As a continuation to my previous article, to answer the question of who are these “people”, to my own children and young people of Malaysia who just came of age into Malaysian politics, I would like to further expand my analysis to the other major parties in the current political environment.
UMNO (United Malay National Organization)
UMNO represents Malay Nationalist agenda. It was born out of it, and it will remain so. As it stands, UMNO is the main organization (and party) that will continue to perpetuate the hold of leadership of Malaysia under the hands of the Malays, to carry out the agenda of to protect, enhance, and carry on the “rights of the Malays”. Barisan Nasional (or BN) is the vehicle for UMNO to carry out this agenda at national level, whereby it had establishes the “contract” that through coalitions with other “major” non-Malay parties, as well as major parties from the East Malaysia (i.e. other “pribumi” parties),to rule Malaysia, under the auspices of UMNO (hence Malay) leadership.
What is the “hardcore” principle that defines UMNO? It is simple: as long as Malaysia being ruled by the Malays, period. It can never go to any other races. Malaysian rule must remain under Malay hands; nothing more and nothing less. It doesn’t matter whether such Malay leaders are “Islamically inclined” as Anwar Ibrahim used to do when he was in UMNO. Or whether it is the Pak Lah version of Islamic Hadhari, or outright Malay supremacists as Mahathir claims to be. And it also doesn’t matter if immoral behavior exists among those Malay leaders, as long as they continue to serve the Malays.
For these reasons, UMNO remains relevant to the large majority of the Malays; and they will be so as long as UMNO continues to serve this agenda.
PAS (Parti Islam se-Malaysia)
For PAS, the most important issue is for the Malays (i.e. Muslim), to identify themselves with Islam. It is the question of “identity”. For PAS, the leadership of the country must be in the hand of Muslim, who identifies themselves with Islam. These leaders must identify themselves that they want Islam to be implemented. The further qualifier is that the Islam as PAS sees it is the Islam that PAS defines. This definition of Islam however, resonates quite well to a significant percentage of Malays (Muslims), where for them, what matters is wherever the Muslim is the majority, the country must identify itself with Islam. This is despite that among the Muslim, the definition of “true Islam” is never established; and in fact, the “imagination of Islam” among various Muslim differed to a very large degree (i.e. there is no concise understanding of what Islam is).
PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat)
PKR is a party that claims to be born out “reform agenda”. For PKR, the country need a total political reform, to ensure justice, fairness, openness of the political system; and for the reform of the governance of the country – good governance, transparency, accountability for the benefit of all the people. So far, PKR’s principles sound so good and appealing.
The problem with PKR however, is its message and principles are lost in translation. Why? The truth is these lofty ideas are ingrained as ideals, but extremely hard in practice. It is easy to criticize but once you are given the task to do it – you will immediately be caught in the quagmire of bureaucracies, dismantling of already established systems and practice, and so on. It is somewhat a Utopian dream.
DAP (Democratic Action Party)
I am least able to comment on DAP due to my lack of familiarity with its principles. Possibly the best way to describe DAP is as a party which ideals are to see Malaysia to be managed and governed based on what is called “meritocratic system” rather than race base or religious base systems. Therefore, the best people, in terms of merits of qualifications, capabilities, to rule the country; and not the race or religion as the founding factor.
Off course, hidden behind such claims, is the fact that the Chinese (in Malaysia) are generally highly qualified –as proven by the prowess in the economic development (i.e. business and commerce). The Malaysian Chinese are well educated and academically more qualified. And as a group, they are more competitive and innovative, compared to the Malays or Indians. So in another word, at the background, it assumes that the Malaysian Chinese are ready and suited to lead the country. If not as its top leadership (of Prime Ministership, which is reserved for the Malays), but through the controls of Parliament, State Government (in case of Penang and other significant Chinese populations are residing).
PAN (Parti Amanah Negara)
The newest kid on the block, as I would say, is PAN. As a new party, I couldn’t say much about what PAN seems to be holding on to. For now it seems to me that PAN is a party of “mixed agenda”. It is a party for “reform” as the PKR claims to be. At the same time it is also a party claims to be representing the “moderate Islam” against PAS’s Islam. And most importantly it seems that they are a party that is against the “hegemony” of UMNO and BN. Because of these varying themes, most people are confused and unsure who PAN is. But to say that PAN is an agent of DAP is totally unfounded; the “meritocracy of DAP” doesn’t seems to be PAN’s mantra.
The Future of Malaysian Politics
I would say that the future is already here. If anything to learn, we can look across the sea to our neighbor – Indonesia. After the fall of Golkar and Suharto, there were plethora of parties being formed, and plethora of leaders came forth. Each group carrying its own agenda to “differentiate” itself from the others, while Golkar tried to distance itself from the Suharto regime, and institute some major changes, but to not much avail. Finally, what emerge are various forms “short term coalitions” to defeat another “coalitions”, and finally someone who could break away from these “short term” differences emerges as its President, Mr. Jokowi. Jokowi took the approach of appealing to the masses at large, rather than being stuck in bickering between the political groupings. Indonesia has one advantage that Malaysia do not have – it’s President is elected through popular votes, rather than its MPR/DPR (assemblies of elected representatives). Because of that, the President could make his appointments for Ministers and others, not necessarily within the party groupings.
In case of Malaysia though, what we will see are the bickering, jostling between the various groupings. The groupings will be formed and dismantled as time goes, depending on the interest of each group or groupings. The interest could be temporary, such as to “unseat UMNO” (or ABU, anything but UMNO), or for controls of certain states (such as Selangor). As it goes, there will lots of inconsistencies across the boards, as these interests also varied across issues. We will see PAS to be at times cozy to UMNO and vice-versa, and on some other matter, to be against each other. We will see PAN to be working on the ground to claim their position as the group that represents the “proper Islam”, against the grain of PAS as the rightful claimant to the title. We will also see PKR, in its zeal for reform agenda, to co-operate with PAS or PAN, and clearly DAP, for its reform agenda to be the driving force. There is also no reason why PKR not to work with UMNO, if UMNO also sees that some reforms are necessary.
Wow. So far, the above doesn’t help any voters who are on the fence. It serves well for those who have adopted a certain “creed”, either of PAS’s Islam, of PKR’s reform, DAP’s meritocracy, UMNO’s Malay supremacy. But for the majority others, it is a field of confusion. Believe me my dear children, these confusions will be cleared up; but we all need to be patient as it takes times for the dust and sense to settle. My guess is it would take a few more general elections before they all could mature.
The best advice I could give is to look beyond the parties that the candidates represents; look at their own track record and what they hold for, as a PERSON (or as a CANDIDATE). This would be a safer bet and a better starting point. We need representatives that represent us in our constituency, rather than the party to represent our constituency. I guess the Indonesian had come to realize that when they vote for Jokowi, rather than his party. When they do that, they got it right.