Mahathir’s ethnic straightjacket

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COMMENT Dr Mahathir Mohamad, despite his opposition to Najib Abdul Razak, still thinks and acts along racial or ethnic lines. Such a conception does not augur well for the future of the country and more importantly for the development of sound ethnic relations.

There is nothing wrong in establishing a political party for bumiputeras, and then if this political party follows the example of Umno, the possibility is high that it would not be any different from the party it wants to replace.

The core issue is simply this: what does Mahathir wants for Malaysia. Does he want a political party to replace Umno or whether he wants a major political change for Malaysia? Or alternatively, whether he wants to merely to get rid of Najib or he wants to undermine Umno for all the mess that it has created?

Mahathir’s ideas for political change remain patchy. His numerous commentaries remain a jigsaw puzzle for Malaysians.

Perhaps Mahathir himself knows that it would be difficult for the new bumiputera party to compete and grow in the country. Without resources at its disposal and without the necessary patronage, it would be difficult for a party, especially an ethnic-based party, to do the desired things for Malaysians.

It would be difficult to undermine Umno even if the new party is going to be headed by a popular former prime minister, that is, Mahathir. Personal credentials and experience are important, but they might not make a significant impact. Very often than not, most ethnic or racial political parties are sustained on the basis of powerful patronage that stems from holding political power.

Mahathir might lead the new political party, but then the question is to what extent does he have the patronage machinery. He might have benefit of experience and popularity in some sections of the Malay society, but without having access to state resources, an ethnic-based party might have its limits.

For a political party to develop it must have futuristic vision of the society it wants to bring about. No party can succeed in Malaysia without factoring in the presence of Chinese, Indians and others. The question is, what has Mahathir to say about the non-Malays? Is he envisaging a coalition - something like BN - to incorporate other political parties?

One would think that Mahathir with his vast experience in politics would be keen to escape the ‘entrapment’ of ethnicity. However, he still thinks of Malaysia in ethnic terms. If an alternative ethnic-based party is an answer to the present woes of Malaysia brought about by Najib and his associates, then how are we going to tackle issues of bad governance, corruption and scandals?

There are inherent limits to what an ethnic party can and cannot do. In the finally analysis, independent of its leaders, events will eventually force an ethnic-based party to compete with other ethnic-based parties in terms of sectarian nationalism. Political competition and the need to survive will force ethnic-based parties to compete with one another on extreme nationalist appeals.

It is not I want to question the good intentions of Mahathir in bringing about political change, something that is really lacking in the country, but I really doubt whether his ethnic-based formula is really the answer to the current problems?

P RAMASAMY is Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang and the state assemblyperson for Perai.

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