‘’Apa Lagi Cina Mahu?’’ (What else do the Chinese want) screamed across the front pages of the Utusan Malaysia, widely deemed as the mouthpiece of UMNO. Mr Najib, in the wake of the elections, where facing a lower popular vote for the Barisan Nasional, has, as any reputable leader would, called for greater reconciliation after the elections. Yet, there emerges the paradox within Mr Najib. After surging Chinese support for the Pakatan Rakyat, race has, undeniably, once again, come to the forefront of Malaysian politics. Yet, as a liberal Chinese commentator, himself a Malaysian living overseas, this author believes that there is a need for UMNO to send a strong, clear message it will not tolerate such racially divisive and seditious publications, and thus ensure Mr Najib’s promise of reconciliation is not derailed by racial tensions.
Admittedly, however, Mr Najib faces a huge hurdle to climb after the elections. Here’s why.
- 1. Mahathir’s continued political clout
Without any surprise, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, at 87 years of age, continues to exert much political clout within the echelons of UMNO. After the controversial headlines of Utusan Melayu were released, Dr M was quoted as accusing the Chinese of being ‘ungrateful’ and Malays who voted against the BN as ‘greedy’, rejecting all notions and analysis that the lower popular vote for BN was more of a swing in the support of the middle class, urban electorate, and accusing the Chinese of ‘’rejecting the hand of Malay friendship’’. Utusan Malaysia also added that the paper “is only questioning the DAP and the actions of its supporters because it is worried that the party’s consistent provocation could spark a reaction from other races especially the Malays and this could create chaos’’, hence accusing the DAP of inciting hate amongst the Chinese, bringing to mind etched memories of the horrors of 1969, where similarly, the ruling BN was edged out by an opposition in the popular votes.
In 2008, after a dismal showing by then-PM Abdullah Badawi at the polls, Dr M then engaged in visceral attacks, questioning Abdullah’s credibility and legitimacy to lead UMNO, culminating in his resignation in 2009. There has recently been much debate on whether Mr Najib’s position is similar to that of Mr Badawi 5 years ago. After all, he must be wary of the fact that BN won significantly fewer seats than the 140 Mr Badawi captured in 2008. Whilst Dr Mahathir has been restrained in his outlook of Mr Najib, it is indeed a legitimate point of contention that will be raised when UMNO holds its General Assembly next year. All these viewpoints, however, are currently speculative, although history does show that leaders who have failed to perform in national elections are swiftly dismissed, especially in 1969 and 2008.
Nevertheless, Mr Najib’s position is still relatively secure. After all, UMNO itself had a net gain in seat share, with most of BN’s loss of seats directed at the MCA’s growing unpopularity. UMNO has also successfully wrested Kedah from the hands of PAS, an achievement albeit the dismal national votes. These statistics thus prove favourable for Mr Najib. It thus remains to be seen whether Mr Najib’s position as head of the ruling coalition remains tenable or not.
- 2. Rightist elements at play again
Surprisngly, however, Mr Najib dismissed the Utusan Malaysia headlines at a press conference, arguing that Utusan bore the blame, ‘’but what about the Chinese press? Aren’t they saying the same things about us?’’ This is worrying from Mr Najib, and speaks volumes about the tensions within UMNO itself, with party dynamics a probable cause for such posturing from Mr Najib. Before the elections, Mr Najib portrayed himself actively as a moderate reformist, a statesman for all races, especially through his ‘1Malaysia’ policy directive. However, these remarks, in my view, suggests a policy shift towards garnering support from the conservative, rightist core within UMNO, probably to entrench his position as ‘champion of Malay rights’ foremost, and thus giving him legitimacy to lead the BN once again.
- 3. Mr Najib’s dilemma on the Chinese situation
With the MCA announcing that they will not accept any cabinet or government appointments, a new issue thus arises- how are the Chinese going to be represented in Parliament?
Mr Najib, as well as DAP chiefs must now consider such an issue. DAP, despite its multi racial membership, is seen to be dominantly Chinese and thus, the legitimate mouthpiece of Chinese interests. Former Information Minister Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin proposed the DAP joining hands with the BN in the coalition, in order to best represent Chinese interests. Obviously, this will be difficult for both sides, yet this writer feels it can be done, if done so in the interest of national unity and harmony. Of course, such a move will render the MCA utterly useless as a political party, and thus herald the beginning of the end for the MCA. As a reputable statesman, it will do much to ease racial tensions if the PM himself now personally proposes this to the DAP, keeping in line with his policy of reconciliation.
There might of course, be severe repercussions of such an act, however. DAP can be viewed by the Chinese to be betraying their principles of racial equality and fighting corruption if they cede to such demands. PR was flooded with much criticism from the BN as a factionalistic, weak pact between three parties with a clash of interests, especially between the DAP and PAS.
To conclude, King Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah has witnessed both the swearing ins of Mr Najib, as well as that of his father, Abdul Razak. There is of course, much irony that both father and son have faced tumultuous social challenges, coupled with a politically divided nation. It is now up to Mr Najib to ensure he follows on the path of ensuring national harmony and stability, and show the world Malaysia is indeed, worthy as an example to all nations, of the significance and importance of maintaining racial harmony. Otherwise, if Mr Najib falls into the trap of ceding much ground to rightist Malay elements within UMNO, it could be a pretty rough ride for Malaysia.