Dennis Ignatius: A government dominated by all the wrong people

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It will matter little who dominates the cabinet if the country is run well, kept free from corruption and all are treated with fairness and dignity.

Former attorney-general Tommy Thomas stoked controversy when he opined at a recent forum that the administrations that succeeded PH – premised upon Malay unity – have been failures. He went on to suggest that PH should ask voters in the run-up to GE15 whether these so-called Malay unity governments had performed better than the previous PH government.

UMNO president Zahid Hamidi called his remarks “Malay-phobic, insensitive and irresponsible” and accused Thomas of being “extremely obsessive and prejudiced…”.

Dr Raduan Che Rose of The National Professors Council (NPC) warned Thomas not to destroy the racial unity among the people by making provocative and racist statements.

Former law minister Zaid Ibrahim, who just re-joined UMNO, also took issue with Thomas’ remarks. Playing to the UMNO gallery, he accused Thomas of saying, in effect, that “if the government and cabinet were dominated by Malays, then it would likely fail”.

But what are they so worked up about?

Is it unreasonable to ask whether the Malays themselves, along with the rest of the country, have been adequately served by all these so-called Malay unity governments? After all, UMNO and PAS had previously criticised PH for not doing enough to help the Malays; now it must be asked if they themselves have lived up to their promises?

Since PH fell, we’ve seen nothing but bitter infighting between UMNO, PAS and Bersatu – all of whom, it may be recalled, justified their joint backdoor takeover of the government by emphasising the need for a Malay-dominated government to save the Malays. Their infighting has all but paralysed the government. As Thomas noted, our economy is at its worst, our national debt is at its highest and our currency is at its weakest. The B40 group in particular is facing great hardship; they’ve drawn down what little savings they had during the pandemic and now face a bleak future.

And why are they so upset by Thomas’ description of both administrations as Malay-dominated? Isn’t that obvious? Wasn’t the Malay Dignity Congress – the precursor to the Sheraton Move – all about restoring Malay domination after Mahathir complained that the “Malay element” in the PH government was not strong?

As for Thomas’ comment that both the Muhyiddin Yassin and Ismail Sabri governments are failures, isn’t that exactly what a number of UMNO leaders have also been saying? Didn’t UMNO criticise Muhyiddin Yassin’s poor performance as prime minister and agitate for his removal? Didn’t UMNO vice-president Khaled Nordin accuse Muhyiddin of “lacking intelligence”?

Furthermore, if Zahid thinks so highly of Ismail Sabri’s government, why is he in such a hurry to bring it down? He can’t have it both ways: he can’t defend the Ismail Sabri administration from Thomas’ criticism on the one hand while scheming to bring it down on the other. If he thinks Thomas is wrong and Ismail Sabri is doing a good job, he should give the prime minister his full support instead of pressuring him to quit.

Does the less than stellar performance of these two Malay-dominated governments imply that Malays are incapable of running the country, as Zaid asked?  Of course not! We would not have accomplished all that we have thus far if that were true. We’ve had many outstanding leaders who continue to serve as beacons of inspiration to all Malaysians – men like Tunku Abdul Rahman, Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, Raja Azlan Shah, Salleh Abbas and Ani Arope, to name but a few.

Indeed, Zaid himself was once admired for the principled positions he took but these days it is hard to tell what he stands for.

As I see it, the real problem is not that these administrations are Malay-dominated; the problem is that they are dominated by all the wrong people, people who have shown themselves to be mediocre at best. There’s no question that the nation is poorly served by them.

Whatever it is, it is time our politicians stop hiding behind race and religion and stand instead on their performance. It will matter little who dominates the cabinet if the country is run well, kept free from corruption and all are treated with fairness and dignity.

In commenting on Thomas’ remarks, Zaid Ibrahim also tauntingly asked, “What type of Malays are acceptable to the DAP?” I cannot speak for either Thomas or the DAP but I will attempt a brief answer as a Malaysian. What we want in our leaders – Malay or non-Malay – are integrity and character, competence, commitment to the constitution and a genuine desire to seek the common good of all Malaysians. If Zaid needs a role model, he need look no further than Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat. – Dennis Ignatius