IN a meeting with a foreign visitor in Kuching on Malaysia Day, this writer was asked if there will ever be any end to the identity-based politics in this country.
My answer was that this looks to be an inescapable reality Malaysia has to live with, possibly for the foreseeable future.
It is an unchanging and possibly an unchangeable political reality and if so, the best Malaysians can ever hope for is to have the wisdom to recognise what we cannot easily change.
Still, the optimists or the idealists will not give up easily and probably feel they should not.
With the benefit of hindsight, it bears repeating that the 14th General Election (GE14) of 2018 when we had a change of government for the very first time was never really about multiracialism in a single political party finally taking hold.
Political multiracialism had its roots even prior to Merdeka when the Independence of Malaya Party led by Dato Onn Jaafar challenged what Umno stood for. The challenge lasted all of two years!
Is the ground for political multiracialism any more promising today, especially post-2018? Based on current evidence, the answer appears to be negative. Much hope appears to be placed by some on Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
PKR president and prime minister-in-waiting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was nothing if not bold and even brave when he recently stated in Singapore that Malaysia’s economy will only improve if it did away with race-based economic policies.
It is of course no new revelation stating the obvious as many others had said the same thing before but what is novel is someone who is “a heart-beat away” from the pinnacle of national leadership expressing it loudly and publicly.
The key question has to be: is he being politically realistic?
PKR may on the surface appear to be the anchor party in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition but what must concern all Malaysians is the fact that the party had recently been rendered divided and possibly moribund as a result.
The first task confronting Anwar must necessarily be healing the deep fissures within his own party. Failing that, he will be in a political position not unlike Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s — heading the government without being the leader of the dominant party in the coalition.
Worse, if Anwar’s statement in Singapore is sincerely meant, he will have to rely politically on DAP, a like-minded PH partner party but one which increasingly looks like it is — fairly or not — a red flag in front of the raging bull of resurgent Malay-Muslim nationalism.
Anwar’s Singapore statement may turn out to be a political millstone given such circumstances, unless it is meant to be conveniently jettisoned at an expedient moment.
The unchanging political reality post-GE14 is that there is still no majority consensus that the time is now ripe for doing away with race-based national policies. Until and unless there is, woe betide any leader brave enough to go against the grain, as well as the nation he is leading.
Is there a middle path we can collectively trek, going forward? I believe there is and it looks like Dr Mahathir is formulating it and articulating it at the same time: something he recently bandied about as a new “shared prosperity” for all Malaysians.
This new vision and the new policies and programmes being formulated offer a hopeful sign and an unmistakable recognition of the reality that old policies of the past have outlived their used-by dates. New Malaysia certainly deserves new policies.
But such new policies will necessarily be incremental as political realities currently existing preclude any dramatic “big-bang” policy initiatives. Here again, the elephant in the room is the fact that a 94-year-old leader is leading the charge for meaningful and achievable change.
This necessarily raises the spectre of Dr Mahathir’s lack of luck in picking a successor worthy in his eyes and, more importantly, worthy of the New Malaysia. The prime minister keeps repeating when pressed that he will honour the PH pledge to hand over eventually to Anwar. But this is where his very actions seem to speak louder than any words.
A cottage industry has arisen speculating, not whether he will hand over the premiership but to whom exactly. But even the best-informed pundits are merely guessing about the outcome of this all-important question.
The nation hopefully gets clarity on the succession and soon.
The writer views developments
in the nation, the region and
the wider world from his vantage
point in Kuching, Sarawak