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Aliran: PAS VS Umno - Who Will Win The 'Malay Consensus' and More?
By Dr Maznah Mohamad
21/6/2001 2:16 am Thu
[Sikap generasi masakini sudah banyak berubah tetapi Umno
dan PAS masih kurang menelah dan menyediakan wadah yang dapat
memenuhi citarasa mereka. Akibatnya orang melayu mencari sesuatu
yang lainnya seperti Arqam yang kini sudah musnah setelah ISA
dikirim oleh Umno. Beginilah sikap Umno setiap kali orang melayu
beralih dari menyokongnya. Ia tidakpun berhasrat untuk membaiki
diri melainkan berpura sepanjang masa. Umnolah pembunuh ketuanan
bangsa. Sekarang keADILan pula menjadi mangsa bagai Arqam hanya
kerana ia lebih mesra kaum dan generasi sekarang sehingga Umno
Politik perkauman Umno sudahpun ketinggalan zaman, begitu juga
isi buku Malay Dilema. Saingan dalam ekonomi bukannya sesuatu
yang ditakutkan tetapi reformasi dan kejujuran lebih diutamakan.
Sekarang mulalah Umno mengubah beberapa ruang seperti menjadikan
ahli AKAR sebagai ahli, melantik penasihat khas dan cuba memikat
wanita melalui Puteri dan Kementerian khas. PAS pula sedang
mengkaji semula peranan muslimahnya. Nampaknya semua mula sedar
peranan dan kekuatan kaum hawa kerana mereka lebih pandai
memujuk dan berkempen. Patutlah Mahathir menggelabah bila Puan
Isah dan Bashirah menjelajah negara menyelar ISA.
PAS vs UMNO
Who will win the 'Malay consensus' and more?
by Maznah Mohamad
Several new realities confront both PAS and UMNO as they prepare to convene
their general assemblies in June 2001. In competing for a 'Malay consensus'
and trying to gain the support of other Malaysians both parties will be
forced to reassess their political priorities.
One important item on their agenda will be the reexamination or
reaffirmation of their respective relevance to the Malay constituency. This
is critical now given that there is a greater spread of the new, urbanized
Malay middle-class. This community of Malays may be less dependent on the
politics of patronage or the dictates of authority for their social
mobility and sense of purpose.
As the Malay middle class in urban constituencies exerts new demands, can
either PAS or UMNO succeed in drawing the support of this group for their
long-term political survival? For example, will the two parties be able to
go beyond the language of Islam and Malay Dominance to articulate the new
ethos and interests of this new class of Malays who are increasingly
socialized with the values of social justice, human rights, civil
liberties? More than this, will both parties come around to accepting that
the so-called 'undifferentiated' Malay community was never unitary and
homogeneous as had often been assumed?
New electoral constituencies
Today PAS and UMNO can be sure of one thing: they can no longer bank all of
their hopes of electoral advantage upon Malay voters alone. Newer
constituencies in the form of rights-conscious women and non-Malays will
have to be considered to prop up the legitimacy of these two parties.
This is so because there is a new generation of Malaysians who have lived
with the notion of Malay political dominance in their midst but have
neither the memory of pre-independence consociational social contracts nor
the palpable terror of ethnic violence. Hence, sensitive questions touching
on the quota system, gender equity and citizenship equality would have to
be debated with more openness and resolved through a stronger will.
But how resolutely will PAS and UMNO strive to undo the past mistakes of
nation-building while attempting to put up a widely approved foundation for
a truly reformed Malaysia?
Let's examine the potential of PAS and UMNO in addressing some of the new
challenges, specifically, their ability to maintain a united 'Malay
consensus', their seriousness in accommodating non-Malay demands and
interests, and sincerity in delivering gender justice and equality.
Let's also examine other related questions. At the end of the day what role
should ordinary citizens play in pushing for and establishing this new
basis for governance? Should political parties be trusted given that they
operate for narrow, short-term and instrumentalist gains?
For our answers, we must broadly analyse the accomplishments and
deficiencies of PAS and UMNO, two 'Goliaths' that dominate Malaysian and
especially Malay political discourse and practice. We need to know this
before we can begin to operate outside the bounds of these two major
political players and independently chart our political preferences.
The political parties competing for Malay support today will find that they
are no longer dealing with a homogeneous community. The Malay constituency
is changing and has been changing all along. Despite the implementation of
the New Economic Policy and the consequent rise in the rate of urbanization
among Malays, their changed social and cultural dynamics seem to have
escaped the political calculations of UMNO and PAS.
The political atmosphere of the 1990s was very different from that of the
1960s or 1970s. Within a few years of NEP's implementation, many
opportunities, perhaps 'crutches' even, had been made available for Malay
advancement. The result is not the world described by Dr Mahathir Mohamad
in The Malay Dilemma.
The 'life of the Malay in the 1990s' was not as simple as Dr Mahathir's
book portrayed it. The sense of deprivation that Malays experience now does
not arise simply from seeing the Chinese owning all the retail shops and
dominating all businesses. While ample opportunities were provided to help
bumiputera excel in various fields, their situation was far removed from
the idyllic kampung days when natural resources were abundant and leisurely
Malays were unmoved to compete.
For the post-NEP Malays, the urban setting had a hostile atmosphere. The
problems that they experienced had little to do with lacunae in state aid,
but rather arose out of anomie, social alienation and political
Dr Mahathir's imagining of the Malay, which influenced UMNO's political
course and evolution, was but one of the many facets and multiple
characteristics of the Malay. His vision of the Malay was too narrowly
based on his perception that the Malay was only concerned with his economic
marginalization and that the way out of his predicament was to adopt a
capitalist or western model of modernization, only slightly adjusted to
accommodate the NEP.
It would be na´ve to think that UMNO and Dr Mahathir were unaware that
there were rival perceptions and aspirations among other Malays. UMNO's
denial of this fact was expressed through its relentless effort to fashion
an ideology out of 'Malay unity'. For a long time the idea of Ketuanan
Melayu successfully allowed UMNO to offer itself as the unrivalled
representative of the Malays, as the party most able to protect, guide and
modernize the Malays.
In contrast, PAS constituted a different purpose and identity for the
Malay. PAS's vision of economic development was different from UMNO's, and
specifically departed from the 'pure' capitalist model. PAS's was a more
nebulous system infused with social welfarism and distributive justice.
At least the party maintained a symbolic rejection of excessive
materialism. The modest lifestyles of Mentri-menteri Besar Nik Aziz and
Hadi Awang are meant to exemplify these leanings of PAS. Together with its
version of a 'more fundamental' Islam, PAS fashioned its consciousness of
Malay unity around concerns with morality, spirituality and the rejection
of a concept of dominance through race.
The presence of another powerful movement further indicated the presence of
divisions among Malays. The Darul Arqam, established in 1968 and disbanded
in 1994, was an organization which prospered outside the ambit of state and
UMNO's patronage. Although Darul Arqam's formation was informally based, it
became a powerful movement which competed with both PAS and UMNO for Malay
Thus, despite the NEP's aim of transforming the Malays into a progressive
industrial and commercial class (also modern and perhaps cosmopolitan),
droves of middle-class and the 'new rich' Malays, and Malay urban
intellectuals and civil servants were attracted to Darul Arqam.
Unlike PAS, Darul Arqam did not originate as a rural-based movement. Nor
did it have a strong regional history. And unlike UMNO, Darul Arqam was
unable to offer patronage or ample incentives for economic mobility. But in
Darul Arqam probably lay a nascent yet autonomous and dissenting Malay
Myth of 'Malay Unity'
Why were some Malays not drawn to UMNO given the latter's capacity to
promise wealth and status? Did they reject Dr Mahathir's Vision 2020? Were
they against the modernization model imposed upon them? Were they alarmed
that a capitalist Malaysia would dilute their racial and ethnic identity?
Were they not interested in fitting into the mould of the new Malay
'industrial and commercial class' so strenuously pursued by Dr Mahathir?
These questions had always troubled UMNO and will continue to influence the
future directions of Malay politics.
While UMNO tried to respond to some of the discontent of this class of
Malays, especially by enlarging the scope for state-led Islamization, by
and large the expansion and influence of the many strains of
counter-Malay/Islamic movements were suppressed by coercive and
It wasn't the orchestrated political rallies, nor the populist appeal of Dr
Mahathir, which legitimized UMNO. It was ultimately the use of the Internal
Security Act against political opponents and 'black journalism' to
discredit rival movements that permitted UMNO to retain its hegemony over
the Malays. Darul Arqam 'vanished' almost instantaneously when the ISA was
used against it.
PAS or UMNO shouldn't continue to believe that they have the power and
resources to steer all Malays under a contrived 'umbrella' of unity. The
fact that not all Malays are obliged (or can be coerced) to support UMNO or
PAS should no longer be an issue for either party to exploit. The costs
that had been previously exacted in order to derive this unity and
uniformity among Malays were far too high. When PAS and UMNO both upped
their ante on 'Islamization', for instance, Malays faced the excruciating
choice of having to conform, or else be damned. Both PAS and UMNO went to
great and oppressive lengths to deny any 'differences' among their
Today, there is a new political dimension that has compounded the lines of
division among Malays. Malays who identify themselves as reformasi
supporters constitute yet another group that has slipped away from UMNO's
But are divisions among Malays necessarily bad?
UMNO is once again spooked by a swelling counter-hegemonic Malay challenge,
that posed by Parti Keadilan Nasional. UMNO's attempt to stifle this latest
centre of dissent is the same as the move UMNO made against Darul Arqam by
using the ISA and unsavoury media propaganda.
There has been, therefore, a basic inability to deal with plural,
differentiated and heterogeneous Malay voices, itself a dire consequence of
cultivating a hegemonic ethnic party in Malaysia. Yet the last general
election foretells resistance against this grim reality, perhaps
optimistically. The Malay voting pattern no longer conformed to a clean
divide between support for UMNO or for PAS. As the election results showed,
Malays were also prepared to give their backing to the DAP and the
So, for how long more can PAS and UMNO remain relevant to the majority of
Malays? Are these two parties prepared to embrace radical and far-reaching
reforms to catch up with the temper of the times? Reforms which are radical
and far-reaching must ultimately address issues of ethnicity and gender.
UMNO seeks non-Malay support
Clearly a wide-ranging Malay consensus will never be within the reach of
UMNO or PAS, a painful truth that both parties have only recently realised.
Hence their unusually zealous attention upon winning non-Malay support.
In one of the most dramatic moves to pave its advent towards a multiethnic
future, UMNO announced that Chinese members of the now disbanded Parti Akar
in Sabah can be admitted into UMNO. One local newspaper even quoted Dr
Mahathir proclaiming that the Chinese in Sabah are 'bumiputera'. It would
appear that some of UMNO's fiercest defenders of Ketuanan Melayu have
effected a volte face.
The present New Straits Times chief, Abdullah Ahmad who became infamous in
1986 for warning the Chinese (both in Singapore and Malaysia) 'not to play
with fire' by upsetting the Malay dominance apple-cart is now musing that
the 'racial giants' - UMNO, MCA and MIC - may someday become Malaysian
parties open to all.
Perhaps preparing the ground for such a possibility, an NST editorial (22
May 2001) anticipated:
'UMNO may in the future open its doors to all Chinese in Sabah. In fact,
the time may come when UMNO will be opened to the Chinese in the peninsula
as well. But the time certainly is not now. And Dr Mahathir and everyone
But Dr. Mahathir has also been known to do things that are not necessarily
'acceptable' nor 'at the correct time'. If it were not for pockets of pesky
resistance, the temptation among UMNO leaders to traverse hitherto 'ethnic
taboos' would have already been set into motion.
PAS goes non-communal
In the same vein PAS is also attempting to build its reputation as being
non-communal. For the moment many of its non-Malay supporters have not
really considered the fact that PAS can afford to be more open about their
convivial inter-ethnic policies precisely because the party has Islam as a
ready-made barrier against unconditional ethnic inclusive-ness.
News of PAS's policies on non-Muslims has grabbed the attention of Chinese
newspapers. In fact PAS's website, harakahdaily.com, has a column devoted
to the translation of favourable news items about PAS which are culled from
the Chinese dailies. For example, headlines such as Soal Hak Keistimewaan:
PAS Lebih Berani (On the Issue of Special Rights: PAS Has More Courage) are
intended to raise PAS's credibility among non-Muslims. The party frequently
stresses Islam's recognition of equality among all races.
Eventually PAS has to come clean if it does not in fact harbour plans to
establish a differentiated and dualistic system of governance - with one
set of rules for Muslims and another set for non-Muslims. And ultimately,
both UMNO and PAS must explicitly state their stand on such contentious
issues as whether to preserve ethnic quotas for university admissions, or
whether civil liberties without exceptions should be granted to all citizens.
Under present circumstances and given recent events, PAS may be more
successful in projecting a democratic image but the party will probably do
this selectively. After all, PAS maintains a hierarchy based on the
dominance of Islam and theocratic leadership.
UMNO, however, will no longer be able to make unabashed claims about its
status as the premier representative of the Malays. It will need to bank on
its moderate image and cultivate the piece-meal appeasement of a proportion
of the Malay constituency and segments of the non-Malay constituency.
But if UMNO continues to depend on its moderate stance can it hold on to
its status as 'first-among-equals' within BN's consociational model of
power-sharing? Or will this spell the end of the Ketuanan Melayu dictum?
This question is crucial for UMNO as BN's future electoral performance may
largely depend on constituencies in Sabah and Sarawak as well as mixed
constituencies in 'safe' states such as Johor. Does the recent news of
Johor getting 27 new seats from the present constituency redelineation
exercise portend BN's altered strategy?
Women's rights have also become an issue to which UMNO and PAS are keen to
lay claim. Their understanding of women's rights seems to be conveniently
left open and inconclusive. PAS has yet to reconcile its professed
democratic ideals (which include gender equality) with an Islamic
world-view (which avoids the question of gender equality). Both UMNO and
PAS may handily insist that their conception of 'women's rights' excludes
the western notion of feminism. But contradictions will emerge especially
among their women members. Now that the women within UMNO and PAS are
expected to shoulder greater leadership responsibilities, will they gain in
terms of rights too?
Why has gender become so important for PAS and UMNO? For UMNO women form
one of the few remaining bases upon which the party hopes to recover some
of its legitimacy after the erosion of its moral and economic credentials.
The issue of gender is also important for PAS if it is to gain a more
multiethnic and multireligious consensus which must inevitably accommodate
women's nominal rights.
UMNO's commitment to women's rights came in the form of the Ministry of
Women's Affairs set up in January 2001. But barely a month later there was
evidence of backtracking on this issue. First, the name of this new
ministry was changed to the Ministry of Women and Family Development.
Second, the new woman minister was compelled to affirm that her ministry's
priorities would be to reinforce women's basic and traditional functions
such as cooking and caring for the household.
The change of name to include 'family development' was probably made to
emphasize that family welfare rather than women's liberation would be the
mandate of the new ministry. The reference to women's domestic chores seems
to have been made to avoid disturbing the sexist 'division-of-labour' order
still cherished by many within the establishment.
If this suggests an attempt to achieve gender complementarity rather than
the almost heretical 'sexual equality', it renders UMNO's conservatism and
PAS's fundamentalism indistinguishable.
The ministry was also surrounded by another controversy, that is, BN
in-fighting. Since the new minister came from UMNO, the women's wing of MCA
wanted the deputy minister?s post because Wanita MCA supposedly had 'the
largest Chinese women's political membership outside China' and had
contributed a lot to the nation.
But the women's wing of MIC said it deserved an important post because it
represented Indian women who, belonging to the poorest classes, lagged
'behind their Malay and Chinese sisters'.
The minister finally referred the matter to the Prime Minister who 'will
know what to do and when'. The whole episode seems to be a reminder that
despite immense efforts to redress gender inequality women can hardly
expect the government and especially UMNO to do more than extend token
concessions to women's interests.
How much change?
By early 2001 PAS had come around to recognizing the importance of women in
their future electoral calculation. Besides implementing plans to allow
women to contest in the next election PAS amended its constitution to
reserve one of its vice-president's posts for a woman, and to increase the
number of women in the party's Central Working Committee.
UMNO was actually the first to spearhead the idea that women, especially
young women, were important to the party's renewal. However, all its moves
were focused on getting women to continue in their traditional role as vote
mobilizers, and not aimed at projecting an agenda of women's rights and
gender equality as the benchmark of a reformed political order.
UMNO spent most of its energy starting up its women's youth wing but when
it was finally launched it received the wrong kind of publicity. Its
recruitment of the well known entertainer, Erra Fazira, stole the limelight
so much that nothing was spelled out about the concrete objectives or the
mandate of the women's youth wing committee.
PAS's spokespersons who announce changes within the party have frequently
been males. Not unlike UMNO, when PAS gives a political presence to its
women leaders, its real aim is to draw in the votes. As Nasharudin Mat Isa,
the party's secretary-general once pronounced, 'women are good at
campaigning, as their persuasive power is excellent, unlike that of men'.
But there was something mildly encouraging about PAS's intention to give
women more clout within the party. PAS conducted a poll on this issue
through harakahdaily.com. As of 24 May 2001, the poll indicated that 75 per
cent (of a total of 3112 voters who polled) considered it to be 'good'
(sangat bagus and bagus) for PAS to elect women to its Central Committee.
If an Internet poll is anything to go by, the message for PAS is clear.
Unfortunately, women will continue to be used as convenient pawns to pursue
party agendas or to cover up policy mistakes. For example, the Ministry of
Education's recent bungling over the issue of university enrolment, and
over whether it had breached the ethnic quota guideline, led to some of the
most arbitrary and inconsistent pronouncements made by government leaders.
Should ethnic quotas stay? The Prime Minister said that maybe they
shouldn't. The Minister of Education declared that not only should the
quotas remain, but the bumiputera quota should perhaps be raised to reflect
the current population distribution by ethnicity.
Then came a ruse from the minister about the disproportionate gender ratio
in public universities. By unimaginatively suggesting that increased female
enrolment could wreck female graduates' prospects for marriage he probably
hoped that disgust over the ministry's faux pas could be easily deflected.
This devious ploy was to give the impression that it was not the bumiputera
quota that should remain as the point of contention but rather the
declining enrolment of male students.
Our political leaders should be educated: it is time that affirmative
action be extended to advance the status of women and not just particular
ethnic communities. And if female university enrolment has gone up through
no design of the state, then let's cheer for it! The idea of having an
affirmative-action programme based solely on ethnicity (instead of
socio-economic status or gender) is abhorrent to just-minded people:
Malaysia must be the only country in the world which has an
affirmative-action policy reserved only for its ethnic majority!
The People's Will
The future for Malaysians really lies in a strong civil society,
especially in the strengthening of autonomous social movements that lie
beyond the ambit of party politics. Autonomous social movements serve as
watchful eyes to check the manipulation of issues for expedient, short-term
and narrow party interests. And there are many policy deficiencies and
visionary deficits in the political agendas of PAS and UMNO.
UMNO has been weakened. But PAS hasn't exactly been strengthened yet. For
the rest of us, this transitional period of political realignment and
reconstitution may be civil society's best and last opportunity to build an
agenda that discards outmoded social contracts, displaces anachronistic
political players, and envisages a new and better order.
It is time for ordinary citizens to become the true stewards of their own
future, to remake political parties into their servants, and not have it
the other way around.