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Seven things PH must and must not do

By Munir Majid

September 10, 2019 @ 13:30am

IF Pakatan Harapan wants to be returned to power in the next election it must show it is in charge of issues which are falling about all over the place.

First, it must show, even now, that it wants to win the next election. And not lose it by taking the long view or the short-sighted one that it still has three and a half years to put things together.

The reform agenda - the long list of institutional and electoral reforms, good governance, honesty, integrity and accountability - is absolutely essential, but will take more than one parliament to take effect.

To the general electorate it is distant and abstract,against the in-the-face issues they are concerned about.

There is not much time to address these issues and arrest the decline in support for PH.

If it lost the next election the dark political forces it defeated in May 2018 will come back darker, with the high probability they will not again allow themselves to be defeated by playing totally on the racial arithmetic, and by abusing the powers of the state more completely than before GE14,something political scientists now term ‘populist dictatorship’.

PH must snap out of any complacency about this serious risk. There is a responsibility to the nation akin to that that galvanised it to oust the last government.

PH should not be in denial that right now it is losing the people’s support. The second thing it must do is to regain it. Three and a half years will be gone in the blink of an eye.

People will not necessarily come back to PH because they cannot contemplate the prospect of Umno-Pas crashing to power and imposing a one-race one-religion order. Stranger things have happened in politics.

How to regain that support? The most critical - and the most difficult - is to show, thirdly, that PH is committed to a multi-racial Malaysia while retaining (or regaining) non-Malay support but not alienating the Malay voters it had (already now eroded).

If it does not do so the race and religion base of Umno-Pas will be strengthened even as PH’s non-Malay votes diminish.

PH has to come out in one voice with great clarity on a complex issue after decades of de-facto uniracial rule and, increasingly, religious intolerance with attempts also to draw in royalty as defender of race and religion in a Tanah Melayu.

That PH is committed to a multi-racial Malaysia I have no doubt. But there are within the coalition different shades and thoughts on its achievement, or reestablishment, in a Malaysia whose politicians have increasingly polarised.

PH has to define with clarity what it means by a multi-racial Malaysia. It cannot be just a slogan which gives high hopes to some and causes a call to arms among others. One shade of grey which must be clarified is this:It must be made clear to the Malays that nobody is taking away their special privileges under the Constitution.

The non-Malays must understand this, too, and not interpret the PH victory for a New Malaysia to the point where these rights are challenged.

The Malays, on the other hand, must be made to understand the rights of the non-Malays and the practice of religions other than Islam - also recognised under the Constitution - must not be violated.

This is a huge task. How to drive understanding of the fundamental basis of Malaysian multi-racialism after years of uncompromising extremist attitudes, especially among Malay-Muslim racists.

Laws must be used, without abuse and subject to judicial review, to ensure racist-inspired conflict, emanating from whatever source foreign or local,does not undermine our multi-racial Malaysia.These laws PH must introduce.

Fourthly, PH must draw a clear distinction between constitutional right and government policy. You do not open up Pandora’s box with respect to rights contained in the Constitution, but you can review policy particularly if it is not working well.

The NEP (New Economic Policy) is one such policy which masquerades as a constitutional right because it has been around for over two generations and become a bad Malay habit.

It was never intended to last so long, but has been used to ride on Malay populism and developed into an entitlement, which accords it a mistaken legal right.

The political plus pseudo legal force of the NEP makes it a totem pole around which many dance in a trance for votes from heaven. Hence there is this fear to say categorically the NEP must end.

The approaches are thus delicate to dislodge it: It is not bad, only its implementation; it should be needs-based and not racially focused; and so on.

The truth is the NEP has both worked and not worked. Where it has not worked the most is to make the Malays a dependent race uncompetitive in a global environment which is what the world has become.

Best to leave the NEP behind without prevarication. Let it lapse. PH has actually come up with a new policy - Shared Prosperity. This should be given greater content and greater emphasis.

No need to be apologetic by saying since the Malays are most in need they would therefore benefit the most. That is axiomatic. But what should be clear is that there must be effort by everyone for growth to be shared.

There are variations within PH on the definition of multi-racial Malaysia and on a new policy to replace the NEP. Bersatu wants to destroy and replace Umno, take over the Malay base, and then moderate it. Time, however, is not on the side of the Bersatu leadership unless Umno is made illegal.

Otherwise a revived Umno would be a tough nut to crack, especially with its unholy alliance with Pas. Victories in three by-elections since its ignominious defeat in May 2018 have given it heart.

Apart from being made illegal the only other event that could derail Umno would be if there were major defections to Bersatu.

Then there would be the rearranging of guards at the top in Bersatu, with incumbents threatened. Strong leadership in Bersatu could stack up the leadership order but, when absent, it would not hold together.

The DAP is just set on the reform agenda. Silent on multi-racial Malaysia and on Malay rights. The party has not said much about the NEP. PKR is very general about wanting a multi-racial Malaysia and a ‘needs-based’ policy. Definition and specificity have not been a strong point of the PKR leadership.

Put together, there is no clarity on the the multi-racial Malaysia the PH coalition wants, and on what exact socio-economic policy it wishes to propound.

This is a godsend to Umno-Pas.The Malay-religious nationalists can pick holes in the PH coalition, highlight particular points of threat to its aroused constituency, and drive a wedge through the ruling party.

The next election is still going to be primarily fought on racial and religious issues, not on issues that matter like education and the economy, which race and religion also attend anyway.

PH will lose the next election without clarity on its policies. As it is, it has also not been outstanding in delivering results.

The writer, a former NST group editor, returns to write on local and international political affairs. The writer is also member of the Economic Action Council chaired by the Prime Minister.


The piece is Part 1 of 3. Part 2 - Giving content to the fundamentals - comes out tomorrow, and Part 3 the day after.