Pro-Malay rhetoric, pls tamp it down

In the Dewan Rakyat this week, PAS president Hadi Awang issued a veiled threat that the current government should not point fingers at the Opposition should it collapse. Perhaps it was unintentional and said in the heat of the moment, but the possibility of a change of government merits attention.

In a raving rant against the federal government, Hadi (PN-Marang) said that should the government fall it would be because of its own inadequacy and weaknesses due to “the roof leaking, the doors are left ajar, and the walls are crumbling”.

What that meant nobody knows as he gave no indication of how a collapse would happen although, a few hours later, at a dialogue session organised by a book publisher, Hadi predicted that the Anwar Ibrahim-led government’s collapse was imminent.

By now, most discerning Malaysians dismiss Hadi’s statements as reflective of anachronistic Islam which most people can’t relate to except for his ardent followers who gave his party 42 seats in the Dewan Rakyat and which is a very good reason why a possible change of government should be taken seriously.

A new government can only be formed if GPS and GRS with 23 and 6 parliamentary seats respectively leave the unity government and join the opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN), which has 72 seats, which only gives it a total of 101 seats, and is insufficient to form a majority government. With PAS the dominant partner in PN, it is unlikely that the multi-religious GPS and GRS would join PN.

If there’s any truth in Hadi’s prediction, it can only imply that other MPs from other parties in the government will defect.

Such a possibility may be hatching behind the scenes and while it is not apparent, Hadi’s prediction signals discontent among the Malay-majority Opposition MPs and that should be taken note of.

The current so-called “unity” government has a comfortable two-thirds majority with 146 seats. But, a major flaw in this government is that it excludes the majority representation of the major race in the country, the Malays. For the first time in Malaysia’s short history, the Malays have lost their majority control of the government and are now in opposition.

While the majority of the Cabinet is made up of Malay ministers, statistics are lacking to prove that they represent the majority of Malays in the country. The only figure that seems undisputed is that 54% of the Malay vote went to PN in the last general election (GE15) and that is represented in the Opposition.

Malay discontent is understandable. And it may express itself by posturing and manoeuvring to reinstate the Malay majority in government and that is their right to do so. If the people want a change of government so that they are better represented in government that is their democratic right and should not be denied — as long as a change is effected constitutionally and not illegitimately like what Bersatu did with PAS’ and Umno’s help in 2020 and Umno did to collapse the PN government in 2021.

Any change of government by the will of the majority must be respected as long as it is done constitutionally. There’s no point in invoking the words of the constitutional monarch; in a parliamentary democracy, the will of the people supersedes. When a majority is formed, the constitutional monarch simply installs the representative government of the people and affirms their will.

In the current situation, a change of government is unlikely unless government MPs leave their parties triggering by-elections under the Anti-hopping Law and the seats are won by the opposition parties. It may take some time for enough MPs to switch sides and by then it may be time for the next general election.

Meanwhile, though, Malay-based parties can be expected to ride on the narrative that the majority race, the Malays, have lost control of the country and swing to an acutely pro-Malay position as former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has taken when he explained why he decided to join Putra.

Tun, of course, is appealing to Malay sentiments to justify his role in Putra. With all due respect, Tun needs to understand that that same strategy cost his former party, Pejuang, a disastrous outing in two elections, the Johor state elections and GE15.

If Tun plans to win seats for Putra, he will be entering a crowded field in the rural Malay voter base where the voters have clearly shown their preference for PN in GE15. Putra may win a few seats. But, if it differentiates from its competitors by seeking Malay rights while respecting the rights of minorities, it may appeal to those segments of rural Malay voters who are not ultra pro-Malay.

That message may also resonate well with the urban Malay voters who have peacefully co-existed with other races for decades.

Asserting Malay rights is a legitimate concern but turning it into a race issue may backfire on Tun’s efforts. He may need to modulate the pro-Malay rhetoric with a more accommodating stance on minority rights. Malay voters now may be more open to such a message rather than the traditionally alienating pro-Malay rhetoric. One will never know for sure until it is tested.

Malay parties, desiring to take control of the government, need to be careful not to go overboard with the pro-Malay rhetoric. They need non-Malay parties to form a majority government. A Malay-based-others-inclusive strategy is the best bet for a stable political future.


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