SEPTEMBER 21 — The minister does not get it.

He may be right — just, maybe — but he failed to bat for his team.

Rafizi Ramli said that the easiest way to get Malay support is to up racism. He was pointing to his political opponents’ despicability.


It usually does not wind me up that politicians are weak as leaders, but Rafizi is second in command of the first successful and only long-standing multicultural party in Malaysia, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). Almost 30 years younger than his boss, the prime minister, he is the heir apparent to the country’s reins.

His words matter. Whether one likes Rafizi or not. Or whether he foolishly not measures himself in a rebuttal.

Therefore, his mad contention infuriates. That the best way to win Malay vote is through hate. It demeans Malays. Write white, black, Uighur or Martian, and it would demean white, black, Uighur or little imaginary men running around an imaginary spacecraft.


Hate is not the way to any people, no less or more when it comes to Malays.

It is most certainly, a gross oversimplification of a whole race of people after 66 years of self-rule in the Peninsula. To suggest Malays discard Malaysia at the lightest of race-baits, insults Malays. Even if he was actually trying to rebut the rise of right-wing rhetoric across the country. It is the worst way to fend off the bigotry.

The regular reader would, unfortunately, side with the Rafizi perspective. That the view selling hate does work with Malays, and those Malay leaders across the aisle in Parliament should exhibit restraint.

This is akin to leaders of various parties opposed to National Socialist German Workers' Party prior to the 1933 federal election telling its leader Adolf Hitler to take it easy on the race rhetoric because it is the superior argument.

You are right, Aryan Germans, the majority, are drawn by your logic, your reasons, so for the sake of a multicultural Germany, take it easy. You do harm.

Telling those whose political capital is built on harm not to do harm is as futile as telling the playground bully not to hit you, because he will succeed in inflicting pain. (Spoiler alert, the Nazis went on to undermine democracy, subvert the will of a people and make them complicit in the murder of millions)

How about actually examining the claim? Does the premise hold, that hate is foremost on the minds of Malays?

Perikatan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan flags are seen in Muar September 1, 2023. — Bernama pic
Perikatan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan flags are seen in Muar September 1, 2023. — Bernama pic

A cursory look at social media — Malaysia is a super-wired social media nation, not so much on Reddit or Twitter, but certainly drip-fed on IG, TikTok, YouTube, WhatsApp and Telegram — shows Malaysians in general are less interested in political content.

Women, equally across Malay women, constitute usually less than 30 per cent of the purveyors of highly political content. Younger Malays are tuned in to entertainment, fashion, celebrity gossip and nostalgia. They probably know the ins and outs of Dania Danielle and Farid Kamil’s marital status rather than the prime minister’s defence of his deputy in Parliament.

Malaysians, and probably Malays more than others, care less about the details of national politics. They’d like it to hurt them less, but they do not care as much. Perhaps that would change when the GST is reintroduced by the economy ministry in 2024 — with a less tainted name.

The truth is less clear because when it comes to national politics or votes, all of the parties overload the situation with race and race fears.

Probably the reason race dominates far too much the political landscape in a lead up to votes is that in that lead up race is the only thing the various parties are preoccupied with. If it is the only conversation, by process of existing as the only contention in the room, it becomes the conversation. Have they ever thought about it that way before?

Their fixation with race as our kryptonite validates it as a norm.

It insults the millions of Malays who have signed up for the Malaysian experiment, not the least those who voted for Pakatan Harapan, Rafizi’s coalition in the six state elections last August.

How about a counter-proposition?

It seems to me, the easiest way to get Malay love — which is considerably more valuable than support — is to exhibit kindness. That perhaps an overture to Malays trumps the indolent strategy of asking Malays to not hate those who are not Malays.

For those not familiar to Malaysia, that seems obvious and considered.

But to those raised here in our homeland, there is the painful awareness of the Onn Jaafar Curse.

Seventy-two years ago — when Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was four — Umno’s first president who was on course to be the first prime minister lost his party, national support and his own mind when he tried to convince his people about multiculturalism over racism.

Every Malay leader since has qualified his multiculturalism less to tempt an early retirement.

Even those born a generation later cannot shake it off or muster the bravery to chart a different path.

Rafizi, just like party-less but podcast-full Khairy Jamaluddin, cannot just speak up for Malaysia. They have to underline a commitment to Malay first by saying their race love does not undermine their patriotism.

It beggars belief they cannot tell the cognitive dissonance they consciously hold. Surely, in all their years in top-tier English tertiary institutions they accidentally bumped into character on occasion and had the intelligence to recognise it or at least the decency to hold on to it.

Here’s the thing about the curse.

Onn Jaafar was not a great leader or speaker. He could not carry the multicultural message because he was not convinced of it himself, but he knew it potentially served all Malayans not just half of Malaya.

It was opportunism rather than conviction.

Which is unsurprising since mediocrity is a national sport in Malaysia.

No Malay leader ever carried multiculturalism. Instead, they cower in fear of the might of Malay righteousness. They — till today — lack the gravitas to do so.

They were and are, limited.

Rafizi and Khairy seek to position themselves as better than the past. But yet, they lack the firepower to imagine a future untied with the deformities of the past. They rather repeat the hollowest of arguments, to submit to the path of least resistance, apologetically race beholden.

Perhaps they should step aside, and let those more committed to the Malaysian dream to lead. Right now, they are the best possible second-hand car salesmen, following the manual.

Which would be great if the country was merely a substandard vehicle. It is not. It is hearts and bones.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.