Quo Vadis Malaysia

By: Rozhan Othman

QuoVadisThere has been many doomsday predictions about the future of UMNO lately. Its own deputy president is now saying that if the general election is held today, BN will surely be defeated. Of course, not everyone, even those in Pakatan Rakyat, believes in such a dire prediction. Pakatan Rakyat is in no less of a mess. Some believe PAS will make sure that UMNO will remain in power. Regardless of which prediction one believes, an issue that is not addressed is what should be the new political equation that can take Malaysia out of its current quagmire and bring the country to the next level.

For the ultra Malays, at the core of their thinking is Malay interest. The notion of Malay interest is linked to the idea of “ketuanan Melayu”. For the ultra-conservative clergies in PAS, “ketuanan Melayu” is synonymous with “ketuanan Islam”. Thus, we see a convergence of interest of the ultra Malays and ultra- conservative clergies. Thus, the notion of “unity government” is about Malay-Islam unity. PAS has shown on a number of occasions before this that it is willing to go behind its Pakatan Rakyat partners to negotiate a separate deal with UMNO. It remains to be seen whether PAS will show the same infidelity later on in its relationship with UMNO.

A more fundamental question that must be asked is what is good for Malaysia? Will Malay unity based on an UMNO-PAS alliance be good for the country? Will it be enough to save this country? Putting it crudely, will an alliance of the most corrupt Malays with the most rigid and conservative Malays work? Can this help improve the fate of the country? The future government of this country needs two basic things to save it and take this to the next level. These are credibility and competence. These two Cs are needed to bring the country together and improve its institutions and economy. Will an UMNO-PAS alliance provide this? The best UMNO can offer will be the guy who earned a 3.85 CGPA during his MBA study. But judging by the comments in social media, he is now seen more like a national court jester. The brightest young leaders in PAS have mostly left it to become a part of GHB. The remaining young PAS leaders have not proven their mettle in Parliament. They’ve hardly said anything intelligent during Parliamentary debates. The sole competence they have shown is in berating GHB, DAP and PKR.

There will of course be strong support to an UMNO-PAS alliance from the likes of ISMA, PERKASA, PEKIDA, the Low Yatt rioters and a self-hating ultra histrionic Chinese lecturer-cum-preacher. But then again the basic question, does this collection of groupings and individuals offer Malaysia credible and competent leaders? Should the next government of Malaysia even want to be associated with such a mix of problematic supporters? Even George Bush Jr. was smart enough to shun from racist groups like the KKK.

Alliances work only when parties to the alliance are willing to compromise and agree on policies and agenda for the future. But it is not clear whether the ultra-conservative clergies in PAS have any policies or agenda for the future. In fact, their rhetoric suggests that they are a single agenda, or at best, a narrow agenda party. The problem with such an alliance partner is that they usually find making compromises difficult. Such a narrow agenda party has very limited degrees of freedom in negotiation. A party that brings 8 issues to negotiation will have more room to compromise compared to a party that brings only 2-3 issues to negotiation. The ultra-conservative clergies are more like the latter. In addition, PAS will be much weakened by the time of next general election. It will most probably lose non-Malay votes and some Malays that supported them before this may switch their support to GHB. PAS’s clout in the alliance will then be much reduced. The worst case scenario is that it will have as much clout as PPP had in BN.

An UMNO-PAS alliance will even more messy when seen in the context of BN. Suddenly, MCA and Gerakan will become bedfellows with the proponents of hudud. All their accusations that DAP condones hudud will now backfire and blow up in their face. And will MCA and Gerakan leaders find it comfortable rubbing elbows with a certain PAS leader who was detained under the ISA for his alleged involvement with Jemaah Islamiah and who had openly declared his sympathy for ISIL?

What then does Malaysia need to have for the future? To begin with, the future will very much depends on leaders who think about the interest of the whole country and not merely a specific ethnic group. Serving the interest of Malaysia will inevitably serve the interest the poor and underprivileged members of our society. Malay interest (in terms of helping the poor and marginalized) will still be protected. Of course, there is no need to protect Malay thieves whether they just stole smartphones or billions of ringgit. Fighting for “ketuanan Melayu” has become of a euphemism and is really more about serving the Malay elite and their non-Malay backers.

Malaysia also need to overcome its highly partisan political culture and embrace bi-partisanship that brings the best leaders from all parties into government. In some countries leaders from opposition parties are also included in the cabinet. Why can’t Malaysia have the best leaders? Why can’t Malaysia have a cabinet that includes Dato Saifuddin Abdullah along with Rafizi Ramli, Dato Saifuddin Nasution, Tony Puah, Dr Mujahid Rawa dan Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad in it? Wouldn’t this mix send a message of credibility and competence more than an UMNO-PAS alliance supported by the likes of ISMA, PERKASA, PEKIDA, the Low Yatt rioters and a self-hating ultra histrionic Chinese lecturer-cum-preacher? Would this start the healing process that is needed to make this country competitive again? Malaysia needs to unite all its people not just one ethnic group. The future of the Malays, and all marginalized communities depends on all Malaysian coming together to uplift this nation and all communities in it. As Ian Mitroff said it, power that is shared is power that grows.

Ironically enough, an early example of this form of political openness and inclusiveness can be found in the Madinah constitution during time of Prophet Muhammad pbuh. Muslims were actually the minority when the Prophet and his companions from Mekkah migrated to Madinah. The Madinah constitution was a covenant that included the Christians, Jews and idol worshippers who resided in Madinah. Article 26-35 of the constitution lists 8 Jewish tribes that are participants of the covenant. It is interesting that the constitution used the term “ummah wahidah” or “one nation” to refer to all the parties to the covenant. The Prophet himself reminded his companions to treat the others equally and to grant them all their rights. It is ironic that the Prophet established a political system that was inclusive that cut across religious and ethnic boundaries but some Muslims in Malaysia are turning more tribal and reclusive in their outlook. The Muslims in Madinah became strong not because they subjugated other communities. Instead, the Muslims treated them with respect and as equals. The non-Muslims reciprocated by joining in the defense of Madinah when polytheist army laid siege to it. There were some glitches in the relationship when 3 of the Jewish tribes betrayed the covenant. However, other non-Muslim communities, including the other Jewish tribes, remained faithful to the Madinah constitution. Perhaps it is time to revisit the spirit of the Madinah constitution to learn some lessons for the future of Malaysia.

Coming back to Malaysia, doing more of the same using the same old political equation and expecting a different result is definitely insanity. It takes a leader with a lot of imagination and moral courage to lead this paradigm shift. It should not matter where this leader comes from. If an UMNO leader appears and shows the willingness to take this step we should support him or her. Likewise, we should be prepared to accept a leader from outside UMNO who shows the moral courage to embrace and lead this paradigm shift. However, if the only equation leaders of this country can come up with is an unimaginative and recycled version of the post May 1969 equation that brought UMNO and PAS together under BN, we have little reason to be optimistic. Qua vadis Malaysia.