Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Reaching Out to the Malays

Written by johnleemk on 3:32:16 pm May 28, 2007.
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I have been reading Bakri Musa's book, Towards A Competitive Malaysia; his earlier book, The Malay Dilemma Revisited, is one I cannot more highly recommend.

Although I am not done with it yet, there are some things in it which merit comment. One passage which caught my eye was one where Bakri lambasts Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh of the Democratic Action Party for being racial demagogues and provocateurs.

Bakri actually made some similar comments, although not as overt, in The Malay Dilemma Revisited. These remarks make me wonder — why is it that even a thinking Malay like Bakri can find the sentiments of these men racist or communalist?

Are they blatantly pandering to the non-Malays through their Malaysian First (it was once called Malaysian Malaysia, but due to its connotations associating them with Lee Kuan Yew, they dropped it) campaign? Yep — but can you blame them, considering that the government has people threatening to abrogate the Constitution and shed blood if they don't get their way?

I don't agree with everything they or the DAP has to say, but on the whole, I find their remarks generally non-racial in nature. So what is it that compels Malays, even thinking Malays, to shun them so badly?

Amir Hafizi, a Malay blogger-cum-anarchist, has part of the answer. The DAP is a blatantly Chinese party — hell, it often seems that their two official languages are Chinese and English (in that order), with not much Malay in sight.

So, it's not surprising that the typical Malay would be turned off by them. But the DAP is still non-Chinese in name — it accepts all Malaysians — and its rhetoric is nonracial. Why the immense antipathy towards them amongst the Malays?

I think the clue lies in something I've brought up before. The non-Malays have a habit of thinking they can speak for the Malays and articulate their grievances, but at the same time, I have run into Chinese who doubt the ability of people like Ye Lin-Sheng (author of the Chinese Dilemma, a tome defending affirmative action for the Malays) to speak for the Chinese community simply because Ye cannot read Chinese.

If a Chinese man who has spent his life mixing with Chinese cannot speak for the Chinese, how can Lim Kit Siang or Karpal Singh expect to represent Malay interests or interact with the Malay community?

At this point, people will be up in arms, complaining that what I am saying cannot be true. This, I recall, was used as a line of defence by the organisers of the Bloggers United Malaysia 2007 dinner (which I gave my two cents on).

A Malay blogger criticised the line-up of panelists, saying that none of the bloggers could speak for the mainstream Malay bloggers — Rocky (Ahirudin Atan) is a liberal out of the mainstream (he was openly drinking at BUM), while Marina Mahathir is a feminist.

The organisers lashed out at him, arguing that a Chinese blogger could just as easily represent the Malay blogging community. Which is true in a sense — but does anyone really think that the viewpoint of a Malay blogger who supports UMNO or PAS was aired by the panel that night? (Okay, perhaps Raja Petra Kamarudin could be labeled a PAS supporter, given his history — but he was an unscheduled guest anyway, and he's certainly not mainstream, considering the content of his writings and his personal background.)

So, at this point the reader is probably wondering if I am espousing an embrace of the communalist politics espoused by the Barisan Nasional regime. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What we basically need are savvy people who can listen to and articulate the mainstream Malay viewpoint. I believe that there is no impediment to a Chinese or Indian or Iban or Kadazan standing for election in a Malay-majority constituency, provided that non-Malay candidate can relate with his or her Malay constituents.

Presentation and perception are key in politics. The reason Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh turn off the Malays is, I think, more due to their presentation than the actual content of their speeches. Their tone is abrasive, their body language confrontational — repulsive to traditional Malay culture.

When this is combined with the message, which is tailored for a general Malaysian audience as opposed to a Malay one, most Malays would be turned off. But the same message, if given a Malay twist, would probably be saleable by a Malay or non-Malay politician alike.

When meeting with Chinese members of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, I'm often impressed by how they can speak Malay fluently, and without the grating accent often emitted from the mouths of our Chinese DAP MPs — usually they even have the Malay slang.

When you have that down pat, one obstacle is gone already. People open up to you when they feel you can really speak their language (I have heard of people who get excellent treatment from civil servants when they can speak fluent Malay).

Then it is just a matter of being able to tailor the presentation of the message to a Malay audience. Understanding the Malay mentality will be key — I don't presume I understand this mentality either, but I do know that I could master it if I just spent enough time picking the brains of Malays.

If you want non-racial politics in Malaysia, if you want to avoid even Malay intellectuals tuning out your message, there is no choice. You must be able to relate to your constituents and understand how they think and feel. It is like politics anywhere else in the world.


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