By Zaid Ibrahim
Looking at the divisive and unstable scenario in the country today, whether in politics, race relations or religious tensions, I believe the nation is rushing headlong into a downward spiral.
We already have a Barisan Nasional weakened by the withdrawal of the MCA from the Government. At the moment there is a real possibility of an alliance between right-wing forces in UMNO (those who share the thinking of the Utusan) and PAS (those who call themselves ulama) getting together to undermine the Prime Minister. The Islamic bureaucrats are flexing their muscles churning a plethora of fatwa’s that will affect the daily lives of all Malaysians. The latest fatwa to curb the activities of the Shiah smacks of rising Muslim divide that’s worrying if what happened in the Middle East and Pakistan are anything to go by.
The Opposition under Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim has refused to accept the Prime Minister’s invitation to start building a process of reconciliation. Instead, the Pakatan Rakyat insists that the General Election results were totally fraudulent and that it is therefore impossible to accept the Prime Minister’s offer of peace talks.
There is little prospect, at this rate, of our nation evolving into a stable, harmonious and united country. Even the possibility of peace and stability looks dim and remote in the long term. Emotions are running high on both sides of the political and religious divides, which is inevitable when religion and race become both conflated and contentious. It is indeed a difficult task for anyone, including the Prime Minister, to deal with effectively.
Like many people, my first reaction was to blame the Prime Minister for not being able to deal with the rising extremism – after all, he is the Numero Uno. In fact, many people have accused him of being behind the racial and religious posturing of elements within his own party, which is then reciprocated by non-Malays who are fed up with the ridicule and taunting.
I do not think the Prime Minister is so diabolical and Machiavellian in his ways to support moves that will destroy the very reforms he has initiated.
Suppose that he is not, after all, as powerful as we think. Suppose he is trying his best to work within a system which, of course, he has been partly responsible for creating. Suppose the UMNO propaganda machinery of the Biro Tata Negara and Utusan Malaysia has been effective and has grown to be a monster that the Prime Minister now finds difficult to control or manage. What if a large segment of the Malays have now embraced the values of the right wing in both Umno and Pas?
If all these suppositions are true, then the Prime Minister will need help. In the face of the goings-on in this country, and in the face of the position taken by the Opposition in refusing to engage with the Government, what are people like you and me to do? We could try – and we did try – to change the Government by voting for the Opposition at the last General Election. At the time, spirits were high and the mood was right for “people power”.
The Opposition once again looks incapable of taking power at the next elections. The Ulama in Pas will certainly not accept Anwar as Prime Minister; nor will they accept Mat Sabu and gang. This division within Pakatan they have shielded from the Rakyat effectively for now but that will come out in the open soon. The defeat of younger more progressive Pas leaders like Mat Sabu in the last general election is proof of this split. The coming muktamar or general meeting in October will show us how deep the split in Pas with the real possibility that the right wing Ulama group will come out stronger.
In fact I think this new enthusiasm to curb the spread of Shiah is an attempt to curb the more progressive forces in Pas; it’s a political consideration and not a religious one; which then explains why even Dr Mahathir and Son have become suddenly interested in the matter. They are now serious advocates to ban the Shiah activities. Even with a cleaner electoral list – as long as the Opposition are divided; and as long as Malaysians are divided along ethnic and religious lines, and as long as the BN can give generous cash handouts, the BN will win again and again.
I have been a harsh critic of the Prime Minister for a while now simply because I wanted him to be strong and decisive on the major issues facing the country. At the same time, people like me should temper our expectations. He is Prime Minister in the internet age; not like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who could hide many things from the people. Also Najib will neither imprison his opponents nor launch another Operasi Lalang or something as drastic and cruel to curb his opponents.
He has a different kind of personality. He will still award contracts to certain people the way Tun Dr Mahathir did, but at least he has a detailed transformational plan for the economy. His weakest point is his inability to curb corruption but he is building the economy. He thinks about moving the country forward. He has repealed certain repressive laws. He even brought a Hindu rights activist into the Government despite opposition from MIC.
He wanted the implementation of Key Performance Indices in the Government and a system to measure the progress of his economic plans. He has taken in capable personalities like Dato’ Sri Idris Jala and Dato’ Seri Abdul Wahid Omar as his “backroom boys”, and his transformational plans are working albeit somewhat slowly. In short, he is pushing forward – not on all fronts but at least on the economy.
His seriousness to transform the economy suggest that he is not in cahoots with the right wing forces; and although not the kind of leader who expresses his political beliefs explicitly I am inclined to put him in the neo liberal camp. He will not align himself with the conservatives. You must not judge him by the performance of his buddy the Home Minister Zahid Hamidi. They are just playing good cop – bad cop for the purpose of the forthcoming General Assembly. Zahid’s hardline stance will be good for Najib to show the delegates that within his camp there are right wingers too!
This is why we must hope the Prime Minister’s efforts to transform the economy will succeed. Economic transformation is perhaps the only solution for our racially – and religiously-divided country. If economic change and transformation were the key components responsible for the rejection of hardline Communism and central planning in Russia and China, it can also end our country’s obsession with racial bigotry and religious fundamentalism.
It was the growing economic opportunities for African-Americans in the 1960s and 70s that helped the civil rights movement in America achieve its goals – more so than street demonstrations. India could not shake itself free of Nehru’s romance with socialism nor could it rid itself of the debilitating effects of the caste system, corruption and bureaucracy until Atal Bihari Vajpayee undertook economic reforms to give life to the Indian nation as never before, and Manmohan Singh has borne the torch with great success to this day.
My point is this: the only way we can reduce racial polarisation and religious extremism from taking deeper root is to transform the economy and improve the quality of life of the people of this country. Nothing unites the country more than creating enough wealth and jobs for everyone to share. Nothing breaks bigotry and prejudice better than a prosperous community.
Although this economic transformation will take time, we have no other option available. Let us support the Prime Minister in his economic plans.
Datuk Zaid’s voice of reason appeared originally in his blog yesterday ‘Mr Prime Minister – What will you do?
Dark days ahead
By Zaid Ibrahim
The ongoing attacks on the Chinese by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the powerful bloggers who are allied to him are picking up the pace. Although the Malays and the Chinese are not yet at war with each other, don’t be too hopeful that such deliberate mischief will just fade away without consequences to the state of race relations in the country.
This development reminds me of Russia’s infamous leader Joseph Stalin and the false accusations he made against the Crimean Tartars 90 years ago. Stalin justified their forced deportation from Crimea during the Second World War because they were supposedly aiding Germany, Russia’s wartime enemy.
Stalin conveniently forgot that Crimea was then being occupied by both Russia and Germany, and naturally the occupying forces had forced the Tartars to enroll in their respective armies in the war effort. Only a few thousands joined the Germans while more than 30,000 joined the Russian Army.
It did not matter to Stalin that the Tartars were forced to take sides. He ordered their immediate deportation, which saw some 300,000 men, women and children bundled into trucks and trains to Central Asia. Almost half of them perished along the way, which was deemed to be fitting punishment for their supposedly traitorous behaviour.
Leaders who are evil and cruel do not rely on the facts of history—neither do they care to understand the underlying reasons why people act in a certain way. Such leaders only want excuses with which they can justify their actions.
Hitler blamed the Jews for many of Germany’s problems, although it was ridiculous to blame one group of people for the problems of the Weimar Republic. His obsession with the purity of the Aryan race had no basis in science and was not justified on any moral grounds, but he persisted with this mad idea of eliminating the Jews nonetheless. Evil leaders are like that. They are beyond comprehension, are more interested in causing harm and destruction and are moved to act in ways that are devoid of morality or common sense.
So I will not try to understand the thinking or reasons behind Dr Mahathir’s attacks on the Chinese.
At the same time, the dangers of this new development must be taken seriously by the people of this country. We cannot afford to view the dangers posed by this kind of hate speech lightly. It would be tragic if right-thinking Malaysians failed to do something together to show the world that we reject this attempt to instill hate and fear among the various races. Malaysians must remain united and steadfast in rejecting racial hatred.
I am also surprised that Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his Press conference this morning did not see fit to condemn the observations made by his former boss or to reject such views.
Although Dr Mahathir is not in the Government anymore, he is still in Umno and should be more responsible in what he says. At the moment ethnic rivalries are just too sensitive for national leaders to ignore.
It is important that the Malay leaders in the Pakatan Rakyat show some solidarity with the DAP, and not just leave it to Lim Kit Siang to fend off the attacks on behalf of the Chinese community. Solidarity in the PR must transcend helping each another during the General Election—it must embrace defending the core values of our people.
If Dr Mahathir is using these hysterics to galvanise his forces for the upcoming Umno General Assembly, he is wasting his time. Umno leaders may be persuaded to be angry with the Chinese but they will not abandon Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Self interests and self preservation hold sway deep in the recesses of the Umno mind, now and forever. Party members know that Najib will win regardless how much bad blood is poured into the arena, and they know that Najib is adept at taking care of them, just like he did with the electorate during the General Election.
In any event, the more hawkish the right-wing elements become, the more reasonable Najib and his team will appear. I believe the majority of Umno members will go with the moderate views of the Prime Minister. The country will not be governable any other way.
The above article by Datuk Zaid first appeared in The Malaysian Insider (29 July 2013)