Multi-ethnic merger won’t solve race-based politics, says analyst

PETALING JAYA: A political analyst warns that any attempt to get rid of race-based politics through a merger of multi-ethnic parties in the ruling coalition may backfire as voters will simply switch camps to support the opposition instead.

Wong Chin Huat.

Wong Chin Huat of the Penang Institute was responding to a proposal by former Johor DAP chairman Dr Boo Cheng Hau, who had suggested that DAP, PKR and Amanah consider a “grand merger” into a single political entity.

Given that these three parties were non-race-based components, he said, a merger would force race-based parties like Umno, PAS and PPBM to “shy away from apartheid-like tribal politics”.

Wong said Boo’s suggestion was meant to boost the multi-ethnic parties within Pakatan Harapan (PH) as opposed to the Malay-based PPBM.

He cautioned however that the impact of such a move could be counterproductive.

“To defend its credentials in the Malay agenda, PPBM may have to be more assertive on ethno-religious issues. This may destabilise PH.

“If PPBM is successfully contained, Umno and PAS may get more support at the expense of PH from Malays who fear that the Malay agenda has been diluted by the PH government.

“So even if PH is dominated by multi-ethnic forces, ethno-religious politics will not go away,” he told FMT.

He said a “battle of good and evil” between multi-ethnic and mono-ethnic parties would not result in post-communal politics.

“As long as the strongest opposition is surviving on communal politics, communalism will persist because the party will survive or even thrive with support from voters who want to go against the government, regardless of their reason.

“Counter-intuitively, the only way for communal parties to fade is for multi-ethnic parties to be divided over non-communal fault lines, like economic left-right and development versus the environment.”

Oh Ei Sun.

Oh Ei Sun from the Pacific Research Centre also dismissed Boo’s suggestion, saying it would be almost impossible to get rid of racial or religious divisions through any attempt at a merger.

He said this was because the main problem in Malaysian politics was not race but the politicians themselves.

He told FMT that most major politicians wanted to be head of their respective parties, at least.

“So it is very difficult to form a single political party as such, because they all feel that they are uniquely qualified to lead, and others should follow.

“Race and religion are just convenient tools for them to manipulate the political game.”

Ultimately, Oh said, the power game would continue for both the ruling coalition and the opposition.

“It will go on and on, as long as we don’t have, for example, a primary election system where candidates are chosen by party members instead of central committees or supreme councils.”