LOYALTY and feudalism are keeping Malays supporting Malaysia’s leadership despite alleged scandals and global probes, said scholars responding to national laureate A. Samad Said’s concern on the lack of outrage among the country’s largest ethnic group.
But Malays have castigated the writer, saying he is playing politics ahead of the general election that must be held by August 2018.
Associate Professor Zainal Abidin Borhan said the Malays were also not easily influenced by alleged misappropriation of funds and mismanagement in the government, more so if such issues were raised by the opposition.
“The loyalty to leaders is very strong, especially in politics, when they see other parties trying to bring down their leaders . They will defend their leaders and dismiss what other people say,” said Zainal Abidin, who heads the School of Heritage and Civilisation at the Islamic University of Malaysia.
The 83-year-old novelist and poet said Malays “didn’t see the truth as the truth”, which was unlike other ethnic groups who could tell the difference between truth and falsehood.
DAP, of which Samad is a member, has been calling the Barisan Nasional government to account for scandals involving 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), as more details emerge in civil suits filed by the US Department of Justice over assets purchased with money allegedly siphoned off the state investor.
The latest civil suit by the DoJ is to seize assets worth US$540 million (RM2.3 billion).
But Zainal Abidin said Malays are “faithful” and are not necessarily convinced of wrongdoing by their leaders.
“They may think that (they are) just allegations by the opposition,” he said.
Malay author and playwright Mohd Faizal Musa, also known as Faisal Tehrani, said this sense of loyalty was due to “psychological feudalism”, which he said was still firmly embedded in Malay culture.
“Full loyalty is in the form of psychological feudalism which shows itself in blind loyalty, fear of criticising and speaking out, apathy and avoidance of confrontation,” said Faisal.
He also referred The Malaysian Insight to the works of the late sociologist, Professor Syed Hussein Alatas, who in 1968 explained the Malays’ psychological make-up in the essay, Feudalism in Malaysian Society: A Study in Historical Continuity.
Among the reasons Syed Hussein found, Faisal said, included the political tradition of inherited power, whereby governance of Malay society was kept within the same family and handed down by a ruler to his children and grandchildren.
For the 14th general election (GE14), analysts have been predicting the various percentages for a swing in votes required to defeat BN.
An analysis by pollster Politweet in 2015 found that 59% of Malay voters in peninsular Malaysia leaned towards BN in GE13, a slight increase from 57% in the previous national polls.
Truth or rhetoric?
On the street, Malays disagreed with Samad’s sentiments.
Azman, 41, a human resources manager from Johor Baru, dismissed Samad’s speech as political rhetoric and asked why the national laureate had to take a dig at his own race.
“Someone of his stature shouldn’t say something like that, he should not demean his own race. If he wants to talk about the Malays’ perception towards 1MDB issue, everyone knows about the issue. So, there is no need for (the opposition) to highlight about 1MDB.
“My opinion is that the election is near and this is one of the attempts to bring down the Malays. Why does he have to provoke his own race?”
Irsyad, a bank executive in Selayang said Samad should not have tarred all Malays with one brush.
“Many Malays know about national issues, but we are tired of the corrupt culture in Malaysian politics. Politicians from across the political divide are just the same.
“Everyone knows the difference between truth and falsehood, everyone knows of the wrongdoings in 1MDB, but what can we do as ordinary Malaysians if we keep talking about the scandal?” the 30-year-old said.
Payton Jaafar, 66, said he disagreed with Samad’s remarks and considered issues raised about 1MDB as political rhetoric by the opposition.
“Malaysia is not a racist country but his statement was a bit racist,” he said.
But Hafiz Jamil, 28, said he agreed with Samad and believed that people’s views were influenced by the kind of information they had access to.
“Those living in rural areas have limited knowledge of certain issues as their source of news comes from the television and newspapers. But those who are exposed to content on the internet know what is happening. Their understanding of national issues like 1MDB is better,” he said.
In Penang, T.J. Tajudin said Samad had a point because many Malays were easily touched and would overlook wrongdoing by those they considered as their leaders.
He said some might even feel that what their leaders have done was for “the greater good of their nation and race”.
“Most, but not all, are easily touched by persuasion or small talk whenever Umno talks to them about how the party struggles for them.”
But the self-employed man in his early 40s is hopeful because he feels things are changing with the Malays.
“I think more Malays are becoming aware and better informed with what is happening.
“I think the younger generation Malays are different. The older generation… well, most are gone case.”