Malaysia will not be able to get away from identity or race-based politics for at least another two general elections, observed experts at a seminar titled ‘Post-GE14 By-Elections: Implications for GE15’.
Rembau MP and Umno member Khairy Jamaluddin told the forum that the resurgence of identity-politics was a result of the Umno-PAS cooperation and its success in defending Barisan Nasional (BN) held seats in the Cameron Highlands by-election, Rantau by-election and wresting Semenyih from Pakatan Harapan (PH).
“By-elections won’t determine the next general election but these by-elections have determined the flavour of what’s to come. When you are Umno and PAS and realise that this (cooperation) may be a winning formula, you are going to stick to it.
“After Cameron Highlands, Semenyih and Rantau – that’s when Umno and PAS accelerated their marriage. Very soon there will be a charter announced by PAS-Umno and that is a direct result of the by-elections.
“That will determine the flavour of the general election because what’s to come is that it will be a general election based on identity politics.
“It’s not what I like, I think you can win from the centre that’s why I am cast out by Umno,” he said adding that he does not believe Malaysia will see the end of identity politics in his lifetime.
He then pointed out that mathematically, the 14th General Election saw BN winning 79 parliamentary seats and PAS taking 18 seats. If there were no three-cornered fights where BN and PAS had battled, they would have won an extra 30 constituencies.
In total, that makes 127 seats which already pushes the coalition over the required minimum to form a federal government.
However, he admitted that in the 15th General Election, the calculations will not be as simple because of other factors including Undi18, automated voter registration and the fact that Malaysians “have a short memory”.
Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s (PPBM) supreme leadership council member Datuk Rais Hussin Mohamed Arif, who shared the floor with Khairy, echoed the latter’s sentiments.
Rais believes that with Umno and PAS joining forces, there will be nothing but race-based politics – putting policy, economy and centrist politics which was espoused four to five years ago into the back burner.
“I think we will have identity politics for the next two general elections. With PAS and Umno coming together, it will be nothing but identity politics. We need to be patient again. I am with Khairy on this, I like the centrist approach.
“We would like to have it but not in next two general elections,” said Rais.
Khairy also pointed out that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had a chance of bringing an end to race-based politics when he set up PPBM.
However, he observed that Dr Mahathir had created a party similar to Umno which is a Malay-based party and reflected how the world’s oldest elected official’s thinking on how Malaysians view political issues – which is from an ethnic perspective.
At the same time, he added that this situation is not unique to Malaysia.
“Race-based politics. It’s always going to be there I think. When Dr M left Umno he had a chance to set up a new party and he set up a party like Umno – Malay based party, that reflects Dr Maharthir’s thinking on how Malaysians view political issues – from ethnic perspective.
“That isn’t going to change much in our lifetimes. This isn’t just unique to Malaysia. I don’t want you to think that Malaysia is a racist country. This happens everywhere, even in liberal Western democracies.
“You don’t have race-based parties but you can see race-based decision in voting patterns,” said Khairy.
He also praised PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for having the courage to set up PKR as a multiracial party but at the same time, Anwar’s strength is also his greatest weakness as it allows the Malay-based parties ammunition to attack him.
Tindak Malaysia analyst, Danesh Prakash Chacko also agreed with his two panellists that identity-politics is here to stay but did not blame political parties.
Instead, Danesh said that the failure falls on the shoulders of the voters who preferred the race-based parties instead of a more central approach.
“The best chance we had to do that was in Semenyih. It offered two race-based parties (PPBM and Umno) as opposed to one left-wing (PSM) and one humanitarian (independent) but the majority voted for the two race-based parties.
“That is not the failure of Malaysian political parties but the failure of the voters,” said Danesh.