Malaysian politicians have always been able to define what Malaysia’s challenges are and also know what should be done. The number of “plans and visions” that Malaysia has, attest to this.
The main problem is, that the past and present set of political leaders, on both sides of the divide, in general have failed to provide leadership at critical moments, and instead have sought to preserve power by maintaining status quo.
This is done through the appeal to their parties ideologies. The ideology that underpins each of the main political parties are almost similar but are fundamentally at odds with what is needed to be done in Malaysia.
The United National Malays Organisation (UMNO) ideology is often termed as “Ketuanan Melayu” or Malay supremacy.
Malaysia’s Islamic party (PAS) has the welfare state as its current slogan, but it is essentially about Islamic supremacy (daulah Islamiyya)
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is essentially a populist party for its base group, the Malays. It argues for “Ketuanan Rakyat” (supremacy of the people) but on several critical issues (when “Ketuanan Melayu” clashed head on with “Ketuanan Rakyat”), it has faltered. The selection of the Selangor state government economic corporation head , PKR leader, Anwar Ibrahim’s strong condemnation of homosexuality and the refusal to take action against then PKR Member of Parliament and Islamic supremacists (who has since defected to become an UMNO friendly independent), Zulkifli Nordin are cases in point.
There have of course been momentous occasions when PAS and PKR have stood up against UMNO’s Malay supremacy (such as the Allah issue) but these, while important can be interpreted as strategic rather than principled.
Dr. Helen Ting, from IKMAS (Institute of Malaysian and International Studies) captures the discussions around these ideologies in her paper, ” The Politics of National Identity in West Malaysia: Continued Mutation or Critical Transition“
She concludes that:
Historic regime change became conceivable following recent political development. Nonetheless, prospects for radical revision of existing inter-religious dynamics remain dim because Islamic conservatism among Malay politicians transcends party-lines.
Does this mean, that Malaysia will perpetually find itself stuck with leaders that cannot lead Malaysia towards the reforms that Malaysia badly needs?