Monday, November 24, 2008

Ketuanan Melayu rebutted


By Shanon Shah
shanonshah@thenutgraph.com
24 Nov 08 : 9.00AM

"IF you live in Malaysia, you cannot have Ketuanan Melayu. The word 'ketuanan' is alienating. Malaysia has Eurasians, Indonesians, Chinese, Indians, and so on. If anyone deserves to be called the 'tuan' of this land, it's the Orang Asli."

Most Malaysians would be forgiven for thinking that it was a non-Malay Malaysian politician speaking out against Ketuanan Melayu. But these sentiments were articulated by Nur Farina Noor Hashim, the People's Progressive Party (PPP) Puteri bureau head.

"I just had no interest to join Umno," Farina, who joined PPP in 2004, tells The Nut Graph. PPP is a component party of the Barisan Nasional (BN), of which Umno is the dominant party.

Farina is, of course, referring to the position taken by Umno leaders that suggests ketuanan Melayu is synonymous with Malay rights, and that Malay rights are under threat. Or rather, any questioning of ketuanan Melayu is tantamount to threatening the Malay race.

The consistent message from these Umno leaders of late seems to be that only Umno is capable of defending the Malays. Or that Umno is the Malay race. And their currency is ketuanan Melayu.

Farina is not the only Malay Malaysian politician to view with some amount of circumspection Umno's position as defender of the Malays and their supremacy.

"I love Malays and I love Malaysia," says Gerakan central committee member Dr Asharuddin Ahmad. "But this country cannot survive without non-Malays. We are all Malaysians. The future of Malaysia lies with multiracial parties," he tells The Nut Graph.

Interestingly, Asharuddin (photo right) is a former Umno member. He joined Umno in 1988, but left to join Gerakan 10 years later. He says he has been branded a traitor to Malay Malaysians, but asserts that joining Gerakan does not make him "any less Malay or more Malay".

"Umno's struggle is not wrong, but I prefer Gerakan's multiracial approach," Asharuddin says.

"Ketuanan" alienates

Umno leaders' defensiveness around the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric is not new. Their recent rancour in attacking dissenters within the BN, such as former Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and Gerakan Wanita chief Datuk Tan Lian Hoe, was therefore alarming yet unsurprising.

The question, however, is whether Malay Malaysian politicians have a future outside of Umno, especially if they want to remain within the BN.

In that sense, the case of Gerakan's Asharuddin is interesting, having crossed over from a party that champions ketuanan Melayu to a multiracial one.

But Asharuddin is not alone. Another ex-Umno member who jumped ship to join a multiracial BN component party is Datuk Nik Sapeia Nik Yusof from PPP.

Nik Sapeia was invited by party president Datuk Dr M Kayveas to join, even though he is still facing court proceedings for the charge of attacking former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2006. Nik Sapeia is now the party's Kelantan chief.

"Before I came along, nobody believed PPP had any supporters in Kelantan," Nik Sapeia tells The Nut Graph. "Now in Kelantan, every time I organise an event I get thousands of people attending and supporting it. The Kelantanese are ready and they want change to happen in the political scenario here."

He says the Kelantanese are increasingly seeing that PPP will bring about this much-needed change.

Asharuddin and Nik Sapeia are undoubtedly minorities among the BN's multiracial component parties. However, they are slowly coming out of the woodwork, especially since the BN's unprecedented losses in the 8 March 2008 general election.

Farina (photo right) feels that Umno's outbursts and threats will only backfire in the long run.

"Malaysians are very open-minded and intelligent now," she says. "Our politicians must be on par with the rakyat's intelligence, because it's the rakyat who want change and will eventually change this country."

Multiracial politics

The voices of these non-Umno Malay Malaysians within the BN join those in the Pakatan Rakyat that have also been upping the ante against Umno's ketuanan Melayu rhetoric.

As part of its election campaign, PAS launched its "PAS for all" tagline. The Islamist party also continues to aggressively recruit non-Muslim support via Kelab Penyokong PAS.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leaders, such as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Dr Syed Husin Ali, have been promoting "ketuanan rakyat" instead of "ketuanan Melayu". And the DAP also scored a coup when it recruited Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim as the party's vice-chairperson. He was formerly vice-chairperson of Transparency International's board of directors.

The Pakatan Rakyat parties are therefore, in varying degrees, grappling with their respective multiracial futures. The previously monoreligious, monoracial PAS is trying to appeal to a wider section of Malaysians. In an interview in the November 2008 issue of Off the Edge, even party spiritual advisor Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat said, "If there is a Chinese person in Kelantan who is good, pious and clean, I will campaign for him to become Chief Minister. As long as he is qualified, as long as he is a Muslim, I don't care what ethnic background he comes from."

The Chinese-dominated DAP is trying to increase its appeal to non-Chinese Malaysians, specifically Malay Malaysians. And high-level Malay Malaysian leaders in PKR are trying to consolidate the party's tentative multiracialism.

A little-known fact is that two other opposition parties, albeit non-Pakatan Rakyat members, are multiracial and led by Malay Malaysians. They, too, are vocal in their opposition to the Ketuanan Melayu rhetoric.

Historical miscalculations

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) national chairperson Dr Nasir Hashim (photo right) says Umno's racial outbursts are rooted in historical miscalculations.

"We made a mistake, even after Merdeka, when we were emerging as a nation. We should have talked about helping the poor among all races and not just zero in on one race," he tells The Nut Graph.

Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) president Hassan Karim concurs. He tells The Nut Graph: "The NEP (New Economic Policy), being capitalist and race-based, only benefited a minority of Malays. What about analysing it from a class perspective? Not all Chinese are rich either, you know. There cannot be ketuanan Melayu or ketuanan bukan Melayu. There must be justice for all."

According to PSM's Nasir, the implementation of the NEP which focused on one race soon gave currency to the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric. But he says ketuanan Melayu is just a red herring. "Name me one Malay who is a pure Malay. There is virtually none — all Malays are mixed-blood to some degree."

Rather, Umno's outbursts can be seen as the increasingly desperate acts of a party frustrated by its loss of power, he argues. "Umno is frustrated by its losses during the general election, and continues to use race and religion to divert the anger of poor Malays," adds Nasir.

"Because as so-called leaders of the Malays, Umno has failed. It has not even been able to help poor Malays and Malay entrepreneurs," he asserts. Therefore, the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric conveniently redirects the frustration and anger of disenfranchised Malay Malaysians towards other races. Herein lies the danger of Umno's rhetoric, says Nasir.

"In times of economic difficulty, the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric will likely give rise to fascist tendencies. When people are feeling the pinch and they are frustrated, you just need to cucuk them and then they'll meletup. Umno knows this only too well," he says.

Again, PRM's Hassan (left) concurs. "Ketuanan Melayu will destroy our country. I'm a Malay too, you know, but I believe that what Umno is fighting for is feudalistic. We cannot move forward if we follow Umno."

The Malay Malaysian leaders interviewed all say that interest in their respective parties, both in the BN and opposition, has risen since 8 March, especially among Malays.

It is definitely heartening that there is a diverse and growing number of Malay Malaysian political leaders speaking out against supremacist rhetoric and for an inclusive society. But it is even more encouraging that they are gaining support.

Perhaps this, then, is the most encouraging indicator yet that racial politics is losing currency in Malaysia.

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