Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Ghosts Of Malaysia

  • S Thayaparan
  • 8:39AM Jun 30, 2012

You realise that our mistrust of the future makes it hard to give up the past. - Chuck Palahniuk (Survivor)

COMMENT Here we go again. The central theme of my previous piece was how we as Malaysians willingly played Dr Mahathir Mohamad's race game and lost.

That's not surprising since the Umno house always wins. We are still playing the same game only this time, we have changed the rules. Prime Minister Najib Razak and MCA chief Dr Chua Soi Lek obviously have not caught on to this fact.

NONEI don't find either Najib's mendacious assurances to the Chinese community that the systemic racism faced by them is a fringe ideology and not mainstream Umno dogma or the predictable banal backlash by a certain section of the Chinese community, particularly newsworthy.

Perceptive observers would understand that race relations in Malaysia is solely defined by these two communities - Umnoputra and the Chinese community, while the Orang Asli, non-Umno Malays, Indian, et al, are merely ‘passengers' (or traitors in the case of non-Umno Malays) - a step-up from ‘pendatangs' I suppose.

Pointing out the inconsistencies in Najib's ‘reassurances' would be like shooting fish in a barrel but there are some insights to be gained from the rhetoric oozing forth from the regime with regards to the political reality of Malaysia.

"We don't intend to lose," Najib proclaims so sure of he of the democratic process in Malaysia, and seeing as how the numbers are constantly being manipulated I don't doubt him. But by ‘we' he doesn't really mean BN but Umno.

He warns the Chinese if they want to have a ‘voice' in the system, they should vote for MCA, never mind that having a voice hasn't halted the institutional racism that is the foundation of Umno policy or that he (and Umno) are supposed to represent every Malaysian regardless of race, or so they claim.

But the questions still remains, what would Umno do as far as communal expectations are concerned if their coalition partners lose?
Malays go at it alone

Well, the answer to that is simple. The hawks in Umno have already decided that a "Malay go at it alone" policy is the best strategy. No doubt buttressed by the corrupt coalitions from Sabah and Sarawak, Umno could theoretically hold on to power and wait the opposition out.

By maintaining control in the so-called ‘Malay heartland' by any means necessary, they hope to cut off Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim from the mainstream Malay polity. This, and of course the "flawed" electoral process, should keep the game going for some time even if by electoral attrition their influence wanes.

The so-called moderates realising the inevitable futility of this are chaotically coming up with other strategies.

The newish strategy of Najib echoing the Anwar refrain of government aid not being a zero-sum game and implying that BN, or at least his BN, is offering a class-based approach to problems even if BN is in theory a race-based political coalition, has been pretty limp going so far.

NONEThe only difference between him and Anwar is that unlike Anwar, who has been pretty consistent in his message to the various communities he is campaigning to (much to the dismay of his political opponents); Najib and his allies have one message for each community, which at least in this regard is consistent with the underlying ideology of their political pact.

This abrupt change of ideological rhetoric of Umno is hardly surprising. Former prime minister and Perkasa patron Dr Mahathir Mohamad claimed not too long ago at the Perkasa/Gertak ‘mega' rally that May 13 was in actuality a class-based conflict but of course his polemic was tinged with the usual ‘communist' undertones aimed at Anwar and the DAP.

The fact that the former premier could suggest such a thing at a supposed ‘race-based awakening' was amusing, but I reckon only to me.

But then again, nobody should be surprised with BN's ideological dissonance since Pakatan Rakyat itself is a bundle of barely suppressed ideological and religious impulses. Not that it matters of course.

Pakatan partisans have displayed a remarkable intolerance at challenging their own political dogma or even possible policies preferring instead to gorge on the daily financial scandals and the resultant shadow play arrests, which are fed to them by canny political operatives.

The opposition coalition has played the political game shrewdly but really Umno's incompetence is half the battle won. Pakatan's own financial and political scandals are dismissed by their supporters as inconsequential (compared to BN's) or as BN propaganda meant to destabilise the fragile coalition.

Modern-day slavery
Najib's latest "goody" - how I loathe that term - bag to taxi drivers is the latest state-sanctioned bribery that has blown up in Umno's face. Predictably Pakatan supporters have lapped this up gleefully pointing out the numerous cronycrats, who have benefitted from this system.

Taxi drivers as a possible voting block are awash with the muck that soils the system. Playing the system with price-fixing gangs, employing ‘foreigners' as proxy drivers, and the list goes on.

Najib's rather preposterous claim that the monopoly of private companies of taxi licences is a form of modern-day slavery is despicable but fits in nicely with PAS' ‘mahafiraun' narrative with regards to the citizen slavery to Umno.

If Najib really wants to wage a jihad on modern-day slavery here in Malaysia, he should personally look into the human trafficking of children, women and men who service the various industries - both legal and illegal - which contribute to the economy of this country and Umno coffers.

He should look at the ‘slave wages' earned by some in the Indian and Chinese community who have the added indignity of being denied citizenships for bureaucratic reasons. And then of course, there's the ‘Orang Asli problem'.

But all these very real issues are subsumed beneath the political one-upmanship that Umno seems to be losing in the cyber propaganda war and let's face it, Pakatan is unable to address for various reasons. All that is forthcoming are assurances that by winning federal power, they would be able to solve these ‘issues"' Exactly how they intend to do this is something we have to take on faith.

Faith. Something that Umno doesn't seem to realise is practically non-existent in a certain section of the voting public, which Umno is aggressively courting. Najib talks of "ghosts" which are being created out of the Lynas issue and he's right.

There has been very little objective discourse on the Lynas issue so far except appeals to emotion from both sides of the political divide. BN, of course, has got nothing to fall back on because decades of executive interference has left all the government institutions devoid of credibility staffed by cronycrats unable to command an iota of respect.

Pakatan, on the other hand, has had a field day turning this issue into their main environmental and safety (sic) issue in lieu of any substantive environmental policies of their own.

And good for them but bad for us in the long term if any issue will always been used as stakes in a political game because the alternative alliance that claims to be forward thinking and progressive always has the excuse that it is involved in a life and death struggle with their political opponents.

Najib's wingman

I'm not surprised that Umno has some sort of ‘reality distortion field' at work in Putrajaya but I'm surprised that it has affected Najib's wingman to the Chinese community, Chua Soi Lek.

Chua a shifty operator with a good work ethic - he would have done well during Tunku Abdul Rahman's tenure (sex scandal and all) - but seems to have really lost the plot.

His bare naked shilling for Umno has reached preposterous heights. His ‘counseling' of ‘not dwelling' on what happened in 60s and 70s to those youths is bizarre. I doubt most Chinese, or even most Malaysians, are even aware of what happened in the 60s or 70s. What they know of it is probably Umno propaganda or unofficial communal propaganda. I doubt they are up-to-date on the subaltern narratives that are excluded from the discourse.

NONENo. What they are dwelling on is what happened last year. Or last week or yesterday. What they are dwelling on is the murder of Teoh Beng Hock or the demonisation of a Malaysian politician like Lim Guan Eng who is a marked man simply because he is Chinese chief minister not sanctioned by Umno. They are dwelling on the numerous provocations by Umno outsourced thugs who the MCA is guilty by association with.

As I said we are playing the same game but we changed the rules. The main rule change is that the Chinese community doesn't care if they get representation in the cabinet because the MCA has been doing a piss poor job. They don't give a damn about the vigorous discussions behind ‘closed doors'. The communal issues that the MCA championed before is now in the purview of the DAP.

The MCA, unlike Umno, has nothing to fall back on. That's the problem with being a minority race-based party in a multiracial country. Of course, the existential crisis MCA is facing now will eventually be experienced by any minority race-based party. Thinking long-term has never been a strong suit of the Malaysian voting public.

Ghosts from the past haunt this election and every other election. We will never be able to exorcise them because we continue to play the same game.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.