO B, is NO REASON to continue, no reason NOT to get ahead of the curve. Their responsibility it THEIR FUTURE. The future THAT MUST BE AND WILL BE whether they chose to or not..

  4. #4 by cseng on Thursday, 6 December 2012 - 11:49 am

    Malay vs Malay contest – that is Mahathir’s term.

    Why it was not about contest of “informed vs uninformed voter contest” or “care vs careless voter contest”.

    Even PAS’s Mat Sabu say ‘give us RTM air time, tomorrow Umno is done!”.

    Malay just being in majority of population, their common identity – Malay & Muslim (race & religion) being exploit to be part of political tools, all because of ‘majority’.

    To Umno ‘democracy’ is everything about winning is everything, hence the ‘majority’.

    Malay have to see it thru.. that is the burden of ‘majority’ in Malaysia.

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