By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
It has not been smooth sailing ever since the 13th General Election in March 2013 when the ruling coalition found, to its utter dismay, that it had lost its two-thirds majority for the second time running. The first time in 2008 had analysts terming it a lucky fluke for the Opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat. Normalcy would again prevail, they insisted, once newly-minted Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak got his act together.
But what a drubbing it was! Barisan Nasional, dominated by United Malay National Organisation (Umno), which has been in power since Independence Day on August 31, 1957, not only lost its majority in parliament but nearly 51 percent of voters picked the Opposition leaving them with only 47 per cent of the popular vote. The election was Barisan Nasional’s worst ever showing, outmatching the 1969 elections, which triggered the May 13 riots.
Despite winning the popular vote and making gains in the number of parliamentary seats, Pakatan Rakyat failed to win a majority to form the government. For state legislative assembly elections, Barisan Nasional won 9 out of 12 states, including Kedah and Perak, which were won by Pakatan Rakyat in the 2008 elections.
Najib blamed the Chinese for the “defeat” although the ruling coalition, based on “first-past-the-post” (winner-takes-all) electoral system, got to form the government. The party who won the most parliamentary seats rules the roost, pure and simple. Had Malaysia adopted the American electoral system, Pakatan Rakyat would have won, hands down.
The uneasy relationship between political parties and the ongoing financial crisis besieging the ruling coalition did little to cool tempers. Malaysians have had enough of the way they have been “hoodwinked” into believing that Prime Minister Najib would institute reforms upon assuming the premiership in 2009. Instead of mending fences and making good his promises, Najib blamed the Chinese for Barisan Nasional’s poor showing. He attributed it to the “Chinese tsunami” failing to realise a good number of Malays, especially those in urban areas, were equally responsible.
So the Chinese become a convenient “tool of distraction or destruction” (whichever way you see it fits) to rally the Malays behind Umno. The fear is rather entrenched in the Malay minds and will find traction in the naïve ones who are not into racial interaction like their urban cousins. Remarks such as, “if the Chinese takeover Malays will be sidelined” and “see how the Malays in Singapore are being treated”, make the rounds. There is a common understanding among the Malays that the Chinese are the bogeymen, notwithstanding that the word derives from the notorious Bugis pirates who once ruled the Sulu Sea.
To exacerbate the fear, the Bersih rallies (yellow-shirt) have been associated with the Chinese. Thus the red-shirt “Himpunan Maruah Melayu” rally on September 16 was therefore justified.
The dichotomy of two differing cultures, although cemented by years of interaction, will rupture unless cool heads prevail. But the inevitable will happen when harping on communal and religious issues becomes the norm among Umno politicians.
The premier has gone on record proclaiming that Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country that practices religious tolerance and moderation when in actual fact it is the opposite. Perhaps in this fast-changing political landscape survival and relevance have become the numero uno mantra. The loss of faith among Malaysians in a leader who is tainted by scandals is the underlining reason for this “perception deficit disorder”.
Am I still optimistic of Malaysia’s survival on the whole? I have been asked this question several times. My answer has always been positive. Yes, the elusive dream of a great Malaysia is still achievable. A social experiment by three university students recently not only gives me hope but inspiration as well. The moving scene of these three undergrads standing by street corners with a handwritten sign, “Saya Bangsa Malaysia. Malaysian First. Hug or give a high five, if you agree” says it all. Passers-by were amused initially but gave the trio a hug upon realising their noble intention. I am truly touched by their gestures.
Malaysians can care for themselves without interference from politicians who are bankrupt of ideas as how to manage this bountiful country. This is not a lost cause yet.