PETALING JAYA: Following the recent defections from Umno to PPBM, WhatsApp has been abuzz with the question of whether PPBM will turn into another Umno.
Many WhatsApp users recall former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s speculation that any Malay-centric party replacing Umno as the party in power would not act differently from it.
Lee made the remark in his 2013 book, ‘One Man’s View of the World’. Speculating on the possibility of Barisan Nasional’s fall from power, he said a change of government would not see the end of Malay supremacy as the order of the day.
That PPBM is seeking to replace Umno is not in question. Indeed, Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself said last July that his party would replace Umno in looking after the interests of the Malays.
But will PPBM become just another Umno?
Tawfik Ismail, who once held the Sungai Benut parliamentary seat for Umno, said the 14th general election results showed that the Malays were split into five main groups, namely PKR, Umno, PAS, Amanah and PPBM, and that none could claim to be the main voice of the Malays.
“But there are elements of Umno within all, even in PAS,” he told FMT.
He believes that PPBM will try to mimic Umno, though it will realistically be able to do so only outside of Pakatan Harapan because DAP will not tolerate it.
Tawfik said it was key that Mahathir should set the tone in PPBM and not allow “Umno refugees” to lead it as this would result in fights with PH partners and the disintegration of the ruling coalition.
Political scientist Chandra Muzaffar said any political party seeking Malay support and hoping to be in power would have to come to terms with the Malays’ attachment to their position as the country’s original inhabitants.
He said the position of the Malays – their culture, language, religion and rulers – assumed “extraordinary significance” largely because of the massive conferment of citizenship upon Chinese and Indians on the eve of Merdeka in 1957.
Chandra said a political party seeking the support of the Malays and hoping to be the ruling power could adopt either a progressive or conservative approach to the question of the Malay position.
“A progressive approach would, for instance, insist that our constitutional rulers adhere strictly to the principles of a constitutional monarchy,” he said.
“A progressive approach to Islam as the religion of the federation would emphasise values in the religion that are universal and resonate with humanity as a whole.
“A progressive understanding of affirmative action would give priority to the needs of the poor, regardless of ethnicity.”
With such an interpretation, he said, the Malay position would acquire a positive meaning for everyone, Malay and non-Malay.
He also said many Malays today were against a too conservative approach to the Malay position as it would favour the elite and breed corruption and other abuses of power.
“In a sense, Pakatan Harapan represents that sentiment. I would argue that some of those who voted for PAS or even certain Umno personalities also want to see justice and fairness in Malaysian society.”
Another analyst, Oh Ei Sun of the Pacific Research Centre, said the current situation in Malaysia was reminiscent of the southern United States before the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.
In those days, he said, African Americans were treated like second-class citizens, regardless of whether the Democrats or Republicans were in power.
“It took the solidarity between the African Americans and the more progressive and predominantly northern whites in the civil rights movement through peaceful – but sometimes deadly – protests and acts of disobedience to eventually usher in a new, comparatively non-discriminatory era,” he said.
“The local equivalents of such progressive whites, though slowly building up primarily in the urban areas, are not yet forming a significant momentum with the mostly non-vocal local equivalents of African Americans to effect a similar change.”