The so-called ‘Malay agenda’ has been at the front and centre since the last general election. Much of the focus has come from Umno, which naturally needs to stoke Malay fears in order to make a comeback.
But there has also been some interesting commentary about the role and importance of the ‘Malay agenda’ in the philosophies and policies of the Anwar Ibrahim-led Pakatan Rakyat. I refer specifically to articles by two Singapore’s Straits Times writers, ‘Anwar's teasers cloud credibility’ and ‘No running away from the Malay agenda’.
It must be remembered that since the reformasi days, the Singapore government, and by extension the Singapore media, have felt some discomfort about the ascendancy of Anwar. It's easy to fathom why - better the devil you know than the one you don't.
Ties with the Barisan Nasional-led government have often been prickly and distracting, but largely predictable, well-established and manageable. Lee Kuan Yew's PAP and Umno go back a long way even if no one wants to admit this.
But Anwar threatens uncertainty. The biggest fear is that democratic rebellion in Malaysia could foster similar sentiments in Singapore. Thus, the little anti-Anwar spin is understandable.
The first article basically says Anwar's credibility is being questioned both by the Malays (for not backing the Islamisation of Malaysia and the ‘Malay Agenda’ in general) and the non-Malays (for not strongly backing moves to make Malaysia color-blind). It refers to some specific instances of both cases.
In adopting this perspective, that article wilfully ignores some realities.
Pakatan Rakyat is a true coalition of equals, not the kind of pseudo, window-dressing collective that is the Umno-dictated BN. All three Pakatan parties have almost equal numbers of MPs, and have also got a more or less equal divide at state-level legislatures.
Anwar is without doubt the most charismatic Pakatan figure and arguably the most powerful Malaysian politician today. But Abdul Hadi Awang and Lim Kit Siang are no Ong Ka Ting and S Samy Vellu. PAS and DAP are, in fact, longer established and deeply rooted parties than PKR.
So Anwar cannot, like Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, dictate to DAP and PAS how they should behave and the policies they should adopt. It is all done by consensus, behind closed doors. But that also means DAP and PAS maintain their respective ideologies, and will from time to time make their own pronouncements and moves.
Neither is Anwar in a position to criticise his Pakatan partners when they go solo. That's not the way political coalitions, especially one among equals, work.
Meanwhile, the second article implies that somehow, Anwar is being dishonest by proclaiming a multiracial agenda, but having to increasingly insert Malay political supremacy into PKR policies. He paints this as a strategy born out of necessity as PKR increasingly realises that it has to appeal to the Malays to prosper.
This article, too, ignores some realities. The first is that this always has been a country - and rightly so - where Malay culture and norms form the foundation. This country is part of the Malay Archipelago, the Malays have always been the majority community and are the original inhabitants.
And Anwar and PKR have never pretended that they are not, at heart, a Malay-based party. No, Malay domination is not the issue. The issue is whether it is ‘the magnanimous Malay’ domination or ‘the bully Malay’ domination.
Umno has progressively since the early 1970s adopted the latter stance. The non-Malays became increasingly treated as a group that is largely unwelcome, barely tolerated and to be treated with hostility.
Anwar and PKR offer another vision - that of a country that naturally is dominated by the Malays, but not in a way that marginalises or deprives non-Malay Malaysians. It is a vision of shared and sufficient prosperity and a feeling of mutual security, purpose and muhibbah.
But it must be done with the full acceptance of the country's fundamental ‘Malay-ness’.
And that means the Malay royalty, despite being constitutional figureheads, still play a powerful role as the non-alterable symbols of Malay dominance. Clearly, the royalty have to play a responsible role and adopt responsible unifying attitudes.
But that is their personal prerogative. If they don't, well, public criticism - especially by non-Malays - is not the way to go.
It is also time non-Malays, especially the politicians, stopp getting hung up on things like whether to wear or not to wear a songkok for ceremonial and official duties. The songkok, and in fact the full baju Melayu, are powerful and distinctive Malaysian - not just Malay - identity symbols and there's no need to attach political baggage to them.
Besides, they can look pretty cool! By the same token, it would be great to see some good- looking Malay women wearing stylish sarees or a salwar kameez, and Malay men wearing kurtas.
There is really no good reason for anyone to deprive themselves of a wider fashion palette - not 50 years after being born together and living together.