By Yin, Wad 5
In his keynote speech at the Malaysian Student Leaders Online Summit X1V organised by the UK and Eire Council for Malaysian Students, Anwar Ibrahim said that “Malaysia should move away from race-based parties to ensure justice and equality for everyone.” His address was titled “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
While the Leader of the Opposition has, since leaving UMNO, called for affirmative action to be based on needs and not race and alluded to a Malaysian Malaysia, this is the first time he has come out so openly and unambiguously on the subject.
It is worthwhile to note that Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the other Malay leaders have consistently called for and acted the opposite.
This should be cause for celebration, yet many with whom I shared the news were rather sceptical.
Anwar has been labelled the ‘great chameleon’ by some and called names I am ashamed to repeat.
To put it mildly, he has a credibility deficit.
This distrust of Anwar Ibrahim is not without substance. This is the man who insisted that Islamic Civilisation be taught in the foundation course for university students, the same man who harped on Islamic values like the other religions’ values do not matter. What’s wrong with universal values?
This is the man who (together with his UMNO cohorts) tried to force the proposed National Culture Act on the non-Malays. A piece of legislation that would have sidelined the cultures of non-Malays since the Act stipulates that the National Culture must be based on Malay, Islamic and Indigenous Cultures. This incurred the wrath of the non-Malays so much that MCA and MIC joined DAP in opposing it.
This is the same Anwar who was against vernacular language schools. And even less than a year ago this is the man who embraced Mazlee Malik, the ex-education minister who introduced khat and was so gung-ho on tahfiz schools. Anwar Ibrahim’s ABIM roots and suspected Muslim Brotherhood ties is a concern for non-Muslims.
To put it mildly, Anwar has baggage! I don’t blame the Anwar sceptics.
Other than Mohd Hashim bin Saaludin of Parti Rakyat and Mohd. Nasir Hashim (the immediate past president) of Parti Socialis Malaysia, Anwar is the only Malay leader post Merdeka who leads a multi-racial party. Of course there was Onn Jaafar of pre Merdeka Malaya.
Now Anwar Ibrahim is the first Malay leader of a major party who has openly called for the removal of race based parties – for an end to racial politics.
To nail this multi-racial colours to his mast could not have been easy, it takes courage. He will be open to jibes of “traitor” to his race from the extremist elements in the Malay community. His political enemies will grill him like satay and serve him up (innards and all) to the Red Shirts and various rabble elements who make up the support of the conservative, Malay nationalist politicians.
But is Anwar’s stand wholly motivated by his new-found distaste for racism? He is a seasoned politician he has done his sums, our Anwar.
The “Malays Only” franchises have been cornered by UMNO, PAS, PPBM and Mahathir’s Pejuang. It does not take an Einstein to realise that there is no room in the Malay heartland for a leader of a multi-racial party which is not 100% Malay Agenda focused.
The raison d’etre of these Malay parties is the defence of race and religion. Their narrative is that the Malays are the indigenes; however false that claim does not matter, but told over two generations it has become the ‘accepted truth’ to even intelligent Malays. To them Malaysia belongs only to the Malays and the others are only guests. To defend their position they need UMNO and all the other exclusively Malay parties including Mahathir’s newly minted Pejuang.
Without these parties to defend them, so the narrative goes, the non-Malays will take over and PKR has non-Malays and so cannot be trusted to defend Malay interests.
Anwar has been crowded out so to speak. He has no choice but to appeal to the broader population. But still, it is not easy for him to go against the popular tide of Malay nationalism and religious zealotry.
All this does not mean that Anwar Ibrahim does not genuinely believe in a Malaysia For All – free from racial policies.
I think Anwar Ibrahim’s current position is probably moulded by pragmatism as well as ideals.
I would like to think that the man has had an epiphany – he realises that a Malay Malaysia will not work; and it won’t work whatever the ultras try to tell the Malays. No country that is divided has ever succeeded or been peaceful, prosperous and progressive and that’s a historical fact.
We know about South Africa. We know about the USA which even after 300 years is still dealing with the problems of racial discrimination. Nearer home, Indonesia has decided to live up to its national motto: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity).
Today under an enlightened president, race is less of an issue in Indonesia than it is here and this considering the racial pogroms in the past.
The difference between Indonesia and us is; Joko Widodo is bent on creating a country which treats all its citizens without racial distinction. His policies are based on what is good for all Indonesians not just some.
With the exception of Tunku, the others have been a “Prime Minister for the Malays” first and then only for Malaysians.
Their racist policies divide the country, not unite it.
Anwar and Pakatan Harapan have their work cut out to convince the majority Malays that they will not lose out in a Malaysian Malaysia. It is not easy to convince the Malay masses that affirmative action based on needs will give the poor a bigger share of the cake which they deserve and not have it siphoned off by the rich and powerful Malays.
The message of social and economic justice is a convincing argument if PH can get it out into the kampongs and to the urban poor.
The Malaysian Malays have had sixty years of special privileges. Still it has not done the rural and urban poor much good.
Bumiputraism has made a few super rich; there is a bigger Malay middle class, but the majority of Malays have been left behind. These are facts Anwar has to drum into the Malays.
Changing a mindset conditioned for decades by race- based politics is not going to be easy but this is the Everest he has to climb.
But even before we come to all that, the question in many people’s mind is: Can we trust Anwar Ibrahim? Will he revert to form when the going gets tough. After all it is easier to peddle race and religion – emotive issues which resonate with the Malay rakyat.
No one can give you a straight anwer on that.
But if we can trust a self-confessed racist and the leader of a racially exclusive party to be prime minister why not the leader of a multi-racial party? If we can convince (I would say fool) ourselves that Mahathir is a changed man then why not Anwar?
If Anwar Ibrahim can shed his chameleon image and stick to his promise of non racial policies he has a chance.
After all, what choice have the voters? Either vote for parties comprising of thieves and racists or give PH’s promise of Bangsa Malaysia another chance. I am assuming it will be in their manifesto.
If we can give Mahathir a chance in GE14 – fooling ourselves that he has changed; giving Anwar a chance in GE15 is not such a big ask.
Should we support Anwar Ibrahim and Pakatan Harapan then?
Much depends on the consistency of his position. And on the credible manifesto he and his political allies can present to the people.
Everything else aside, GE15 is about whether we are a Malaysian Nation or a country only for Malays.
Anwar Ibrahim has to convince us he is for ALL Malaysians.
(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)