A prime minister for most of Malaysia

JULY 11 — If today, President Donald Trump asked for white unity, for all its leaders to stand under one umbrella to protect white interests and survival — White Democrats, White Republicans and White Independents — to set aside partisanship and to lead Caucasians forward, he’d be toast by Sunday.

While American media may be divided over such a scandal, as it was — thanks, Fox — during the Charlottesville March in 2017, the world would go ballistic. 

The word “fascist” will likely dominate the description of the president, the people he empathises with and their fans.  “Unforgivable” the common epitaph.  

However, in our lush tropical paradise, fascism is packaged as a unifier of the masses and protector of the weak. The prime minister’s latest grab for support from Malay leaders of all hue, reminds observers of his adherence to Machiavellian machinations to sustain power rather than Gandhian passion to knit a people together.

At the end, when the scores are counted, it’s a direct strategy to up the Bersatu Pribumi MP count and not relegate Mahathir Mohamad to a minority PM, not when Anwar Ibrahim hovers over him with his superior MP numbers. So, he panders.

Yet, pandering to communalism brings collateral damage to a multicultural society.

So, why does the prime minister insist to be first the leader of most of us, before the rest of us?  

Mahathir asks Umno and PAS leaders to bolt their parties and leaders like Khairy Jamaluddin and Hishammuddin Hussein ask for circumspection and the religionists ask Bersatu Pribumi leaders to join them instead.

But neither reject him outright. Why?

Malay unity is the poisoned chalice of Malaysian politics. There is no spot on the planet where people are completely race-stuck, or faith-stuck or gender-stuck. People differ by definition.

People can agree on certain concepts, like how Malays overwhelmingly objected to Malayan Union’s carte blanche evisceration of the past. But objection to a policy is not the basis for permanent conjoining of a whole race, or whole anything.

Same reason why all conscientious Indian Malaysians backed the 2007 Hindraf protest in principle to raise discourse on the treatment of the ethnic group, however they are not sold on any party claiming the name or a version of it. They support the sentiment, not any single party.

The illusion of Malay unity has been presented as the ideal to solve the community’s problems and therefore no one wants rain down on that fictional parade.

They fear if one does not circumvent it and obfuscate about it, then one loses votes from a segment.

Leaders unite, not people

In classic feudal — also self-serving — style, Mahathir asks for leaders not for members to queue for Pribumi Bersatu membership.

The fate of Malays he postulates indirectly relies on all Malay leaders coming together, and not the people. A united Malay leadership leads the meek slash the rest forward.

While the suggested benevolence is noble — and naïve — the higher reason for a democracy is not success by numbers but rather emancipation through rights.

The unification of Malay leaders does not strengthen the fate of average Malays, it only reduces discord among leaders and centralises power structures. The height of Umno federal power did not raise enough the masses despite the national wealth, if anything the focus was to regiment the handouts and by default keep the Malay masses dependent. Weak.    

Defective foundations

MJ Akbar explained in his book “Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan” why Pakistan suffers more as a nation state as compared to India:

The idea of India is stronger than the Indian; the idea of Pakistan is weaker than the Pakistani.

It is a fascinating idea. Inasmuch as MJ Akbar writes about two competing nations closely tied to each other and permanently compared, when transferred to our local predilection, two competing propositions are within a nation closely tied to each other and permanently compared.

The idea of Malays is stronger than Malaysia; the idea of Malaysians is weaker than Malays.

Malaysia struggles for strength because to our leaders the idea of Malays must supersede Malaysia and Malaysians. Two layers operate simultaneously, to maintain Malay integrity while championing a Malaysia within uncertain parameters. It’s absolutely mind-blowing and produces a bipolar society.

We can't further the national struggle when it is unclear whether we are one country or distinct groups of people — who clearly need to be tagged separately and consistently even if by large generally walk in the same direction.

So, reductionism reigns. Limited to why not co-operate while never yielding the priority of protecting respective distinct groups. Malays walk with the rest towards a common prosperity, but while doing so never to surrender the race focus.

Therefore, it’s about accepting permanent discomforts at home. Which is why the system can’t thrive even if it works with great effort.

Malaysia’s a country not a geopolitical conflict zone — where reluctant peace structures are infinitely better than bullets.  Countries can’t measure their success by the absence of violence. They measure them by their unhindered celebration of nationhood.

Race stratagems

Which is why Mahathir’s juggling act with race grenades offends me.

Realpolitik is one thing, but to perpetually play the race card to remain in power scars a people’s ability to rally behind the flag.

The win last year was about fresh starts, not to defend the indefensible and chart growth while chained to the past.

Malaysians must feel their prime minister thinks of them first, all of them not just some of them. The win was to move Pribumi Bersatu away from race exclusivity, move PKR to race parity, deconstruct DAP’s insidious race myopia and Amanah to race tolerance.

The win was to give them breathing space to allow Malaysia to have years of Malaysian rule, and to use that track-record at the polls and let the chips falls how they may.

It was to give us a chance to try an alternate reality.

Maybe the best lesson Mahathir can leave behind is to accept Malaysia is bigger than him, Anwar and any race, and that he is willing to stake his power on a less race obsessed nation.

That he prefers to be prime minister for all of Malaysia without apologies even if it means a stay far shorter than his last tenure. Mahathir must aim for legacy, not hegemony.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.