A tempestuous year of prejudices and bigotry


Exactly one week from now, Pakatan Harapan completes its first year in office as the Government of Malaysia. Of course, it can be argued that it only started work a couple of days later when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad took his oath of office and became the prime minister for the second time after 15 years as a retiree.

It had been quite a year — eventful, testing, tumultuous and packed with uncertainties, to say the least.

Those in the thick of things would probably reflect on how the heady days leading to the unprecedented and unexpected fall of the Barisan Nasional government seem so far away and almost surreal.

But it did happen. Lest the people forget, on the fateful night, as the Pakatan Harapan numbers kept growing, the television stations and Election Commission stopped updating.

A few days prior, not many of the political analysts, newspaper columnists and even pollsters gave Pakatan Harapan much of a chance of forming the government with some even going as far as predicting the scandalised Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak may even retain the government with a two-thirds majority.

Some may have forgotten how a group of Malaysians were worried that Najib and his wife were attempting to escape the country and decided to gather near the airport when news went viral that they were flying off to a neighbouring country.

Not too forget was also the night after when Dr Mahathir was made to wait for hours before he was sworn in and how a crowd had gathered around the Istana Negara in show of solidarity for a 92-year-old man who did the impossible.

The days after were more eventful as Dr Mahathir proceeded to name his Cabinet and other high-positioned appointees.

The appointment of Lim Guan Eng, a non-Malay as the finance minister after a lapse of 45 years raised a lot of eyebrows and now, a year later, became a rallying point for ethno-religious populists to accused the government of pandering to the non-Malays/non-Muslims.

Similarly with the selections of Tommy Thomas and Tan Sri Richard Malanjum as the Attorney General and Chief Justice respectively, their appointments became the term of reference when accusing the Pakatan Harapan government of sidelining the interests of Malays and Muslims.

By now, the ethno-religious populists have forgiven all the scandalous sins of corruptions and abuses of power committed by leaders from the previous government with some even going to the extent of arguing that better a corrupt Muslim leader than a non-Muslim.

Najib, though largely viewed as a tainted and corrupted leader, seemed to manage to endear himself with a segment of the Malay/Muslim community, going around with the “Malu apa Bossku” (What is there to be ashamed of my Boss) tagline.

Though it sends an unsavoury message that corruption and abuse of power are of no consequence to the Malay/Muslim community, the political parties — Umno and PAS — don’t seem to mind such challenge to their value system and lapped up on it as it served their political advancement.

By now too, attempts by Najib’s lawyer to absolve his client from the crime of corruption and money laundering on grounds that he was a victim of fraud seemed to be bought by some of his supporters despite the court being told of transactions of millions went in and out of his accounts.

But a witty posting on one of the social media platforms rebutted the attempt to make Najib a victim in the financial scandal quite well when it stated that “Najib will probably be the first victim of a financial fraud with millions ending up in his account. Other victims usually end up with nothing left”.

The Pakatan Harapan government and Dr Mahathir after enjoying a stretch of popularity in the public sphere in the first six months are now backpedalling; some parts due the inability to fulfil some of the election manifesto promises which included bringing down the cost of living. The other part being weighed down by accusations of diminishing the position of the Malays and Islam.

Of course, on the flip side, the non-Malay politicians in Pakatan Harapan who seem to be insensitive to the Malay Muslim insecurities kept coming up with unnecessary suggestions and demands — though largely ignored by the government — but gleefully picked up by the government’s critics.

On the sidelines, the Johor royal household, largely led by the Crown Prince, has been taking pot shots at the government and now seems to be cosying up with the ethno-religious populists.

As Pakatan Harapan ushers its first anniversary, its adversaries are closing in and rallying on one key issue — Islam and Malay.

It is divisive, destructive and truly not reflecting a nation that had styled itself internationally as a modern and respectable nation that had been able or at striving, to rise above prejudices and bigotry.

Today’s appointment of Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat as the chief justice, the first woman to the post in Malaysia, should excite the nation.

Then again, expect the right wing and male chauvinists, using some obscure ethno-religious justifications, to feel otherwise.

  • Shamsul Akmar is the editor at The Malaysian Reserve.