There has been political uncertainty since the 2018 general elections because never before has Barisan Nasional, in power for almost 60 years, lost in an election. This incident has also given rise to a new phenomenon, whereby the leader of a minor party in the Pakatan Harapan ruling coalition has been made the prime minster. Prior to this, only the biggest party in a political bloc got to become PM.
When a leader from a minor party becomes prime minister, sure enough there is quiet displeasure among the more dominant parties in the coalition such as PKR and DAP, especially when the issue of Mahathir-Anwar power transition is still not specifically clear.
For the Malays, ICERD, the death of fireman in the Seafield temple incident, etc. have triggered the frustration among the Malays who begin to feel that their rights and priority are being sidelined.
Into the second year, the PH’s government’s plan to introduce Seni Khat at vernacular schools has been strong resisted by the local Chinese community as well as DAP grassroots, arguing that the measure is trying to spread the religious element in schools.
There were 41 DAP state and central leaders, along with 263 others at branch and division levels including 12 state assemblymen from the party, were involved. Their opposition to Seni Khat has irked the Malays who see that the Chinese community is largely against the issue. As a result, the education ministry cut down the number of pages on Seni Khat from six to three.
Dong Zong even launched a petition against the measure. Understandably, this issue has been a sensitive one to both the Chinese and the Malay communities. In the end, the education ministry announced in a cabinet meeting that the measure would only be carried out at vernacular schools with the consent of the parent-teacher associations of individual schools as well as the parents and the school children themselves.
But for the majority of conservative Malays, they have seen a decline in their political power being eroded under the PH government.
Even though, the PM, DPM, education and several key minsters are all Malays, they see the leaders’ failure to defend their national importance that involves in inter-ethnic interactions in the context of education. They feel the biggest ever challenge that the Malays are no longer the most dominant party in the government. All this is perceived to have happened as a result of the shift of administrative power from a majority party to a minority party.
Such a narrative of the Malays being sidelined has been exploited by Umno and PAS, culminating in the National Consensus that marks the political cooperation among the biggest Malay parties in resisting the PH administration without neglecting the needs of the minorities, as seen in the fielding of an MCA candidate in Tanjung Piai by-election to rebut the claim that the National Consensus is sidelining the local Chinese community. It is a political alliance between two former rival parties that both lost in GE14 as a consequence of their rivalry.
The Malay Dignity Congress was held at a time Malay-phobia was strife among the minorities in this country. Prior to this, there was this Ismalophobia arising from the proposed cooperation between Umno and PAS.
DAP’s deputy secretary-general Nga kor Min, for instance, reportedly said Malaysia would become like Afghanistan under Taliban if Umno and PAS were to form the next government. According to him, these two parties had adopted increasingly extreme approaches while the more moderate and open-minded Malays were largely quiet. His statement in essence has reflected the Malaysian Chinese community’s concern that the Umno-PAS cooperation might jeopardise the existing harmony.
The Malay Dignity Congress was organised by four local public universities with Malay study centres, namely Universiti Malaya, UiTM, UPSI and UPM. Universiti Malay, with its most established history as well as a Malay study centre that has been in existence since 1953 before the country’s independence, was the primary organiser among the four institutions. The Malay Excellence Research Centre, the Institute Of Thought And Leadership (Impak), UiTM were to focus on the aspects of Malay economy, while the other educational clusters were to focus on the various aspects such as politics, economy, culture and religion.
Ideally, the congress participated by some 15,000 attendants from NGOs, professionals, university students, activists and Malay politicians regardless of their ideological affiliations. Malay political leaders such as Anwar Ibrahim were also invited to the congress. Workshop, roundtable meeting and seminar preceded the congress itself and their participation was open to all parties,including academics, youth organisations, elected representatives, senators from Umno, PKR, PAS and Amanah, among others. Various views — critical, conservative or radical — were presented, discussed, analysed and made into resolutions and proposals of the congress.
During the congress, young Malays were also given the opportunity to deliberate on each cluster. Sure enough what has been proposed is not a resolution but views of the participants such as those in the political cluster.
Actually the congress was supposed to be “closed” to the Malay participants to avoid excessive rhetoric without appropriate actions taken on the increasingly critical Malay issues. With the help of people like Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, an invitation was extended to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as a Malay, not as prime minster of this country, which is incorporate because Tun Mahathir has on many occasions talked about issues related to the Malays, be it in a positive, negative or optimistic manner.
It is widely known that majority of the B40 group are the Malays whiles households with the lowest incomes are the Malays. While the new Economic Policy has succeeded in some ways, it has also failed in other ways, and there must be a core affirmative policy in shaping the economic and development policy of this country. This is nothing unusual as even developed countries need to have such policies and it is consistent with the federal constitution.
As such, the Malay Dignity Congress has urged that the shared prosperity vision to have an affirmative policy to help the Malays. Such a new affirmative policy has to be effective, non-exploitative and abusable.
The gap between different ethnicities has widened such that there is this need to unite the nation in the context of a national educational philosophy. Sure enough such an issue is sensitive to the minorities. However, we need to be reminded that as Malaysian citizens it is utterly necessary to strengthen national unity and the spirit of oneness. Bahasa Melayu does not belong only to the Malays but all Malaysian citizens. It has now come to a time that the philosophy of nationalism as the foundation of building a nation is understood more comprehensively. There are many Malays, Indians and Chinese who do not view the importance of the national language seriously. As a result, the weak cultural and political will has given rise to our official language being increasingly sidelined.
On religion, issues that belittle Islam and the Malay rulers must not be seen as minor issues. In the Malay Dignity Congress, there were calls for more stringent actions on individuals found guilty of belittling Islam and the Malay royalty, along with the special rights for the Malays which have been enshrined in the Constitution, such as educational opportunities and scholarships for the underprivileged. These people feel that their rights are being eroded. The current economic climate is such that the Malays feel that they have been sidelined with limited employment opportunities for them. Although some of them are fluent in English said to be the prerequisite for recruitment besides academic qualifications and skills, many remain out of jobs. Such a phenomenon is increasingly alarming in view of the government’s plan to gradually downsize the civil service sector which for so many years has become a job market for Malay bumi graduates. In the meantime, not many Malays or Malay families are involved in business and this restrict their opportunities in this sector vis-à-vis the Chinese.
Criticisms on Tun Mahathir’s involvement in the congress should not have surfaced in the first place. Moreover, the prime minster’s speech was not racist at all. He was only telling the participants to work hard and have positive attitude.
As for the vice chancellor of Universiti Malaya, he was only presenting the political reality of this country about the eroded political power of the Malays and disunity. He also mentioned the importance of working alongside other ethnic communities of this country in developing the country.
The presence of Hadi Awang, Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, Khairy Jamaluddin, Azmin Ali, Annuar Musa, Noh Omar, Jamil Khir Baharom, and the mufti of Perlis at the congress, meanwhile, has displayed an effort of cooperation among political leaders disregarding their ideological differences. We had leasers from PAS, Umno, PKR, Amanah and PPBM at the congress.
In view of this, some have come up with the conspiracy theory that this was the sign of an effort to set up a all-Malay backdoor unity government without DAP and a major part of PKR, even though Tun Mahathir has reiterated that he would not allow such a backdoor government to come into effect. What is intended to be established is an awareness among the Malay political leaders that they ought to focus more on issues of poverty and economic opportunities for the Malays instead of being engrossed in politicking.
In the history of Malay congresses, we have seen successful formation of institutions or movements as a consequence of such congresses. The first Malay congress held in 1946 successfully pooled 41 Malay organisations together to give rise to Umno as a result of a major crisis at that time when the British intended to introduce Malayan Union to the Malay states.
On the resolutions achieved at these congresses, although many proposals were put forward, few were put into implementation due to specific economic and political restrictions. Moreover, whatever policy that is to be carried out needs to conform to the federal constitution which is the most supreme law of the nation.
As such, any interpretation on the Malay Dignity Congress is still bound by the Rukun Negara and the Federal Constitution which will ensure the rights of all citizens of this country.
Associate Professor Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi