pic by TMR FILE
MALAYS seemed to believe that for the first time since Independence, they are now spoilt for choice as far as political parties are concerned.
If Malay/Muslim-based voters had just Umno and PAS since Independence, they can now also opt for Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia which started as a Malay-Bumiputra party, but is transforming into a multiracial entity though the leadership is likely to remain Malay for the next few seasons at least.
On the flip side, there is also PKR, which had from the start been multiracial though the leadership remained Malay, in fact, a husband-and-wife tag team, since its inception.
Alongside is Parti Amanah Negara, a congregation of former PAS dissidents. Though not outrightly declaring itself as a Malay-Muslim-based party, its leadership is wholly Malay.
Then, there are Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) and Parti Pejuang Tanah Air, for which registrations had yet to be approved. The former is led by once Bersatu stalwart when the party was a full-fledged Malay-Bumiputra concern. The latter is a Malay-based party and pledged to remain one.
Of course, there are Malay voters and politicians who had gone beyond and opted for the DAP though it is still widely considered as a Chinese-majority party and remains a target among detractors that it is as chauvinist as they come. The number of Malays embracing it remains a trickle.
Taking all these into context, despite all the lamentations that the Malays are very fragmented due to the existence of too many Malay parties, the real parties that remain Malay are actually four and they are directly juxtaposed to each other — Umno, PAS, Amanah and Pejuang.
Further to that, PAS had always denounced Umno’s race-based agenda and insisted that its struggle is for Islam and had distinguished the two, with race being tribalistic and frowned upon by Islam.
Amanah is of course the splinter of PAS and it too does not proclaim to struggle for the Malay agenda.
PKR’s multiracial stance is obvious though it does step into the Malay agenda domain at irregular intervals. Muda too can be expected to be taking the route similar to PKR and the only difference is that it is determined to ensure only the young charts its direction.
Bersatu could have cluttered the arena, but it too had opted to turn multiracial and as such, it should be a direct competitor to PKR and to a certain degree, Muda.
With that, the struggle for the Malay vote can actually be whittled down to between two — Umno and Pejuang.
And their contradictions had nothing to do with their political philosophy or struggle, but rather over personalities.
If Umno could rid itself or send the kleptocrats to the sidelines, then it is no more a bane to the Malay struggle. If it is able to cleanse itself, Pejuang and other Malays who had abandoned it will lose their reasons for opposing it.
In fact, it had always been argued that if Umno had taken heed of the criticisms and opposition voiced by their former president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad over the involvement of their then president Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd fiasco, Bersatu would not have been realised and Umno, for all intent and purposes, would not have lost the election.
It can be argued that it is probably too late for Umno to reinvent itself.
But, if developments in other nations are any indication, political parties that secured their independence and later lost the government were mostly able to regain their footings and the nations’ leadership did so when they were prepared to reinvent and remove leaders who had dragged them down.
And of course, some of these leaders did not wait to be removed and they saw the damage their continued presence would cause their party and they proved they were leaders to the end by resigning.
In fact, if the scandalous Umno leaders were of substance and courage, they would have resigned after the party’s defeat and stayed out. Instead, they choose to remain and that had scandalised the party.
If these leaders were no more in Umno, the party which had proven to be able to command a large segment of the Malay electorate will be much more appealing.
This is especially to Malays who had voted for Bersatu now that it had lost its original bearing and was viewed as treacherous and untrustworthy. That would also leave Pejuang without much cause against Umno.
Malay voters would have better clarity in their political options, returning to the political duality between Malay nationalism and the Islamic religion, represented over the decades by Umno and PAS.
Even though the division is not strictly compartmentalised, as the Malay struggle is as much an Islamic struggle given that constitutionally all Malays are Muslims, Umno tends to represent the more moderate face of Islam while PAS borders on the imposition and turning the nation into a fullfledged Islamic nation.
It should, however, be noted that since it became part of the present federal government, PAS seems to have moderated its Islamic credentials. This has, however, not been missed by its critics and supporters who now see it as using Islam for political gains, inadvertently removing the religious halo it used to wear if not among its supporters, definitely with sympathisers and fence-sitters.
But that moderation in outlook is definitely temporary. PAS can be expected to revert to its previous near hardline stance on Islam if it doesn’t share central powers and with that, the Malay political duality will re-emerge.
It is cyclical though pessimists may lament that it is like an ever-repeating groundhog day.
Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.