Anwar is right to play the class card

“I want to tell the leaders with the titles of ‘Tun’ and ‘Tan Sri’ who are rich – if you really want to save Malays, give them half of your billions in profits tomorrow.”

– Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim

As I argued before, Anwar, who was always more comfortable in his rabble-rousing role, did the right thing in organizing his Raya roadshow.

Recent comments in an open house in Penang indicate that he and his team understand that in this apocalyptic political battle with Perikatan Nasional, class is the political terrain which would suit Pakatan Harapan best.

Attempting to raise populist sentiment, he called out the fat cat Malay plutocrat class, who claim to have the best interests of the Malay polity at heart but in reality merely exploit them.

He said, “They should not use their powers to enrich their family members. And when they are rich but have lost power, they go on to say ‘long live Malays’ and ‘save the Malays’.”

Dr Mahathir Mohamad

Of course, all this is laying the ground for his battle royale in the courts with former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who for some odd reason believes his family wealth is somehow immune from the public scrutiny that would come with a court case and an adversary with the machinery of the state at his disposal.

Anwar also said the quiet part out loud when he said, “I want to tell the leaders with the titles of ‘Tun’ and ‘Tan Sri’ who are rich – if you really want to save Malays, give them half of your billions in profits tomorrow.”

It is talk like this which frightens the more intelligent members of the religious extremist coalition going up against this coalition government. For instance, former Bersatu information chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan wanted to know if Anwar was attempting to instigate class warfare.

Wan Saiful as part of the Malay political elite really does not want any class-conscious raising amongst the disenfranchised Malay classes but has no problem providing them with crumbs from the table through racial and religious entitlement programmes to keep them dependent and with a sense of racial and religious superiority.

Haves and have nots

Now of course entangled in a corruption charge, all these political elites are deathly afraid that Anwar’s class rabble-rousing will gain traction especially since it would be difficult to counter now that bank accounts are frozen.

Former PKR deputy president Syed Husin Ali has warned us, in an interview with Free Malaysia Today, that even a monoethnic Malay polity would descend into class warfare.

He said, “Pertama… adalah kepentingan nilai seperti agama dan moral, manakala kedua adalah kepentingan berkaitan politik seperti perkembagan ekonomi dan pendidikan. Apabila kepentingan-kepentingan ini bertentangan, maka wujudlah konflik.”

(One concern is values such as religion, while the other concern is economic growth and education. If these concerns clash, then conflict will arise.)

And then he dived into the nature of the eventual class conflict that would arise – “Misalannya, kurang kekayaan dalam kalangan Melayu. Orang Melayu yang di bawah akan menganggap mereka miskin kerana kekayaan dikumpul oleh kelompok (orang Melayu kaya) yang sedikit. Justeru, timbullah konflik.”

(For example, the lack of abundance among the Malays. The Malays at the bottom will see themselves as poor because of the wealth amassed by the few [rich Malays]. Thus, conflict arises.)

However, this dirty system that Anwar talks about is more than just corruption. It is a system predicated on keeping the majority uncompetitive and subservient to a political class, which wilfully wants them to remain ignorant and subservient because it fuels the very system which is disenfranchising them.

I will give you an example of this system. In Kedah, at a recent Raya event, Anwar promised funding for the building of a long-promised mosque. First off, you have to wonder if another mosque would really be of benefit as it was reported there are currently three mosques there.

Details are scant but the new mosque has apparently been a repeat election promise since the 2004 general election.

But never mind, there should be a forensic audit of the various initiatives to build the mosque over the decades. I believe such an audit would demonstrate how dirty this system really is. It would define the nexus between the political and religious classes and how they loot the coffers of the state.

Poverty alleviation programmes

The Malay political class and corruption are part of the system but the other part, which Anwar is so far avoiding, is that after decades of special privileges and entitlement programs why are the Malays in the situation they are in?

Former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob admitted that all those poverty alleviation programmes were carried out by the vast bureaucracy and nobody had any idea about their effectiveness: “Many ministries had programmes on poverty alleviation but there was no specific monitoring on their effectiveness.”

Keeping in mind that monitoring these programmes would not mean there would automatically be transparency. This is because many of these programmes are part of the gravy train driven by bureaucrats, political operatives, and their various proxies.

Indeed, Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj talked about this in his rejoinder to Harapan not to blow their second chance. He wrote:

“Transparency in the use of funds provided by the Ministry of Rural Development through the district offices to maintain and upgrade public facilities and residents’ houses in rural areas. (It is currently about RM5bn per year! Not a small amount.)

“The level of funding must be maintained for now, but it will go much further if the pilfering (by local politicians and district office employees and their crony contractors) is reduced by requiring all the allocations and the specifications of the projects approved to be put up on online notice boards that the local population can access.”

Sustaining kleptocracy

This is why Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as rural and regional development minister is anathema to any kind of reform. Mind you, it could help Anwar and Harapan if Zahid can maintain the gravy train for operatives on the ground thereby drawing back support from an Umno base which PN has been extremely successful in leaching away support from.

Again, all this does is maintain the feudalistic system that has mired the majority polity, especially in the Malay heartland, in the miasma of religiosity and economic deprivation that becomes fodder for people like Mahathir and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang to claim that the Malays are under threat from other more successful ethnic communities.

Who knows, maybe Anwar and Zahid understand that in this new political terrain, Malay voter sentiment can change swiftly now that the majority polity understands they have more choices, and the economic welfare of the community will blunt the sharp kleptocratic instincts of the mainstream political establishment. We will soon find out.

The non-Malays on the other hand, having left to fend for themselves, have opened up economic, educational, and social spheres in which connective tissue has allowed the state to sustain a kleptocracy that has endured for decades.

Reforms of state institutions that minimise corruption and deregulation which minimises cronyism are some things we can all agree with and, perhaps, the most economically viable way to sway the Malay public option. This is why PAS is determined to make this a culture war.

All this talk of poverty alleviation, especially when it comes to the Malay community, is mired in the kind of corruption that plagues the mainstream political establishment. Remember what Jeyakumar said – “If you stop affirmative action for the rich Malays, even the poor Malays would accept it.”

Anwar was dealt a bad hand but it is better that he plays the class card rather than the race and religion card, which PN plays better.