The great lie from Malay power structures

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan
Published:  |  Modified:

Shahrir Abdul Samad said the Malay tsunami bandied by the opposition was intended to destroy the long-established Malay institutions in the country.”

– Malaysiakini

COMMENT | Kudos to the Malaysiakini team for their interview with former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

I would hate to see Malaysiakini become the Pravda of the opposition. I know for a fact that Malaysiakini would like to interview the current Umno grand poobah (Najib Razak) but say what you like about the old maverick, he never has a problem confronting a hostile press, here or abroad. The same cannot be said of the current prime minister. It’s getting late in the day for him to prove me wrong, I guess.

People always ask me, if Mahathir wins this election, will things change? That says a lot. Before Mahathir came on board, most people did not even think this election was winnable. Political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim for various reasons was not able to galvanise the demographic that was needed to take Putrajaya.

Some folks took exception when I argued that Mahathir is the only choice for the opposition for PM – “A Mahathir-Najib showdown makes sense in a way that the whole 1MDB fiasco could never. There is a clear Malay choice for the direction of this country and with Mahathir at the helm; many Malays who are sick and tired of the politicking that goes on would be encouraged to ‘save Malaysia’. They would do this by giving the country back to the man who more or less created modern Malaysia and who redefined the Malay polity over the decades of his long watch.”

When former minister Zaid Ibrahim - whose idea I riffed off from - first mooted this, what I was really hoping for was that the old maverick took the fight to the Umno/Malay establishment, which truth be told he recreated over his long watch.

That’s the key, you see. If Mahathir wins this election, he would have broken the chokehold on the Malay community that no single party should have. Now I get that some people say that the system encourages no real difference in Malay power structures, but the first step is for the Malay community (like their Indian and Chinese brethren) to understand that they have a choice of who they want to lead this country.

The great lie of ‘ketuanan’ politics is that the opposition wants to destroy “Malay” institutions. The old maverick also played that card when he was in power. Mainstream Malay politics involves protecting institutions that give succour to the Malay polity. These institutions give employment to a sizeable number of Malays. The civil service, the state security apparatus, the various organisations linked to the government are thus linked to the Malay politics that determines the pecking order of the Malay polity.

Attacking these institutions means attacking the rice bowls of the Malay community. The reality is that that no non-Malay power structures could ever attack Malay institutions because not only were these power structures intimately linked to these institutions through non-Malay plutocrats but because of the way how the systemic discrimination in the civil service and educational organisations played out, non-Malays had to fend for themselves, meaning they did not need these institutions.

The only Malaysians who pose a threat to these institutions are the Malays. The only people who could redefine or reform these institutions are the Malays. The Malay establishment have never faced a threat like they have with the former prime minister. While the old maverick may demur, the reality is that that these so-called Malay institutions are what they are today because of him.

Dr M’s open letter

It was a brilliant move by the former prime minister to write to the security apparatus of the state. Not many people understand the significance of such a move. It was not so much as reminding them they have a choice of government but rather it was a reminder that the office of prime minister was sullied by the behaviour of the current occupant.

The same goes for the civil service and the open letter to Umno members. All of this was taking the fight directly to Umno. The incursions into traditional Umno voting bases poses a real threat this time to the Umno hegemon, because unlike political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim, the former prime minister is a bone fide strongman of Malay rights who would never in a million years sell out the “Malays”. Or at least that is the thinking of the demographic that the opposition seems to think want change but in reality, are just weighing their options as to who serves their “Malay” interests best.

This is exactly what the opposition wanted out the alliance with the former prime minister. This is exactly what Umno fears most. They fear it so much that they go about cutting out his pictures as if his visage is some sort of totem to the demographic that could evict them from Putrajaya. They could be right. The former prime minister resonates with a certain demographic not influenced by the Islamism of PAS. When he tells them that the current Umno government is stealing from them, selling of their country and betraying Islam, it means something.

Add to this, the hostility between the natives and constitutionally-created "Malays", the former prime minister has a ready base believing that under his rule, the "Malays" in the Peninsular were taken care of instead of being sold down the river by a gentry class which the old maverick has always been at odds with.

As I said, the only real enemy Umno fears are the enemies within. While sacking former high-ranking government officials and Umno members may seem that everything is under control, what Umno really fears are the sleepers loyal to those they chose to throw out. Some folks do not understand how loyal the cadre are to people like former Wanita Umno chief Rafidah Aziz and the former prime minister. But more than that, they realise that their job security is threatened by an Umno potentate who is weak.

Let us take the state security apparatus, for instance. People do not realise how much the state security apparatus admires the former prime minister. While people may look back at the Mahathir years as an indictment of the current political landscape, the state security personnel think of him as the epitome of dignity and steel-nerved determination. Unlike some Umno potentates, Mahathir was/is very well regarded by the rank-and-file of the state security apparatus. Then and now.

This to me is the best thing about why the old maverick joining the opposition has achieved. Could he reform these Malay institutions? Could he destroy the coteries of influence within these Malay power institutions who loot the coffers of such organisations like Tabung Haji, Felda and the various other institutions that the Malays hold sacred?

Who knows?

What I do know is that Umno fears this. They fear that he could actually be the reformer that Anwar always threatened he was. Even worse, if he gave the keys to the kingdom to Anwar.

Then everything changes.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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