Draconian laws and the politics of old do not leave a good taste in the mouth of reform-hungry Malaysians, says Mustafa K Anuar.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s reminder to the Malay and Bumiputra community at the recent Bersatu annual general meeting that they shouldn’t rely on government assistance or “crutches” on a permanent basis was expressed with good intent, ie to make them realise the importance of the community’s dignity and self-confidence in the long run.
The Bersatu chairman rightly pointed out to party members and the Malay community that a crutch is not a sign of nobility. Only they can save themselves, he stressed, and the Malays’ self-reliance would earn them the respect of the other communities.
He said it is important that the party works towards a mindset change within the Malay community because he claimed that Bersatu can set a good example for the rest of the country to follow.
And in line with this spirit of reform, Bersatu youth wing leader Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman raised an important point at the meeting that only the needy, particularly the bottom 40% deserve government assistance.
He felt that these people require the aid – and not the rich Malays whom he felt should not even be offered a discount when buying a home.
But, as a leader of a supposedly reform-minded political party, Syed Saddiq should have gone the extra mile to assert that government assistance should reach out to the bottom 40% irrespective of ethnicity.
Indeed, poverty and economic hardship defy ethnic boundaries, and therefore the affirmative action policy should be executed on the basis of need. The majority of beneficiaries of this approach would still be Malay and bumiputera.
Unfortunately, all the above suggested reforms were then rendered less significant in the proposal made by no less than the party’s vice-president, Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, who unabashedly suggested that party division and branch chiefs be offered government contracts to enable them to win future elections “by hook or by crook”.
Rashid’s suggestion not only mocks Mahathir’s call to the bumiputera community to wean themselves from government assistance over a period of time, but also amounts to perpetuating the Umno culture of political patronage, cronyism and money politics within Bersatu.
Mahathir, in turn, assured concerned Malaysians that what Rashid said at the party annual general meeting was his own personal opinion. But this personal view was not articulated by an ordinary member of the party but by the vice-president.
What is equally appalling is that Rashid got a standing ovation after he expressed his suggestion, indicating that there are some members who feel that they are entitled to government assistance and cronyism.
The support Rashid received from the party’s membership suggests that it is still business as usual within the party, which is supposed to advance the reform agenda of Pakatan Harapan, the leader of which is the Bersatu chairman himself.
And it appears that a portion of Umno culture has crept into Bersatu, as reflected by what happened to Syed Saddiq when he upbraided Rashid and supporters of the latter’s contentious idea. He got a tongue-lashing from certain division chiefs, who even threatened to oust him out from his party post for having the gall to reprimand senior politicians in the party.
These negative developments suggest that Bersatu has some way to go to convince the public that it is substantially different from Umno – even though they share the vision of championing the interests of the Malay and bumiputera community.
In this context, the recent defections of former Umno politicians into Bersatu has been looked upon with suspicion and concern among certain party members and the general public.
Given the high public expectations for real change after the 9 May general election last year, what Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the Home Minister, said at the meeting recently is hardly an example for concerned Malaysians to celebrate.
Muhyiddin told party members that Malaysia needs the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 and the Prevention of Crime Act 1959, which rights groups and lawyers consider to be draconian laws and a throwback to the Umno-BN authoritarian era.
Such draconian laws and politics of old do not gel with the idea of a democratic Malaysia. Nor do they do leave a good taste in the mouth of reform-hungry Malaysians.