Zaid Ibrahim: Lone Voice for Common Sense and Moderation Among UMNO Politicians?

Since the beginning of September, four opinion articles have emerged from the pen of Zaid Ibrahim that need to be compulsory reading for all Malaysians. The titles of the four articles which have appeared in Zaid’s blogsite ( http://www.zaid.my/) are:

  1. Wake Up Mr. PM
  2. Anti-DAP
  3. The Age of Sedition
  4. Why Apartheid was Better

Together these articles provide a succinct summary of what is wrong in the country’s politics; who are responsible for the sad state of our political development; what is likely to happen when racism and extremism spiral out of control; and the disastrous consequences that will befall the country should there be a continuation of the scorched earth policy that is being engaged in by the Government, and especially UMNO side.

Although each one of the four articles deserves full discussion and analysis by itself, I will only touch on the conclusion of the second article which is reproduced below.

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The latest assault on DAP and PKR concerns their ”loyalty” to the Sultan Of Selangor. This came from no less a person the PM himself. This cheap political trick to question the loyalty of opposition parties should not come from a Prime Minister . In a democracy anyone who has a public duty has to be accountable for their actions. Instead of telling the people in Pekan the complexities of democracy and how constitutional monarch and political leaders should conduct themselves ; the PM took the lazy route of inflaming the feelings of the Malays; urging them that PKR and DAP will not protect the Malay Rulers and their religion . For a man who talks about the great transformation for the country ; this is irresponsible conduct and most disappointing.

My concern is that this anti-DAP feeling will spin out of control into anti-Chinese sentiment. This in turn can turn into a movement against non-Malays and, ultimately, non-Muslims. Hatred will then consume the nation. Then what?

Most likely racial clashes will take place and many Chinese and other innocent lives will be lost, including the Malays. The country will grind to a halt. The wealthy leaders will flee the country and the so-called defenders of the Malay race will run to London or Argentina, while we ordinary people who just want live in peace with everyone, regardless of whether they wear sari or voted DAP or not, will have to start all over again.

Speaking as a non-Malay Malaysian – I wish to express my deep appreciation to Zaid for exposing in such an honest and clear way the political hypocrisy engaged in by – of all people – our Prime Minister himself; and for spelling out in plain easily understood language, the looming scenario of violence should the racial hatred and anti-opposition bashing continue unabated.

Unfortunately it is not the Prime Minister alone in UMNO who is engaged in this duplicitous double talk. The Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Affairs Minister, the Minister in the PM’s Department in charge of Islamic Affairs, even the most junior UMNO deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries are doing it. Therefore, we see one genre of speech touting their moderate political position and support for a multi-racial country when speaking before an international audience. But back home, that one speech becomes at least two. The first one aimed at Chinese, Indian or East Malaysian audiences – a moderate one. The second – a hard line and racially or religiously jingoistic and nationalist or ultra-nationalist speech blaming the Chinese and DAP opposition party for any and all issues and problems in the country; and urging Malays to defend Malay royalty, the Malay race and UMNO, their saviour against rampaging and disloyal and traitorous non-Malays.

How this situation has developed – the racial radicalization – of UMNO politics has been much debated. Many have attributed it to opportunistic leadership with the rot starting with Dr. Mahathir’s prime ministership. Others have argued that the extremist response is due to the fear of loss of power, and the wealth and status, that comes with it, should BN and UMNO finally have its rule in the nation ended. Whatever the reason or reasons is really water under the bridge. The reality is that we have today UMNO as a party that is committed to moderation on paper but in reality is the breeding ground of intolerance and bigotry that will bring about the destruction of our country as we know it.

What is the solution?

Zaid has proposed to his non-Malay readers to use our energy and financial clout to strengthen our communal relationship with Malays and Muslims. “Interact with them”, he urges “so that they see that you are not the enemy. He notes that in Kelantan, the Malay and non-Malay relationship at the community and personal levels are excellent; and it is the same in many other places. He also makes the important point that the people are tired of these leaders’ defeatist mantras but that “since they have a monopoly over TV stations and newspapers, they will keep working to get [ordinary Malaysians] to believe that the threat truly comes from within.

This is sound advice aimed at the grassroots. But time is needed to build up these inter-racial and inter-religious relationships and time is not on our side. More rapid responses to fight this mother of all battles to ensure a peaceful, democratic, pluralistic and progressive nation are needed.

Perhaps the most urgently needed of these rapid responses is for similar voices of sanity and moderation to come from within the ranks of UMNO itself. Zaid Ibrahim has long been a lone voice from the ruling party. He has championed the case for greater freedoms and basic liberties and is now taking up the cudgels to fight political and racial extremism. Another is the former Deputy Higher Education Minister and now CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, who has a track record of advocacy for democratic reform and championing youth empowerment; and who has refused to play the race card, despite his long time membership in UMNO.

Are there other moderate and progressive UMNO leaders out there who can rise above the racially laced platform and rhetoric now deemed de rigueur for any aspiring Malay with ambitions to rise to political prominence in the country or is this a no-brainer question? The Prime Minister himself should lead the way and not smear the opposition governments of Penang, Selangor and Kelantan as enemies or traitors to the Malay cause.

The answer to this question, I believe, holds the key as to the kind of future Malays and all Malaysians will face.






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