The fragmentation of Malay politics


The emergence of Bersatu, with its cadre of disenfranchised Umno rebels, further muddies the waters of Malay politics.

There are still plenty of wishful thinkers in the establishment who cling to the old notion that the Malay vote is monolithic, but the wealth of information we’re getting from the alternative media, especially social media, tells us that there are conservative Malays, moderate Malays, liberal Malays, even anarchic Malays spread across the length and breadth of the country.

Malay society is indeed living, breathing and evolving as it tries to come to terms with the rapidly changing world we live in. One of the effects of these changes, helped by the information explosion, is the rapid expansion of ideologies. Anyone who has his ears close enough to the ground knows that with every young Malay going to the right, there’s probably another going to the left and another to the middle.

With this ideological fragmentation, space has opened up for different parties with different ways of thinking, and this is reflected in the major players in the race for the Malay vote.

PKR, Amanah, PAS, Bersatu, and Umno all vie for roughly the same electorate, regardless of PKR’s enduring and much appreciated decision to keep membership open to all races.

Amanah is as close to a progressive Malay party as has been seen in decades. PAS appeals to the ultra-conservative elements of Malay society. Bersatu, PKR, and Umno vie for the vote of those on the fence and around it. Umno has generally been considered centre-right despite the occasional outburst of extremism, and until recently was more of a palatable option than PAS with its occasional frothy manic behaviour.

There are ideological quirks that separate PKR, Bersatu, and Umno from each other. PKR has a reformist agenda, Umno is distinguished by its pro-Bumiputera policies, while Bersatu has a more inclusive definition of Bumiputera.

Bersatu, being newly announced, is still something of an enigma, and so cannot be fully analysed just yet, but it has promised a different way of doing Bumiputera politics.

The Malay identity is just as varied as the parties named above, and so each has its particular audience within the community. It’s hard to predict who will win out in the end although one must give Umno an edge because it has control over the instruments of state. Bersatu probably still needs time to emerge as a viable contender, and the other opposition parties still have some way to go to repair their battered image, except perhaps Amanah because it too is still new.

Regardless, the ideological fragmentation of Malay society is beginning to be reflected in our politics, and that can only be a good thing in the long run. Ultimately, of course, we should all be working towards a political system that is not race-based.