One year in, Dr M concedes Pakatan govt still walking on ethno-religious eggshells

Anti-ICERD rally-goers march from Sogo to Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur December 8, 2018. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Anti-ICERD rally-goers march from Sogo to Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur December 8, 2018. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

PUTRAJAYA, May 8 — Pakatan Harapan (PH) still must tread lightly when it comes to ethnic and religious issues despite already being in power for a year, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has admitted.

The prime minister said the coalition’s fortunes after the shock general election victory last year could easily be reversed if one ethnic group feels sidelined, but conceded that it is just not possible for Putrajaya to please all sections of the country.

“Everybody has problems. And everyone thinks the government is paying attention to the other communities and not them,” he told a group media interview here.

“But the fact is that we are dealing with all communities. We have to make sure everybody is more or less satisfied.”

Dr Mahathir asserted that Malaysians largely still only look after their own ethnic group, saying this extended even to his ministers who raise issues involving their own communities with the government in order to gain support from voters.

“We find that if we treat one race better but not the other, we’re going to have trouble. We try to make sure everybody will get proper satisfaction.

“But we can’t satisfy everybody fully all the time,” he said.

He also denied that only Malay-Muslims regularly took issue with his administration, despite several rallies held by Islamist groups accusing Putrajaya of sidelining the majority group.

A rally during the weekend ahead of the anniversary was dubbed by Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as politically motivated and meant to tarnish the image of the government by painting it as uninterested in protecting the welfare of Muslims who form the bulk of the country’s multi-religious population.

However, Dr Mahathir said PH must still take note of such occurrences.

“We have to be conscious of that also. Because if we’re not attending to that, we will lose support from Malays. If PH lose support from Malays, we will lose.

“If PH loses support from the Chinese, we will also lose. Even the Indians can play a big role in ensuring PH lose. We have to be very careful,” Dr Mahathir conceded.

Observers and those from within PH have told Malay Mail that the ruling coalition now finds itself exposed to divisive race-baiting as it allowed the Opposition to exploit a freer media to shape the political narrative, instead of creating its own.

When asked about the need to form a new national narrative that goes beyond an ethnoreligious focus, Dr Mahathir denied that PH is being passive about the matter.

However, he said it will take time for the country to reach this stage but that he is confident that it can happen in the near future.

“With your cooperation, it will be better than now, but how much better I can’t say,” he told the press.