The current state of Malay politics

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You can get inspiration for an article on Malay politics if you take a stroll around a Ramadan bazaar.

The delicacies come in all colours and shapes, but most of them taste the same. Nowadays, they are even packed the same way and priced more or less the same from one stall to another. It makes you wonder why a seller bothers selling what the guy next to him is selling.

The campaigns in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar, the two Malay-majority constituencies which go to the polls this Saturday, are also colourful but lacking in variety. The voters are given an array of parties to choose from. They are all halal, but they come in different colours. There’s red and white, there’s green and white, and there’s orange.

Even this nascent orange party finds itself hard to ignore the themes of the campaign – Islam, Malay, Muslims, hudud – in short, anything to do with the perceived empowerment of race and religion.

In two weeks of campaigning, nothing new is heard coming out of the speeches because the parties are trying to outdo one another in proving their race and religious credentials.

Of course, in all this, PAS does it masterfully, as it has all this while, except for a brief period of hybernation. This was during its Pakatan Rakyat days, when it chanted the mantra of the welfare state, about which it had no clue, as has been proven in Kelantan for more than three decades.

With the little mullahs springing forth in the last muktamar, the welfare state is forgotten. In its place is a utopian ideal that they think can be resurrected from the medieval age.

Indeed, PAS leaders, in messages laced with Quranic verses, have made no attempt to hide their religious upmanship. They project themselves as representatives of God, essentially telling the Muslims they have no choice but to vote in the party of God. The PAS candidate for Sungai Besar, Abdul Rani Osman, said it clearly: choose PAS in both Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar and you have contributed two votes for the hudud bill.

Both Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar are Malay heartlands. Kuala Kangsar is where the so-called creme de la creme of Malay society are incubated before they are released to the lowly world outside to provide leadership to the wider community.

Yet, it is here, in what was once the Eton of the Malay world, that we now hear nonsensical pronouncements by Malay leaders. It started with the iddah, continued with the PAS President’s warning of divine wraths, and there’s no prize for guessing what else will unfold.

It speaks volumes for the tone of the campaigns when a party like Amanah, which arguably has more intellectuals and professionals in its fold, is forced to use the same race and religion cards, distracting from whatever larger issues it had planned to talk about.

That’s a pity. If the Amanah experiment – confidently and daringly challenging the hallowed hudud and shariah narratives of PAS and Umno – fails, it will be a damning verdict on the state of Malay society and the prevailing psyche of the community, one that is perverted with ceremonial religiosity symbolised by a love for the bizarre, all in the name of God’s law.