August 20, 2009 – 5:09 pm

August 25, 8 pm: Malaysian opposition member Mohd Salleh Man has retained the Permatang Pasir (Penang) seat when he defeated Rohaizat Othman of the National Front by 4,551 votes. Mohd Salleh Man garnered 9,618 votes.
A by-election will be held in Permatang Pasir (Penang, Malaysia) on August 25 after opposition assemblyman Datuk Mohd Hamdan Abdul Rahman died on July 31. The ruling National Front is fielding debarred lawyer Rohaizat Othman against the People’s Alliance’s Salleh Man. Rohaizat Othman was found guilty of misconduct by the Malaysian Bar Council in 2008 and struck off the rolls. But as former opposition MP and blogger Sim Kwang Yang wrote, in this by-election, the National Front is resorting to racial politics to woo the Malay voters but this will backfire among this generation of more discerning, less-race-conscious Malaysians.

The Malaysian government is thinking of doing away with the category of “race” in all official forms. I have been filling those forms all my life and I have always hated that particular category. When the forms do not really matter, I just fill in “human” for my race.

But removing the category “race” from forms will not begin to eradicate racism that is so entrenched and institutionalised in Malaysian national life. It has its deepest roots in party politics. As long as political parties find that racist sentiments are the most effective tool in mass mobilisation of populist support, racism will continue to colour all our daily judgements.

In short, race-based political parties and their race-based nation-building policies are the real cause of racism in Malaysia.

The March 8 General Election last year did allow room for a different kind of political narrative that is not based on race to rear its young head onto the political landscape. That young narrative is now struggling to develop and evolve into a new but mature political conversation about Ketuanan Rakyat (people power) rather than the Ketuanan Melayu (Malay power) of the old political order.

That political tsunami swept away the non-Malay race-based political parties in the Barisan Nasional (BN or National Front), like the MCA, Gerakan and MIC. Only UMNO is relatively unscathed, to entrench their hegemony of this supposedly multiracial coalition.

Overnight, the power-sharing basis of the different races within the BN structure is on the brink of total collapse.

The newly minted PM Najib Tun Razak’s response to this new scenario was to tailor the 1Malaysia slogan coupled with a few superficially liberalisation policies in the hope of winning back the middle ground.

Fortunately, we have the Manik Urai by-election, in which PAS squeaked past UMNO by a razor-thin margin. This must have given the UMNO strategists upstairs the basis for the hope that UMNO is enjoying a renaissance among the Malay heartland.

It must have given the inspiration that if they go back to their old and tested ideology of race, they will win back those Malay majority seats from PKR and PAS in the next GE. Then, with a few defections from PAS, UMNO alone can still hold on to power.

One good thing that has emerged out of this new politics in Malaysia is that, despite their open spate of quarrels, DAP and PAS are still together in their marriage of convenience. Such a union would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Is that why in the past months, the UMNO propaganda machinery have been churning out the old racial narrative in considerable volume?

The UMNO-owned Utusan Malaysia group has been very productive of late of such vile racial rhetoric, calling Anwar Ibrahim a traitor to the Malay race, labelling PAS as a tool for the Chinese-based DAP to oppress the Malay people, while attacking the DAP for subverting a Malay institution like the royalty.

Even the outrage over the death of Teoh Beng Hock has been characterised as an attempt to subvert “Malay dominated” institutions (meaning the MACC and the police) that were established to ensure Malay dominance in all things Malaysian!

Malaysian commentators were worried that this sort of racial vitriolic would raise racial temperature in multiracial Malaysia and thus bring political stability to the country.

I am not that worried. This is a different Malaysia nowadays. People flying the Malaysian flags on their cars are few and far between during this season of ostentatious patriotism before the Merdeka celebration.

Ordinary people - including the Malays - seem preoccupied with the H1N1 pandemic, rising prices of living a life, crimes, and even the traffic jam. I get the vague impression that even in the eyes of the Malays, UMNO is not seen as a Big Brother of the Malays anymore, but a bunch of very rich fat Malays out to enrich themselves.

We should know that soon enough. There is now this fierce battle between UMNO and PAS in the Permatang Pasir by-election.

UMNO must have been desperate to choose any candidate in deciding on fielding their 38-year-old lawyer who was debarred by the Bar Council last year. [Ed: A complaint was lodged against Rohaizat Othman by the purchaser of a piece of real property. According to the complaint, Rohaizat Othman failed to refund almost RM161,000 to the complainant after the transaction was aborted.] For the first few days of the campaign, UMNO has been on the defensive, as a deluge of criticism of the BN candidate rain down on them from the [opposition] Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) big wigs.

Then there are the 75 per cent (or is it 78 per cent) Malay voters in the Permatang Pasir constituency. How will they pass judgement on the recent racial tirade by the UMNO propaganda machinery? How will they think about Teoh Beng Hock’s tragic and mysterious death? Will they feel angry over the loss of billions of the tax-payers’ money in the PKFZ’s (Port Klang Free Zone) scandalous black hole?

One good thing that has emerged out of this new politics in Malaysia is that, despite their open spate of quarrels, DAP and PAS are still together in their marriage of convenience. Such a union would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

The DAP big guns must now descend upon Permatang Pasir in full force to ensure an even bigger majority for the PAS candidate by persuading non-Malay voters in manners of which only they are capable.

This is just another milestone on the long road to democracy in our Malaysian Long march Against Racism. Every small battle must be fought and won. The edifice of rabid racism must be brought tumbling down one day in the future.

Note: Sim Kwang Yang was Democratic Action Party MP for Bandar Kuching in Sarawak 1982-1995. Since retiring in 1995, he has become a freelance writer in the Chinese-language press, and taught philosophy in a local college for three years. He is now working with an NGO in Kuala Lumpur, the Omnicron Learning Circle, which is aimed at continuing learning for working adults and college students. He has his own blog, Suggestions and feedback can reach him at [email protected]

Note: The above was also posted at Malaysia Today. Visit Malaysia Today for more updates.

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