Burning the race candle from both ends

NOVEMBER 22 — Currently, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is a rock star to many.

But signs are present, indicating the shine is wearing off. Six months after the general election. And it is purely because his opponents are using his own playbook against him.

Umno’s single stroke-play

It’s the ICERD, and then again, it’s not the ICERD.

The UN convention ratification is only a smokescreen. After it dies down, they’d turn to the next race issue they can feast on, for example “alleged” reductions for Malay expenditure in the 2019 Budget. And the next, and so on.

What Umno guarantees is a commitment to be fanatical about the cause.

Winston Churchill invariably had Zahid Hamidi in mind, when he summed up the sort: “A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.”

The stratagem is gold for the Umno president, as it stands.

It holds the nation hostage to the only issue his party thrives on, racism.

Mahathir’s conceit

The prime minister struggles today because he was a key progenitor for decades of upping the language on race. And to have the issue boomerang back to him, this columnist — rather ashamedly — is enveloped by schadenfreude.  

Half a century ago, his gang first accused the first PM, Tunku Abdul Rahman, of what is presently a cardinal sin in any Malay party — the lack of Malay-ness in everything.

The Kedah prince may have rejected a multicultural Umno in the 1950s, but he was too cosy with the Chinese, or the accusation goes.

Since then, arguments have been won less on reason, and more on which side has chosen to be excessively Malay. Mahathir built his political base on it. Which forced him to comingle race and religion in the 1980s to stave off PAS, and over the years they were interchangeable till members would rather forget how to spell than separate the two concepts today.

In his newly-tailored “reformist” attire, he’s kept immodest by the undergarments from his previous avatar.

Can’t touch this

Umno’s predictability — even if Zahid’s earnestness stirs comparisons with other legendary right-wing fruitcakes — and Mahathir’s authorship of institutionalised segregation are not new.

What perplexes the Pakatan government is that no one in their side has the moral fibre or intellectual zeal to confront the senseless need to compete for the love of any Malaysian ethnicity.

Even PKR President Anwar Ibrahim is saddled by this issue.

In the not so distant past, Mahathir and Anwar used to tread the race eggshells by utilising doublespeak, conspicuously altering the message to various audiences.

While visibly upsetting to those paying close attention to the contradictions, the control of media and arms of government aided and abetted the perpetrators.

That’s not possible these days of instantaneous information

Therefore, the only one game left for the Malay leadership in Pakatan is to buy time. Not the most radical approach, but it might just work.

For example, the Minister in charge of Islamic Affairs, Mujahid Yusof Rawa through the Prophet’s Birthday Tuesday said on one hand that Islam does not discriminate and then on the other hand assures Jakim’s (Islamic Department) place. Set to placate both sides. But careful, it’s truly a tangled web.

A balancing act akin to riding a bike on a tightrope while juggling broadswords. It would be wise to invest in a strong net.

Who wins?

Two bluffs in motion, one apparently superior.

Pakatan waiting it out for Umno to fold.

How?

Zahid has no base. Umno only has one state, a poor state. The desperation is expected to squeeze the fight out of the party opportunists, and they are legion. When the tipping point is passed, Umno ceases to be. Something about rats and ships with holes. The Umno blood can flow into PKR or Bersatu Pribumi, but rarely into PAS. In that eventuality, it would be PAS against the rest.

Meanwhile, at the other corner of the ring, Umno waits out for a Pakatan collapse, due to either an economic freefall or political instability.

Which is why Umno only hovers over possible economic planning mistakes and negative data, and jumps on any race grievances.

At present, Pakatan is stressed out by the ICERD. In a week, who knows? If Pakatan gets to Chinese New Year without a major embarrassment, the Umno countdown to oblivion begins.

That’s a brilliant silver lining.

Caution, necessary

A Facebook commentator at a Malay language page reminded all that they should be careful, because if things got out of control, they’d have to take back the country.

There are similar statements everywhere, but all lack details on who is to do the taking back and how. It might be suggested a considerable number believe that the spoils of democracy can be retracted if it goes off the perceived rails.

I oppose these scaremongers of democracy.

It’s reassuring for democracy participants when the police re-assert they intend to keep things proper. Even the most vibrant of debates require a referee and it is welcoming to hear that the authorities want democracy not to be an excuse for trouble-making.

Our police as the vanguards of democracy, how things change.

For the sake of clarity, peaceful rallies are the hallmarks of free societies and Umno should be allowed to express its democratic views. 

Perhaps if Malaysia passes this tricky stage, new heroes would be recognised. Those committed to peaceful democracy and not ones reliant on fear and reprisal.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.