Monday, March 22, 2010

The Perkasa distraction

The politics of exclusion is making a return, pushing back against the rising tide of inclusiveness that has spread to both sides of politics.

Later this week, a politician who famously earned himself notoriety by being labelled The Frog for his willingness to switch sides will position himself in the cat-bird seat, as the spearhead of a resurgent Malay rights movement.

There is little doubt that Ibrahim Ali and his newly-formed and speedily-registered Perkasa, with Dr Mahathir Mohamad lending his imprimateur, and the Mahathirian old guard in the likes of Aziz Shamsuddin, Sanusi Junid and others gathering around it, will have some apparent clout and the ability to dominate headlines.

But at what price to national cohesiveness?

Najib Tun Razak's 1Malaysia efforts, though stuttering and viewed as nothing more than a gimmick, and the multiracialism and multiculturalism espoused by the combined opposition, together give the lie to the seige mentality that Ibrahim Ali and Perkasa seek to perpetuate.

The politics of inclusiveness and the growing political maturity of all Malaysians hold the promise of breaking the mental shackles that race politics have bound on them for half a century, and towards truly recognising that we are all in the same boat together.

Common citizens in the course of everyday life give meaning to the national motto, Unity is Strength; the champions of race and privilege shame them.

Last week's historic gathering of 2,000 Orang Asli in a march at Putrajaya bearing banners such as Tanah kami, maruah kami, to reinforce native land rights, and Kami Bukan Melayu Kami Orang Asli, to reassert cultural and ethnic identity, shows up the darker side of race politics: the neglect of minorities and the inability of the common citizen to have his voice and his concerns recognised, let alone heard.

The insensitive and condescending response by Rural Development Minister Shafie Apdal, that the Orang Asli were there not to protest but to visit Putrajaya and were being provided meals, proves the point that the manipulation of public opinion has higher priority to the ruling elite. Have our politicians lost all sense of shame?

There is a disconnect between the ruling elite and the growing political and cultural maturity of the Malay community at large, which can see through the facade of race champions, to realise that these are merely the antics of a ruling elite desperate to cling on to power and privilege for themselves and their friends.

Perkasa's Malay rights movement is thus a sideshow to distract from fundamental issues that the country's leaders must be big enough to tackle. Perkasa and its followers, with their single-minded focus on narrow communal interests and its perpetuation of a siege mentality, are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem.

The way forward for all Malaysians is not through a return to the old politics of domination and racial supremacy, but by rejecting them.

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