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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Poison of "Unity" Government

The Poison of “Unity” Government
M. Bakri Musa



The two Malay political parties – UMNO and PAS – are battling each other to convince us that each is better than the other in advancing the “Malay agenda.” The two are like ageing fighters stuck with their same old tired moves. They are oblivious of the fact that we are fed up with their act; their lack of vigor and imaginative new strategies.
In a clumsy if not desperate attempt for new moves they concocted a ‘vision’ for a ‘unity’ government based on the two parties! Left unstated is the question: Unity for what and against whom?
I wish that they would expend their efforts on making our people competitive, and thus lifting us out of poverty. That is the most important Malay agenda today. Better yet, I would prefer that they just exit the ring and let others run the show for a change.
I fail to see how this ‘unity’ government would make Malays more competitive. The track record for UMNO is for all to see. Corruption is now rampant, as well as the erosion of the integrity of our institutions and the deepening polarization of Malaysians. The Melayu Baru (New Malay) of UMNO has now morphed into Melayu Barua (Malay scoundrels).
As for PAS, after decades of ruling Kelantan, the young still has to leave the state to seek a better life. The state is regularly plagued with such diseases as cholera. Tok Guru Nik Aziz may be pious and religious, with honesty and humility thrown in massive doses, but he is completely inept in running a modern state. Apparently his humility does not extend to his intellect for he has not seen fit to seek competent help in such ‘secular’ matters.


New Political Reality

UMNO and PAS are so used to fighting each other that they have forgotten what it is they are fighting for. While they are busy fighting each other, the world has passed them by. Today with the increasing plurality of the Malaysian electorate, securing the majority Malay votes would not necessary translate into political power, at least at the national level.
In a rare display of political wisdom, PAS recognized the need to reach beyond by, for example, fielding non-Malay candidates in the last election and establishing a new wing within the party for non-Muslims. However, whatever inroads the party may have made with non-Malays have since evaporated with its ill-conceived pursuit of a “unity government” with UMNO.
UMNO, a slow learner, has yet to recognize this new political reality. Thus it treats its non-Malay coalition partners in Barisan with undisguised contempt. UMNO leaders are quick to brandish their kerises, preferably dripped with ketchup for dramatic effect, at the slightest provocation.
Chauvinistic appeals of Ketuanan Melayu to win Malay votes might still work, but only regionally in Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, and Trengganu. Unfortunately those are not exactly the economic or power centers of the nation. In terms of population, landmass, and most importantly economic activities, the contributions of those states to the national total are at best miniscule.
The elements overrepresented in those states are poverty and the underdevelopment of the people, and the overwhelming majority of whom are, sadly, Malays. Oh, yes, combined those four states have nearly half (four out of nine) of the sultans. For some, that is a source of endless pride.
As for the much-vaunted Malay agenda or even Ketuanan Melayu, I am at a loss as to what exactly these Malay politicians are fighting for. If it is for retaining the Malay language, sultans and other key elements of Malay culture, including and especially Islam, those are already enshrined in our constitution. Even if non-Malays were to oppose that, there is not much that they could do about it. By themselves they could never secure the necessary two-third majority needed to amend the constitution.
The only way for non-Malays, or anyone else for that matter, to do away with those constitutional provisions would be to bribe Members of Parliament (Malays and non-Malays) to amend the constitution. Then just to be sure, also bribe the Senators and also the King and sultans so they too would agree with the changes.
The price tag would be cheap. The late Tun Ghaffar once suggested that for a few hundred million ringgit you could buy the entire UMNO Supreme Council. With a billion or two you could get the whole parliament and the Council of Rulers.
The colonial British secured the entire country for considerably much less, even after factoring in for inflation and devaluation (of both the sterling and ringgit). Flattery made up for what they could not afford in gold. The British offered fancy titles like the Knighthood of some Medieval Order to our leaders and sultans to win them over.
The corollary to my observation is that if we Malays truly wish to preserve our cherished special privileges, we better start electing honest and incorrupt leaders. Corrupt leaders would not only sell off those special privileges, they will also sell away our country.


Unity for What and Against Whom?

Following the Barisan election rout of March 8, 2008, the fear that the coalition, specifically UMNO, would lose power at the national level was palpable. This desperation led misguided souls in UMNO to seek those in PAS who had been longing for power. This quest for a ‘unity government’ was nothing more than UMNO securing an insurance policy for its continuing hold on power; for PAS, it was a seductive teasing on the taste of power.
It is ironic that the pursuit of a “unity government” resulted only in sowing distrust within the existing coalitions. In pursuing PAS, UMNO succeeded only in straining relations with its long-time Barisan partners. PAS meanwhile managed only to poison its still frail Pakatan Rakyat coalition with PKR and DAP. Worse, as we are now seeing, it also threatens the unity of PAS.
The proponents for this “unity government” have obviously not done their due diligence or any downstream analysis. Those UMNO warlords would not take kindly to sharing their bounty with their new kopiah-clad upstart colleagues. Far from ‘purifying’ UMNO, PAS would end up being just as corrupt as UMNO.
It is remarkable that both Tun Mahathir and Tok Guru Nik Aziz are against the idea. I do not know their individual motives, but the fact they are both in rare agreement should serve as a cautionary note.
If the disintegration of UMNO and PAS were the consequence of this “unity” movement, I could not care less. However, the initiative would poison race relations in the country on a scale comparable to the May 1969 tragedy. Indeed the venom has already seeped out. That should concern everyone.
This “unity government” scheme is nothing more than a crude and greedy power-grab by the UMNO and PAS pair. It is not to be confused with Tun Razak’s version following the May 1969 tragedy. Then it was truly a unity initiative, with the wise Tun opening up the old Alliance coalition to all willing participants.
This latest scheme is the ugliest manifestation of Malay ultra chauvinism. It would lead not to unity but greater polarizations among Malays as well as between Malays and non-Malays, and at a time when we can least afford it.
Even if UMNO were to merge with PAS, the new coalition would still never command a two-third majority in Parliament. At last count, even if every Member of Parliament with a Malay-sounding name were to vote in “unity,” that would still fall far short of a supra majority needed to amend the constitution. The political calculus has changed irreversibly.
The central reality is that Malays will have to advance with and not at the expense of non-Malay Malaysians. Likewise, non-Malays would advance along with and not at the expense of Malays. The unity that we should all strive for must not only be among Malays but also among Malaysians. We can begin that process not by pursuing a “unity government” but decreasing the rhetoric that polarizes our society. Demanding that our political leaders be civil and courteous to each other would be an excellent beginning. Oh yes, please also keep those kerises sheathed!
It amuses me that the most vigorous proponents of this “unity government” in UMNO and PAS are also the shrillest and most divisive voices before they discovered this ‘unity’ religion.


A New Direction For Malays

Instead of wasting time and effort in chasing the mirage of Malay ‘unity’ and in the process unnecessarily alienating others, Malay leaders should focus on the more difficult and critical problem of enhancing Malay competitiveness. This problem cannot be solved simply by shouting slogans of Malay unity or Ketuanan Melayu. Instead we need leaders who are smart, competent, diligent, and above all, not corrupt.
Look at the schools Malay children attend. How can we expect them to learn English or science when we do not provide them with competent teachers? Examine the institutions run predominantly by Malays, the civil service for example. As Malays we should be ashamed of this. We need these institutions to be effective as they are a key to making Malays competitive.
The list is endless. What is limited, and severely so, is the willingness to acknowledge, let alone solve them. I have yet to hear something sensible from either PAS or UMNO leaders. So far PAS wants Malays not to learn English and to ban Sisters in Islam. Well, that is an advancement of sorts; at least they are not harping on hudud. As for UMNO leaders, they cannot even decide whether to continue teaching science and mathematics in English.
Malay leaders should not be deluding the masses with half-baked ideas of “Malay unity.” These leaders succeed only in deluding themselves.

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