COMMENT by Kee Thuan Chye* (From Free Malaysia Today of March 29, 2010)
You would never dream of a former British prime minister opening a general meeting of the right-wing British National Front or the English Defence League, or a former US president (not even George W Bush) opening that of the supremacist group White Aryan Resistance. But things are different in Bolehland. Something like that took place last Saturday.
That was when Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia, earned himself a place in the Hall of Shame by officiating at the inaugural general meeting of Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa Negara (Perkasa).
To be sure, it was not unexpected. He was being consistent with his practice over the years – enhanced during the last two – of the principle of divide and rule. Endorsing the chauvinistic activism of Perkasa was something right up his street and he played his role with relish.
His son Mukhriz was there to provide support in the audience. However, as an Umno leader and deputy minister, how could he justify to the Malaysian people of all races his presence at the gathering? And what about Deputy Finance Minister Awang Adek Hussin and Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, the deputy chairman of the Election Commission, a civil servant in what is supposedly an impartial body?
Perkasa is anathema to progress; subscribing to it is to subscribe to a bleak future. What does it preach but narrow-minded concerns? What does it really champion? An old system that has seen Malaysia plunge into the abyss of corruption and rent-seeking, a system that has made the country unattractive to foreign investors, that perpetuates a mediocrity arising from affirmative action that has gone extreme and awry.
Mahathir used to pride himself as being a forward-thinking man; yet in his speech at the gathering, he asked Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the Umno leadership to listen to Perkasa and to return to the old ways of defending Malay rights. This is passé politics. Malaysia should be looking forward to multi-racialism and globalisation rather than be frozen in a time warp – and for whose benefit? Everyone suffers if we stagnate.
Even Malays talk of the need to reform affirmative action, chief among them Nazir Razak, Najib’s own brother and the boss of CIMB Group. In an interview with The Edge on March 15, he said, “I spent much of the 1990s listing companies and saw at close proximity arbitrary allocations of shares [made] to individuals in the name of the NEP. Many become rich or much richer overnight, and then we wonder why bumiputeras are not competitive.”
He advocates that the New Economic Model that Najib will unveil tomorrow must be “transparent and conducive to competition and market forces”. This would be the kind of thing Perkasa would object to strongly.
Mahathir of course won’t acknowledge it but opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s idea of an economic model that provides assistance based on need rather than race makes better sense. Why talk of protecting Malay privileges when it is only a small group of Malays who reap the rewards of such privileges?
Why fight for an NEP that benefits only a small group of Malays with the right connections and helps them succeed in business without really trying? According to Nazir, “Unfortunately, (these) few may be politically powerful and loud.” Is Perkasa in cahoots with them? If not, why serve their cause?
Ibrahim Ali's own speech at the gathering sounded like an Umno speech. He hit out at Anwar and blamed him for causing the problems faced by the Malay community. What problems, indeed? Does Ibrahim see as a problem the split in thinking between progressive Malays and the backward ones like him? That, surely, is not a problem? Is it wrong to want to move forward, to cast off the old beliefs that are a proven burden to the community and the country as a whole?
He hit out at DAP’s “Malaysian Malaysia” concept, of the DAP wanting to do away with the Malay rulers, of being against Islam and the Malays. That’s irresponsible talk. The objective of “Malaysian Malaysia” is to bring together all Malaysians to “enjoy justice, freedom, democracy and good governance”. How can that be objectionable? Must unity be exclusive to Malays? Why not extend it to the whole nation? How would that be detrimental to the Malay rulers, Islam and the Malay race?
On the whole, Ibrahim’s speech was full of bravado and nothing much else. He even warned political parties not to make an enemy of Perkasa because they would lose at the elections. And strangely, among the resolutions adopted at the gathering was one urging the government to retain the Internal Security Act, the infamous ISA. What has that to do with Malay rights?
The event itself was more theatre than politics. Mahathir was given a tengkolok to wear and a sash to adorn his torso, and bestowed with the ‘Bintang Pribumi Perkasa’ award. There was a silat performance. Ibrahim unsheathed a keris and kissed it, then waved it in the air to the cries of “Hidup Melayu!” An act that might have made Hishammuddin Hussein proud. There was also a performance by the Istana Budaya cultural troupe. If they are a government-sponsored troupe were they were hired as professionals or were their services offered gratis?
Should Perkasa be taken seriously? Or is it just a showcase of tribal emotionalism with more hype than substance? Right-wing groups have not been known to go very far – anywhere in the world. As long as they don’t create violence or cause harm to anyone, they should in a democratic space be allowed to vent their geram – and then be roundly rejected by sensible citizens. If Najib has any guts, he would make a strong statement against right-wing thinking and activism. He would staunchly stand by his 1Malaysia concept and make an unequivocal commitment to multiracialism.
The rest of us might well ask why “pribumi” features in Perkasa’s name. Ibrahim and his gang are not pribumi, surely? Do they represent the Orang Asli? As far as we all know, those are the real pribumi. Let’s not confuse the meaning of the term with that used in Indonesia. Here, we already have “bumiputera” so let’s stick with that. The Registrar of Societies should look into this.
And as for Mahathir, he should have known better than to associate himself with Perkasa. After this, what credibility is there left for us to still give the old man? He is obviously as misguided as Ibrahim by tribal emotionalism. Pathetic, indeed. Those non-Malays foolish enough to hold him in high esteem in the past would surely now be disabused of their foolishness.
DAP leader Lim Kit Siang puts it eloquently. “Mahathir has come full circle, from an ultra back again to an ultra (sic) – repudiating Bangsa Malaysia and Vision 2020 which he enunciated in 1991. This is the greatest tragedy.”
I have to disagree there. Tragedy, in the original Aristotelian sense, occurs only with tragic heroes who embody nobility and greatness in their character. Mahathir is nothing of the sort. A person who does what he does exudes neither nobility nor greatness. Consorting with enthnocentric right-wingers merely reduces him to puniness.
*Kee Thuan Chye is a dramatist, author and journalist. He is a contributor to Free Malaysia Today.