By Wan Ahmad Fayhsal
I was there last night (10th September 2016) among the sea of rakyat, mostly Malays who came in drove to listen to the political ceramah of the newly approved political party – Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PBBM or better known as Bersatu). It was held in Kampung Gedung Lalang Lama, Ampangan, Negeri Sembilan.
The event was quite historical as it was Bersatu’s truly inaugural official event after the approval granted by the Registrar of Society (ROS).
The attendees based on my rough estimate could easily be around 1,000-2,000 people from all walks of life but I could sense those who came were largely from the lower and middle-class Malays or best described as the urban poor.
From their body languages and side discussions throughout the ceramah, it appeared that this group was anxious with the state of our nation. They might not be highly educated but they surely understand the gravity of the matter at hand beyond the simple scandal of RM 2.6 billion ‘donation’.
I could also sense and feel that the crowd largely consisted of PAS-leaning supporters. Perhaps they were there to seek some insights about current issues, as their own party is playing dumb, numb and deaf about 1MDB.
What’s missing is still the youth – the most important age group where all political parties are vying to win their votes coming next general election. Why they were not present in any other age group? Perhaps they were busy watching Manchester derby; or perhaps they were simply not interested with Bersatu’s ceramah lineup that consisted of speakers that in one rough glance, are far too distant than their age group.
The numbers of crowd swelled after Isyak prayer.
I observed and asked the crowd. They were not ‘moved’ by the political rhetoric so much especially the one highlighting about 1MDB’s misdemeanour. I believe they have come to terms with the fact that 1MDB and Najib are in fishy business, with lot of things to hide and UMNO as a party is no better for condoning both of them.
In short, the people at large is already in tune with the message that 1MDB, Najib and UMNO have betrayed the “agama, bangsa and negara”. Not hard to convince this group. The campaign led by Tun Mahathir for almost 2 years know has borne its fruits. People believe in him. It was strengthened further by the revelation made by the United States Department of Justice. Done deal.
Despite the monochrome speeches, there were still some notable highlights. For example, when the Bersatu’s President, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin mentioned Rosmah’s name – she is, of course, a native of Rembau – the crowd went wild and heckling her like there’s no tomorrow. The name really touched the raw nerves of many Noghohi people. There is a sense of hatred, brewing and simmering on the ground towards the lady.
It is no surprise as the Nogoghi people is accustom to a totally opposite leadership figure than what the lady normally exemplified. Nogoghi is proud to have a fatherly-figure in politics in the form of their own Menteri Besar, Dato' Seri Utama Haji Mohamad bin Haji Hasan or best known as Tok Mat. He enjoys massive support from the Malays of Nogoghi. So it is natural for Nogoghi people to compare Tok Mat with Rosmah and we all know between the two which figure is really dear to them.
Judging from the grass root sentiment of the Malay heartland like in Ampangan, the decision by Tun Mahathir to ‘upgrade’ Deklarasi Rakyat into a full-fledge Malay-Bumiputra centric political party called Bersatu is a real coup de maître: race-based politics is here to stay regardless what the urbanites and secular-liberal Malays want to believe otherwise.
The Malay grass roots in Ampangan as well as from other Malay heartlands have really lost faith in UMNO. They really want to find a new alternative that is similar to UMNO hence why they are still lukewarm towards PKR, AMANAH or even PAS. The hope is high and the sentiment really is gravitating towards Bersatu.
Perhaps the encouraging support for Bersatu stems from Tun Mahathir’s aura and political charisma that is still strong among the Malays. At his ripe age, his fighting spirit commands huge respect from the Malays. The greater the vilifications committed by UMNO leaders towards Mahathir, they are being matched by far larger and greater supports pledged by the Malays – and even the non-Malays – for that old man. UMNO’s propaganda has really backfired. Najib should cut the budget (dedak) for the cyber troopers as they failed to ensure the results as promised.
Yes, many Malays are not stupid and blind about Mahathir’s past. They know he is an autocrat, he did many wrong things during his 22 years reign but these Malays also know too well Mahathir has done a lot and proven his worthiness many times over in building Malaysia as how we see, and most importantly feel today.
People still herald Tun Mahathir as their hero. Huge crowd waiting in line to greet Mahathir after the ceramah. (Picture courtesy of Yaakob Osman)
Because of this acknowledgement (either willingly or not), it has become a standard benchmark for the Malays to measure Najib’s with Mahathir’s – this, of course, includes Tun Hasmah’s loyal presence in all Mahathir’s political activities against 1MDB, always careful not to upstage her elderly husband: a powerful symbol of sincerity, perseverance that rubs well with the Malay’s subconscious.
With this ‘real-time’ background, what is the prospect of Bersatu to replace UMNO?
My gut feeling coupled with phenomenological and empirical measures would say: YES with CAVEATS.
Bersatu should not get overjoyed and buoyed by this warm support. We don’t know what exactly attracts the Malays to Bersatu despite its being so nascent. We also still don’t know what holds the Malays back especially among the fence-sitters whom I’m pretty sure are tired of these political charades coming from all political parties as at the end of the day they know things will not change!
To them Malaysian politics is all about elites squabbling for power and wealth; rakyat is just a pawn. This group of people is the real silent majority that no political parties have able to convince them to earn their solid supports and votes – yet.
From my own humble observation which I managed to extract from the crowd at Ampangan as well as from another medium, here are the caveats and challenges that I believe could derail Bersatu’s chance to be a real game changer in our Malaysian politics; a real substitute to UMNO:
1 – Power Distance
I noticed the crowd got edgy whenever Tan Sri Muhyiddin made a remark about the unpopular Goods and Tax Services (GST). I could hear many murmurs among the crowd dismissing his criticism on GST as an empty rhetoric because the crowd has not forgotten the fact that Tan Sri Muhyiddin was part of Najib’s cabinet and he too had endorsed GST earlier.
But whenever Tan Sri Muhyiddin spoke about 1MDB then people would regain their composure and listening attentively. The crowd associates Muhyiddin’s action and decision to challenge Najib and 1MDB as somewhat resonates well with the traditional Malay Hang Jebat-spirit of defiance against corrupted leader. So Muhyiddin with respect to 1MDB is firing all cylinders and scoring full points among the laity. But with respect to GST and other wanton wastages by UMNO, Muhyiddin is seen by the crowd as no better than the rest of UMNO leaders.
So how do we figure out this? I personally believe there is a power distance problem between some Bersatu figures and the rakyat.
People are questioning why now? Why after all these years you have been with UMNO, milking all the benefits at the expense of the rakyat and now all of sudden you are pleading for the rakyat’s support especially among the Opposition sympathizers?
How sure are we as the rakyat can trust Bersatu not to be another reincarnation of disgruntled UMNO leaders who left the party and formed PKR or another Malay-version of AMANAH that still fail to ditch the image of a party that has fallen out of favour in PAS?
So there are still people who question this: is Bersatu another parti orang kecewa?
The power distance is real. All political parties have this problem: UMNO is, as we all know, feudal; PKR is feudal too based on Anwar’s ring of influence emanating from Istana Segambut; AMANAH is still be seen as IKRAM’s surrogate (so non-IKRAM would feel a bit disenfranchised due to Jemaah dalam Jemaah sentiment) while PAS’ power distance is in a form of religious hegemony over non-religious members (read: the professional).
So to the laity, it begets this question: is Bersatu another carbon-copy of UMNO? Is Bersatu another form of political game by the elites to harp and take advantage against the rakyat’s pain and suffering without really be-ing with the rakyat?
Does it truly represents the democratic aspiration of the rakyat where money, family lineage would not determine the merit of its member to be leaders of Bersatu? Or Bersatu is still being governed by the spirit of supreme leader is always right hence repeating the same mistake of UMNO under brand Najib? How would Bersatu’s political structure be? Would it still produce the same structure like UMNO where at division level potential warlord like Jamal Sekinchan could resurface within Bersatu? How would Bersatu curb and guarantee the possibility for such unwarranted incident not to recur again?
The rakyat is still observing from a distance.
2 – Anti-Najib Overdose
People are tired of anti-Najib rhetoric. They have understood well that Najib is a pariah and UMNO’s blind loyalty is on the verge of self-destruction. Bersatu leaders do not need to work hard to convince the rakyat about this, in fact the rakyat knows better than Bersatu leaders as they suffered on daily basis with all sorts of problems like the rising cost of living, rationalization of subsidies, sequestration of important budget for rakyat (e.g. medicine, scholarship) that ended up at Prime Minister’s Department/Office – all courtesy of Najib Razak and his cabinet’s policies.
Pull the break on vilifying Najib Razak. Spare his and the late Tun Razak’s soul and family pride. Focus on matters that transcend Najib and UMNO especially how to rebuild this country again as that is something the rakyat really looking forward into.
Removing Najib is a consequence of Bersatu ability to gain ultimate trust from the rakyat, and not to forget the Malay Rulers.
Najib Razak is not a problem; he is just a symptom.
Najib Razak is not a problem; he is just a symptom.
First Bersatu must admit that problem arises due to the corrupted political culture within UMNO. For this very reason Bersatu must disown UMNO’s corrupted culture once and for all; disassociate every negative trait about UMNO’s dilapidated culture that has destroyed the party and weakened the Malays.
Those who joined Bersatu might have experienced and witnessing these corrupt practices when they were once in UMNO. Corrupted UMNO culture is not just about money politics: it’s about the stupidity, deceits, bare face lies, and utter disregard of Malay and Islamic ideals of maruah.
Bersatu must represent hope, intelligence, and honour (maruah) that the Malays have been yearning for ages from UMNO. Stop treating the rakyat as if we are chickens that need to be constantly fed with dedak – either in forms of money or political patronage.
Those leaders who are leading Bersatu, I have no doubt they might have joined the party because they are sincere for the cause. They want to help the poor and change the government for a better Malaysia BUT let us not discount the fact that there are people who might want to be in Bersatu because they have gained fewer benefits in UMNO. They are disappointed with UMNO because of the lack of acknowledgment given to them or simply because of their own inflated ego.
To these leaders, my sincere reminder to you is this: for whatever reasons you are here in Bersatu, if you really want to bite the bullet, do bite the bullet with good intention. If you joined Bersatu for other than Allāh and His Messenger, it is not too late for you to repent and make it right. Don’t chase for position, seeking patronage as how you might have done in UMNO before. This is the chance given by God for you to redeem two things: (1) your sins in UMNO before and (2) your incompetency in championing Malay and Islamic causes once you were in power in UMNO.
Insha-Allāh (God Willing) let Allāh decides your good intention and deeds from this moment onwards.
3 – Legacies
Legacy issues are mostly involving Tun Mahathir. Although Tun Mahathir is just a Chairman of Bersatu, his clout is still strong and somehow the perception of his clout differs among the rakyat.
Some among his loyal supporters would reckon Tun Mahathir’s presence in Bersatu as the party’s pillar of strength, far stronger than what Muhyiddin could offer. It is no exaggeration as the Deklarasi Rakyat volunteers – numbering to thousands – are mostly those who are loyal to Tun Mahathir first and UMNO second. These are the members who put everything on the line for Tun Mahathir – time, money, energy, sweat and tears – and they too will give everything as long as Bersatu duly acknowledged Tun Mahathir’s role as the Chairman of the party.
Opposite to these loyalists are those Malays who have suffered the brunt of Tun Mahathir’s authoritarianism. They know UMNO is corrupt and deep inside harbour great hatred against Najib and UMNO but for personal reasons they cannot accept Tun Mahathir’s role and place in this reformation of Malay politics via Bersatu. So their support to Bersatu is conditional: as long as Tun Mahathir has not admitted his mistakes and extend sincere apologies to those he had oppressed, this group of Malays will withdraw their support for Bersatu.
But if Tun Mahathir able to swallow his pride, then these Malays will close ranks with him and support Bersatu like a breeze. In fact, they will be a surprise package in creating the political vortex that will suck others from UMNO to Bersatu.
4 – Lack vision
Thus far Bersatu has yet to articulate its vision for Malaysia. The rakyat do not want to hear empty and cheap promises like how the Opposition parties frequently do; they want Bersatu to demonstrate concrete hopes and dreams that are inclusive for all. The rakyat knows the real merit of Bersatu’s leadership is not about toppling Najib but how far Bersatu can govern the nation.
One of the ways Bersatu could do this is by bringing and attracting real talented future leaders into the ranks: those who possessed good track record in delivering performance-driven results in solving various societal and national problems that besetting us all. These talented leaders must demonstrate ingenuity in leadership. Not fake leaders who just know how to entertain the masses on pentas ceramah.
By having these potential leaders on board, with just one glance, the rakyat could feel and see the genuine conviction of these leaders where Bersatu could pin a solid hope on them in carrying the party's brand further. Even though they could not deliver perfectly, the rakyat will not be angry towards these visionaries as they know these first-time leaders have tried their best. After all, Bersatu is still an experiment and an underdog.
Bersatu must have a solid identity in order to win over the trust and the support of the rakyat. The key values that Bersatu must have are capability, sincerity, and conviction. These three values are very much in contrast to what UMNO leaders currently possessed: incapability, self-serving and pretenders.
The non-Malays won’t mind to see another Malay-based party to dominate the political scene. They just want to be treated fairly by the government of the day. They don’t want Islām and Malay sentiments to be use as a political device to divide and conquer societies. Bersatu must not fall into this same charade like how UMNO has done before. Be magnanimous to the non-Malays and you will earn their respect.
5 – Not youthful
This is another major handicap of Bersatu. With growing demographics centered on youth voters, Bersatu is risking to alienate this group of people that could really make or break any political parties coming next general election.
The youth or Generation Y (Gen Y) has different values than the established voters. They don’t care about history, about Malay rights. They are willing to fight based on merit. They don’t like pretensions, hierarchies and old values that force them to submit beyond any reasonable grounds.
So if they were to criticize Bersatu, don’t take it personally. The Gen Y is known to be very vocal (sometimes borderline nonsense) on many issues.
The only way to gain trust from this group is to allow more space for them to contribute to Bersatu in whatever creative forms that they might have talents in.
Bersatu needs to field good quality youth leaders that are visible and command good respect in all segments of society. Bersatu needs to be seen and act as the future of Malaysian politics – like how Tun Mahathir had brought in Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim into UMNO sometime ago. That kind of momentous move needs to be replicated by Bersatu – now! Or risk being called a dinosaur!
6 – Missing coalition
This is given. For Bersatu to win and become the government of the day, it must be in the form of solid coalition. Tun Mahathir has warned this many times. Without solid coalition like Barisan Nasional, Bersatu and opposition parties are as good as nothing. Just close shop. Don’t waste rakyat’s time and money to support you people.
Project tentative shadow cabinet consisting Bersatu and Opposition parties. Make clear who will be the Prime Minister and other important cabinet positions. Their selections must be based on merits less we could see disjointed cabinet members like how Noh Omar squabbled with Johari over the housing issue. If such thing happen, the rakyat will lambast Bersatu for failing to organize the coalition.
Only through this sort of coalition, we could really see Bersatu becoming a real challenger to UMNO and Barisan Nasional respectively.
Other political parties must understand that Bersatu must lead the coalition like how UMNO has led Barisan. This is sacrosanct in Malaysian politics. A Malay-Bumiputra based party MUST LEAD THE COALITION.
Only then the largest group of voters, which is the Malays will give their full support to the coalition. The Malays CANNOT ACCEPT DAP. The Malays could not accept AMANAH that is seen as proxy to DAP. The Malays could not accept PKR as it is too dynastic and still Anwar-centric (despite having Rafizi on board, PKR members hardly realized this). The Malays could not accept PAS as long as its political vision is narrowly penchant for Islamic legalism that devoid of secular vision (ask PAS members how would they prop up our Malaysian economy post-1MDB). Only Bersatu, like UMNO in the past, could represent a real middle path that is inclusive for all Malays to be affiliated with and palatable to the non-Malays.
Make no mistake the numbers of people attending Bersatu’s event could not necessarily be translated into votes. The hardcore supporters of Tun Mahathir would definitely count as Bersatu’s votes (that subject to how far they would be loyal to Muhyiddin’s leadership. Remember the Malays are still feudal in nature. Political loyalty does play a big role).
If Bersatu able to deliver and sincerely address what I have mentioned earlier, I have no doubt Bersatu will go far and proven to be the real successor to parti keramat Melayu UMNO. Regardless of the outcome, with Bersatu now on board, one thing for sure Malaysian politics is going to be different in years to come.
Kepada Allāh kita berserah.