The last great political fight for Zaid

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“The whole world keeps asking: ‘What has gone wrong with Malaysia?’ In other words, they are asking what has gone wrong with Malays. How do we respond to this?”

– Zaid Ibrahim’s speech (translated from Kelantanese Malay) to 300 Kelantan Pakatan Harapan party workers in Kota Bharu, March 20, 2018

COMMENT | I really do not get it. Why isn’t DAP offering Zaid Ibrahim a seat? Why am I reading about possible young candidates going on about the reasons why they as – non-Malays – feel marginalised in this country instead of someone like Zaid, who – considering his maverick status – has played well with others (this time) when we are told that this is going to be the ultimate electoral brawl within the Malay community.

It just does not make sense. Pakatan Harapan – whoever they are – tell us that Bersatu is needed to secure the rural Malay vote and it is filled to the brim with former Umno acolytes attempting to present an image of reformasi. Meanwhile, PKR is floundering and has yet to shed its “weakest link” image of Harapan. Amanah is attempting to discover how exactly it fits in this coalition and the DAP is busy ensuring that MCA and Gerakan are footnotes in history.

There are very few Malay politicians like Zaid. Who knows what brought upon this change from Umno political insider to mainstream political outsider. That is a big leap to make. From Umno embracing you, to everyone thinking that you are that crazy uncle who makes politically incorrect (in the Malaysians context) utterances in public.

The opposition needs a Malay politician like Zaid. After all, the opposition has many Malay politicians from the Umno mould. They have politicians from the PAS mould as well. Rare is the Malay politician who understands that this conflict is not about saving Malaysia but rather is an existential conflict within the Malay community.

Think about this. Umno, Bersatu, PAS, Amanah and even PKR, when they talk about the Malays, the belief is that the system is needed to save them. Zaid is a Malay politician who thinks that there is something wrong with the system. When I was editing his book, one of the questions that frequently cropped up was, “Do you really want to put this in the book?” “This” was slaying sacred cows types pieces that played well with non-Malays but which I believed will alienate his Malay audience.

Zaid’s answer was always the same. “It’s reality, Thaya” or something like that. And when you think about another Malay politician, the former Umno strongman now Harapan PM-designate, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, also revealed “truths” about the Malay community when he led Umno and the sycophants lapped it up. These days, of course, they use it against him but the Malay community despite what the Umno state wants you to believe has always been in conflict.

There is a discourse going on far away from the mainstream urban/English-dominated media. Young Malays from both sides of the political divide send me materials – sometimes poorly translated, but hey I asked – of the political discussions that are going on, away from what we think is the Malay discourse. Zaid’s name always crops up. He is divisive, which is a good thing because unlike the majority of Malay politicians who are easily dismissed, the ad hominems sometimes spewed at Zaid gives way to discussion on what it means to be Malay in this country.

Forget about the opposition narrative that Bersatu and Mahathir are needed to save Malaysia because of the demographic they apparently can get for the opposition; there is another narrative, a politically incorrect one – depending on how you view such things – that only a Malay can say and do things in this country when it comes to addressing his or her community. Actually, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) man, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, said more or less the same...

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