In Malaysia Baharu, voters, politicians cling to familiar race politics of old

Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional flags line a road in Semenyih February 26, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional flags line a road in Semenyih February 26, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

COMMENTARY, Feb 27 — The result of the 14th general election showed Malaysians it was possible to change who is in charge of the federal government.

However, the months since have also shown that is about all which changes.

Laws change, policies change but the values and foundations that motivate them are still the same.

While it is early days yet for the Pakatan Harapan administration, it is palpable that the headiness of last May are nowhere near what is required to reform the country in any meaningful way.

Instead of abandoning communal politics, both sides now seem intent on racing headlong into this as they vie for the support of the country’s dominant ethnic community.

They go about it differently, of course, but the difference is between being subtle and obvious; the underlying message is the same.

Matters are not helped by the silos surrounding the major races in the country; silos formed by language, culture and norms and reinforced by the popularity of social media.

Malaysians are fond of their communal bubbles and the politicians are only too happy to oblige. I suppose, then, we are as much a part of the problem as we are the solution... if there is one.

For as long as we believe people like Barisan Nasional secretary-general Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz that only one community may hold positions of power in return for (really?) vernacular schools, then we will forever be held in their thrall.

I know full well this is a vapid platitude that is untenable in Malaysia today and that is the most frightening part. As insipid and naive as that is, there is not much else on sale.

So, Malaysia continues on this path with a new driver and a new logo, but the same destination.

I never grasped what Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr meant when he wrote that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It sounded paradoxical.

But now I suppose he was commenting on how revolutions are all just window dressing. There is a new name on the door but it is still very much business as usual.

I am not sure whether it is buyer’s remorse over the 14th general elections or a growing deflation of faith (along with the economy), but neither is being adequately addressed.

We as people abhor sudden upheavals no matter to what end, and cling to the familiar to try and make some sense of it all.

It is unfortunate, however, that the familiar is the ugliness and toxicity of communal politics.