2020 — a good year? It depends …

Naturally, because it is a new year, people are hopeful that it will be better than the last. Looking at the current political state of the country, I have to burst the bubble of hope; I am inclined to think that politics will go on as it is happening now. The political climate will not get better — unless, the way I see it, three underlying issues are urgently addressed.

The first issue is Malay polemics. The fight for Malay votes intensified after the 14th General Election (GE14) when minority Malay parties formed the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition with other minority parties and won GE14. However, the majority of the Malay votes remained with Umno. Hence, the rise of Malay polemics again aimed at getting the support of the majority of the Malays who are now in the opposition.

The reason for Malay polemics can be understood, but the way it is being carried out is detrimental not only to race relations but also to the Malays themselves.

One of the premises of Malay polemics is that non-Malays should not aggravate the Malays. Even when non-Malays are merely exercising their constitutional rights, they should back down or away if their actions “upset” the Malays. This was the case with the Dong Zong Chinese education group which was opposed to the introduction of Jawi in vernacular schools. Dong Zong wanted to hold a closed conference to discuss the issue but it was called off when the police got a court order to stop them.

It was Dong Zong’s constitutional right to assemble but some Malay groups found it provoking and threatened to attend the conference in protest, which is nothing short of intimidation and bullying. The police saw in the scenario a “breach of security” and obtained a court order to supposedly prevent it.

Clearly, the Malay groups were in the wrong but they got away with it while Dong Zong was prevented from exercising its constitutional right to assemble. This is an example of Malay polemics: Malays can do wrong and get away it because they are Malays.

What is troubling about this mentality is that Malay leaders exploit it to make themselves seen as being Malay in the hope that the Malays would swing their support to their party. For example, if the Prime Minister had not said that the “Malays would react in the way they do” if Dong Zong held the conference, would the Malay NGOs have reacted in the way they did? He made that statement and Malay NGOs got the green light to give vent to their bullying strategies. The result? Racial tension.

The basic assumption in Malay polemics, thus, is that the Malays are irrational and emotional people who at best will react by protesting and making police reports and at worst go amok when non-Malays legitimately exercise their rights.

The tensions between the Malay groups and Dong Zong would have disappeared if both sides had just sat down and discussed their differences. That could not have happened because the Malay groups — apart from claiming “this is a Malay world”, they (Dong Zong) are “dangerous” and “insolent” — gave no solid reason or logical explanation as to why three-pages of Jawi was necessary in schools. There was no rational explanation, just a lot of hot air and threats.

Malay leaders should discourage such emotional outbursts from Malays and, instead, encourage intelligent, rational discourse. It will take time to develop such a mentality but it can only be nurtured when Malay leaders stop exploiting Malay weaknesses in order to get votes.

The second underlying issue is the 8th prime minister. As was the GE14 deal, Anwar Ibrahim, as president of the largest Malay party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat/PKR) in the PH coalition, will become the next prime minister. However, the more important question is whether the 8th prime minister will be able to lead the PH as it is to win the 15th general elections?

If Anwar can only win the elections by making deals with the opposition Malay-based party which is Umno, it would not indicate if he has the support of the majority of Malays. The support of the majority of the Malays is crucial to win the next general elections.

PKR needs to take a good look at itself to see if it can legitimately win the support of semi-urban and rural Malays without making backdoor deals with Umno leaders to form a government after the 15th general elections. If, for whatever reason, it can not field its candidates for election in Malay-majority constituencies and win, it needs to demonstrate the moral fibre in doing the right thing.

What the “right thing” is is what PKR needs to discuss and come to terms with.

The third underlying issue is minority interests. The current government strategy is to help the dominant majority group, namely the Malays, and in the process minority groups are also helped. That’s a good strategy. But there are specific minority concerns that need to be addressed urgently as promised in GE14. The PH government needs to act decisively to resolve these minority issues even at the risk of “upsetting” the Malays. The latter is only temporary. When these minority issues are resolved, race relations will improve and this will attract more investments which will boost the economy and all will benefit and the most who will benefit will be the Malays.

So, my prediction for 2020 is this: If Malay leaders stop exploiting Malay shortcomings, if Anwar and PKR will do the right thing and if special minority interests are immediately addressed, the breakthroughs will follow to thrust us peacefully on a clear highway to developed nation status.

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