Malay politics, both sides now

(OPINION by Karim Raslan* in of December 24, 2009)

Politics, like human nature is dynamic. There are as many possibilities as there are players and predicting outcomes is a hazardous business.
However, Malay politics, at least tends to operate within certain parameters with practitioners switching between the middle ground and the extremist fringe.
All Malay politicians (including those from PKR) are faced with the same choices. How they perform in this respect is a measure of their suitability to lead the nation:
Do they flirt with racism, Islamic exclusivism and ethno-nationalism or do they move to the centre and adopt and practice a more genuinely 'Malaysian' rhetoric?
Do they ramp up fear and anxiety amongst the majority Malay community or do they build bridges that help lower racial tension?
In this context, the recent flurry of activity on both sides of the political spectrum has revealed a greater understanding from both Pakatan Rakyat and the Barisan Nasional of the need to secure the middle-ground.
As 2009 comes to a close we are experiencing a welcome return to moderation. This is a relief after the grotesque “cow's head demo” in Shah Alam earlier in the year. Indeed, the event and its aftermath revealed a frightening lack of principles at the very highest levels of Malaysian politics.
At the same time it's becoming clear that for both alliances the real enemy is within and not without. In certain cases, perfectly respectable Ministers or leaders display a total disregard for right and wrong.
Moreover, there are extremists on both sides of the spectrum, waiting patiently to destroy the growing moderate consensus.
Certainly, the administration's “transformation” initiatives (the NKRA's) are a positive sign and should be applauded. Still, I wish someone would explain to me why the Minister charged with the NKRA's should be stripped of Penang liaison post at this juncture? Does the humiliation of an ethnic Chinese leader serve the Barisan's agenda?
Meanwhile, Najib Razak is manfully trying to steer his alliance and more importantly, his party to the centre.
Still, the Barisan Nasional hovers between embracing reform and spitting in its face. Whilst the Prime Minister, recognizing the urgency in moving forward (Malaysia is fast drifting into a Zimbabwean funk according to the academic Aziz Bahri) many members of his Cabinet are resisting the inevitable. For them, reform is a zero-sum game - with the non-Malays winning and the Malays losing.
Indeed, the uproar over the BTN's courses revealed a telling fault-line with countless Ministers (predominantly from Umno) rejecting criticism of the agency out of hand. At the same juncture the narrowness of Budget vote underlines the arrogant laziness at the core of the long-ruling Barisan.
However, Malaysians need the Barisan Nasional to move back to the middle-ground. We need Umno to start leading (and thinking) for all Malaysians and not just the Malays.
While the Prime Minister - to my pleasant surprise - has got a sense of this greater responsibility - the same cannot be said of his colleagues. He stands alone and exposed as his party revels in its new-found and yet fragile confidence. Has Umno become more collegial or plural?
At the same, the Pakatan Rakyat has finally come to its senses. Personally, I remain deeply distrustful of Hadi Awang and his cohorts. I am more inclined to trust the Erdogan's in Pas.
Nonetheless, it would appear that Pas' flirtation with 'going-it-alone' appears to have died down, at least for now.
Similarly, Anwar Ibrahim has finally woken up to the importance of building his coalition block-by-block. Needless to say, the state of Selangor is where he will make his last pitch for the premiership.
Still, the recent convention was an impressive display of unity and purpose. Moreover the event was multiracial - something that the Barisan with its faltering component parties is currently unable to match.
There is nothing radical or unrealistic in Pakatan's manifesto. They are simply advocating that the country be run on common sense, good governance and equity- things we have sorely lacked recently. Pakatan knows that it has to start acting like an alternative Government and the policy framework is just a first step that ought to have been taken much earlier.
The Pakatan's seriousness is highly commendable. As I've stressed time and again: We need a strong opposition. We need them to hound and harass the Barisan. We need them to keep the Barisan honest and responsive to us, the people.
Indeed, the message from the Malaysian people is loud and clear: ladies and gentlemen of the Cabinet, serve us well - be honest and be fair and you'll be re-elected. Screw up and you'll be writing your memoirs.
In today's fast-moving society, politicians (from both sides of the spectrum) and especially those spouting hatred are totally expendable. Power is slowly returning to the people and it's time we reassert ourselves having been docile for so long.

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