©New Straits Times
(Used by permission)
by Sheridan Mahavera
More than four months since the March 8 general election, some say the Malay community is in its worst–ever crisis. Others disagree. Sheridan Mahavera looks beyond the histrionics to discern the crux of the matter
IN the local English dailies, much of the doomsday talk is on the environment and the oil–based economy, but in the Malay dailies, it's saved for the Malay community.
Ribut (stormy), berpecah (disunited) and gadai negeri
(selling out the country) are some of the terms bandied about in describing what
has been called the worst crisis in the Malay community since Independence.
Proponents of this belief have organised themselves into the Majlis Muafakat Melayu Malaysia (Malaysian Malay Solidarity Council –– 4M). They warn that unless something immediate and drastic is done, "Melayu akan menjadi musafir di negeri sendiri" (the Malays will be dispossessed in their own land).
The "crisis", they argue, came about from the spectacular losses suffered by Barisan Nasional, and in particular Umno, in the 12th general election.
What was especially traumatising for the Malay associations
and groups that make up 4M is the loss of the Malay heartland states of Kedah
and Perak, and to a certain extent Selangor.
The groups believe that Malaysia's political landscape post–March 8 will see the demise of the Malays' special position and privileges, and the community's dominance in charting the nation's future.
The ideology of ketuanan Melayu (Malay dominance) and kedaulatan Melayu (Malay sovereignty), warns 4M, will "hilang di dunia" (fade from the world).
In early May, 200 Malay non–governmental organisations, spearheaded by the Federation of National Writers Association (Gapena), congregated in Johor Baru for three days of talks on how to tackle the "crisis". The result was 4M, which sees itself as a non–partisan body to ensure Malays remain "first among equals" among Malaysian communities, no matter what party is in power.
The council is touted as the collective expression of the desires and concerns of the Malay intelligentsia: academics, poets, entrepreneurs and opinion–makers.
The congress passed a set of resolutions to the Sultan of Johor, including demands that Malays and Malay customs remain dominant in the nation's politics, economy and culture.
Gapena chairman Tan Sri Ismail Hussin stressed that these demands did not mean the other communities would be sidelined or oppressed.
"We want to put a stop to all this Malay–bashing, the ideology of a 'Malaysian Malaysia' and all this racialist talk," he said.
Though Ismail emphasised that the congress neither supported nor was supported by any political party, its detractors denounce it as a proxy of Umno. This similarity of tenor and message between supporters of the congress and Umno led critics to question whether or not such a crisis really exists among the Malays.
Malay intellectuals not affiliated with 4M argue that Malay political representation was untouched by the March 8 "tsunami".
In the 2004 elections, when the Barisan Nasional had had its best showing, 120 parliamentary seats had gone to Malay MPs. After the last election, observes Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political scientist Prof Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff, there are now 121.
The seats Umno lost went to other Malays, whether from Pas or Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). Malay MPs even took over seats once held by non–Malays, notes Mohammad Agus, such as Kuantan, Kota Raja and Teluk Kemang.
Prof Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi contends that concerns for the loss of kedaulatan Melayu and the special position of the Malays as enshrined in Article 153 of the Constitution are also unfounded. Writing in the Berita Harian on March 14, the constitutional law expert said the only way Article 153 could be amended would be by a two–thirds vote in the Dewan Rakyat and the approval of the Rulers' Council.
"In the Constitution," Shad wrote, "the Yang di–Pertuan Agong is the protector of the special position of the Malays. Whatever the results of a general election, this special position will not be affected."
Kedaulatan Melayu, in short, is held not by any political party but the Yang di–Pertuan Agong and the nine Malay rulers.
"When it comes to choosing the prime minister," says Mohammad Agus, "the king has the power to choose whom he views can command the confidence of the Dewan Rakyat."
The sultans also have this prerogative over their states, as seen in Perak when Pas' Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin was chosen as menteri besar despite his party holding the fewest seats in the Pakatan Rakyat state government.
Mohammad Nizar's appointment by the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, was initially opposed by DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, who later retracted his stand and apologised to the Perak palace.
So, if kedaulatan Melayu and the Malays' special position will remain regardless of the party in power, should the community worry? Gapena's Ismail thinks so, but says the crisis is more "psychological".
"It is because there is more talk about the special privileges, and there may come a time where even though they are in the Constitution, there may be people who want to ram into them."
Ismail doubts that non–Umno Malay MPs have the interests of the community at heart, saying they were treating Malay privileges as a political commodity.
Others attribute such uneasiness to Umno's hold on the psyche of Malays as the only protector of their interests. At roughly three million members, Umno is the largest party in the BN, where most component parties are race–based and whose philosophies revolve around guarding the interests of their own communities.
PKR deputy chief and former Universiti Malaya sociology professor Dr Syed Husin Ali calls this a convenient smokescreen for Umno.
"They have mistakenly associated the welfare of the Malays with Umno, and that's why there is all this talk about a crisis. So if Umno does not do well in the elections, they interpret this as the Malays being threatened.
"It was not the Malays that lost out (in the election), it was Umno."
4M's claim that it represents Malays is also undermined by the results of the last general election, when tens of thousands helped elect 40 Malay MPs from non–Umno parties.
Says Syed Husin: "Malays are actually asking, what has Umno really done for them despite being in power for the past 50 years? The largest segment of the poor are still the Malays."
Mohammad Agus says the general election results reflect a maturity in the Malay electorate. At heart is a question of identity, he says: "Whether the Malays will subscribe to a politics of enthnocentric dominance or something more inclusive.
"The diversity among Malay politicians now, with their different ideologies and beliefs, can only be a good thing as they compete with each other for the vote of the community. The best Malay politician will emerge."