PH has ‘lost the plot’ on unity, says academic

Denison Jayasooria of UKM says the national agenda should be about reducing inequality.

PETALING JAYA: Pakatan Harapan leaders have lost the plot in dealing with national unity, an ethnic studies scholar said today, on the 50th anniversary of the May 13 racial riots in 1969.

Denison Jayasooria, a research fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said inequality in society lay at the heart of tensions arising from the contest for access to employment, income, housing, health and the quality of life.

He said the national agenda should be about reducing inequality in society so that no one would be left behind, although it would be a challenge because “greed dominates free market economy”.

He said federal leaders in Putrajaya should take better care of the national unity agenda. “At times some sections only promote Malay interests and others, non-Malay interests,” he said. “However, the Constitution is a balanced document and there is room for all.”

PH leaders could do better in making statements about national unity, said Denison. PH leaders had been weak and failed to counter the false narrative that the Cabinet was dominated by non-Malay members.

He noted that prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is PH chairman, had “taken this theme head on” and called for politicians to stop using race and religion as a divisive tool.

“Likewise other parties like DAP too must champion the cause of all ethnic communities,” he said.

He suggested that issues of corruption and wrongdoing be left to law enforcement agencies and the courts, rather than still using these as tools in political speeches.

Denison suggested that an independent commission be formed to take charge of national unity issues, rather than leave the responsibility with a political leader, pointing out that P Waytha Moorthy, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of national unity, had been “quiet” on these issues.

Denison also called for legislation to deal with hate speech, and the setting up of a mediation centre to confront those using race and religion in the public space.

He suggested that all Malaysians undergo a course to gain a better understanding of the Federal Constitution as well as religious and racial matters.

He saw nothing wrong in people identifying with their ethnic and religious identity. But the current political discussions spearheaded by Umno and PAS had become more racial and religious.

“So, the contestation is a political one and this has become worse since May 2018”, he said. Pakatan Harapan took control of the federal government after the general election in May last year.