The politics of race and religion should be replaced by the politics of service for the common good, writes Ronald Benjamin.The headline in The Star on 10 March, “Let’s keep the unity”, is a significant call to shun extremism at a time when new political cooperation has emerged between Pas and Umno in the name of Malay-Muslim unity.
As stated in the content, the handshakes between Pas and Umno have been strong in recent days – and so are the fears of a racial divide in the country.
On the other hand, intellectuals, academicians and Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan (Patriot) have called for age-old legacies to be cast aside so that a truly united Malaysia can be realised.
The colonial era legacy of insecurity continues to haunt Malaysia, and this has various complex reasons from the socio-economic disparities with roots in the British divide-and-rule policy to the racial and religious identities. But the truth is that the political culture and praxis in Malaysia has been basically rooted in a type of politics where the ends justify the means.
Obviously, analysis has been lacking among intellectuals on the moral aspects of Malaysian politics in the light of calls for the Pakatan Harapan government to raise the bar of governance to counter extremist Pas and Umno propaganda.
Politics where the ends justify the means can be seen in history and the local political situation that we find ourselves in, if we are truly is discerning. For example, Umno, in spite of its flaws, played a vital part under Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra to come up with power-sharing arrangements (under the Alliance coalition) with the MIC and the MCA, which led to independence.
After the May 13 incident in 1969, under the leadership of Abdul Razak Hussein, the grand inclusive Barisan National coalition, which included Pas, was formed. This was done with unity in mind after the tragic May 13 incident.
During this time, Umno was a party that respected the inclusive dimension of governing and this brought about a legacy of peace and stability, unlike other nations that achieved independence at the same time and which were engulfed in civil war and violence.
Things only began to change during the period of Islamic resurgence in the mid-1970s, and when Dr Mahathir Mohamad took over the reins in 1981. He wanted to counter Pas, and so politics where the ends justify the means was part and parcel of his administration.
In the later stages of Mahathir’s premiership, he declared in 2001 that Malaysia was indeed an Islamic state under Umno. Since then, religious extremism has been empowered, and any politician who failed to accommodate the extremist forces could be regarded as a political liability.
If one looks at the current political cooperation between Pas and Umno, it is nothing more than to portray themselves as champions of Islam, which they believe will help them to assume the leadership of the country as soon as possible or in the next general election, since the Malays and other indigenous groups make up 65% of the population.
In this quest, there were political games played out by Pas in apparently trying to create a rift between Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim by claiming there could be a possible coup against Mahathir’s leadership. This was done to suggest the possibility that the all-Malay Bersatu could be part of the Pas-Umno alliance, with the intention of excluding the DAP and PKR, which have a multi-racial membership, from governance.
No evidence of a coup was provided which only shows that the brand of politics where the ends justify the means was used unashamedly.
‘It is power that is important’
For Umno, issues like an Islamic state or a theocracy are something that could be dealt with later. It is power that is important.
As for Pas leaders, they have condoned lying, if it is justified in the name of so-called religious struggles. One wonders whether the current Pas is a secular or religious party, since lying is not condoned by any religious leaders who tend to preserve the integrity of their religion.
Even secular leaders, as seen in certain Nordic countries, have greater moral integrity than the current Pas leaders: they do not tolerate corruption and have greater compassion for their fellow citizens.
As for Pakatan Harapan, the ends justify the means also played a part in its drive to power. When its predecessor, Pakatan Rakyat, was formed in 2008, bringing together PKR, the DAP and Pas, it was a marriage of convenience, even though there was an effort to work towards common issues.
Pas, as a religiously inclined political party dominated by the ulama, has always propagated an Islamic state. But such underlining ideology was ignored by the DAP and PKR because coming to power was more important than what happens to governance after the coalition comes to power.
The current difficulties faced by the Pakatan Harapan government in fulfilling its manifesto are also consequences of an ends-justify-the-means politics, where unrealistic promises were made just to win the general election. There were times when its political leader declared that if he assumes power, he would immediately bring down the price of petrol.
Therefore, the current concern about the political relationship between Pas and Umno is not merely about the disunity that it would entail. We must also consider the immoral politics of the ends justifying the means among both the government and the opposition parties. Their obsession for power dominates their actions, which will be detrimental to the country in the long run.
Malaysian voters must hold their politicians accountable for their politics of using the ends to justify the means. It is a tall order, indeed, as the politics of tribalism, fear and insecurity have been accepted by the majority in an ethnically and religiously inclined society.
To counter this politics of the ends justifying the means, a new front in Malaysia must emerge that is focused on service rather than political affiliations. Pope Francis in his address to Catholic politicians in Latin America asserted that what makes a politician is not his or her party affiliation, but dedication to promoting the common good, especially by listening to and empowering people who are often overlooked.
It is time that the politics of race and religion, which has all the characteristics of the ends justifying the means, is replaced by the politics of service, which is an authentic means to serve an end – which is the common good. Ethno-religious politics does not serve the common good, and it should be rejected for the lie it propagates.
This article was first published in Malaysiakini.