Friday, September 25, 2015

Race card won’t work in crumbling economy, analysts say in ‘fractured Malaysia’ show

Published: 25 September 2015 10:57 AM
The ‘red shirt’ rally on Malaysia Day was supposedly about protecting Malay dignity. Umno is accused of using the race card to shore up support for its beleaguered president, Datuk Seri Najib Razak. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, September 25, 2015.

The ‘red shirt’ rally on Malaysia Day was supposedly about protecting Malay dignity. Umno is accused of using the race card to shore up support for its beleaguered president, Datuk Seri Najib Razak. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, September 25, 2015. 

Umno may use the race card to shore up support for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, but this will not work in the long run if the ruling party fails to address real issues of poor governance, alleged corruption and the economy, political observers said in a television documentary by Singapore’s Channel News Asia (CNA) last night.
Speaking on the “Insight” in a documentary titled “A fractured nation”, three observers said the race card was being used because it offered Najib assurance that he still had support, even as the embattled prime minister and Umno president continued to face scrutiny over his governance and alleged scandals.
But Dr Maszlee Malik of the International Islamic University of Malaysia said the race card would not last long because people would have to start thinking about their survival when the economy started “crumbling”.
“(It’s) the people around (Najib) who play the racial card in order to continue their survival. But it won’t last long. At the end of the day, when the economy is crumbling, they will start to think about survival,” the assistant professor said in the 30-minute documentary.
Singaporean analyst Dr Ooi Kee Beng took the view that the race card was a “standard” feature in Malaysian politics, and that it was “always on the table” for politicians to use.
“The race card is the main card. That card is always on the table.
“But we’re at the point in history where the Malays are the majority and where economics is concerned, they control the government-linked companies (GLCs), control the government and Parliament… so the argument that they are under threat doesn’t hold water.”
Ooi, who is deputy director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) Yusof Ishak Institute, said more people want Putrajaya to focus on good governance instead of harping on racial rights.
CNA in its commentary said “ultranationalist” Malays who participated in the “red shirt” rally on September 16 “would like to think” that Malaysia’s problems were about race, but noted that a “great number of urban people form the middle class, as well as non-Malays, know (the) current discourse has more to do with poor governance, corruption and increasing authoritarianism”.
CNA also interviewed pollster Ibrahim Suffian of the Merdeka Center, who said Malaysia was facing external forces out of its control, such as a drop in oil revenue with affected government earnings, and which, in turn, “affects the ability to dispense patronage”.
“There’s a number of very negative factors at play which make it difficult for any government to overcome. So the nice fuzzy feeling of 1Malaysia will have to take a backseat,” Ibrahim said, explaining why the use of the race card was prevalent.
The ‘red shirt’ rally on Malaysia Day, when Singapore and the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak formed Malaysia together with Malaya, was held to counter the Bersih 4 rally on August 29 and 30 calling for democratic reforms and for Najib’s resignation.
The “red shirt” rally organisers said the Bersih rally had insulted Malay dignity and Najib had defended this.
Ooi said he felt Najib had little choice but to support the racial rhetoric of the “red shirt” rally because the protestors formed his core group of supporters.
“He could not possibly go against them publicly. When there was such a huge demonstration calling for his resignation, he could not possibly afford not to pander to this group at the same time,” Ooi said.
Surveys have shown, however, that Najib’s popularity was in decline, and Ooi cited the Merdeka Center’s tracking of the prime minister’s ratings, as well as anecdotes from recent by-elections which saw little use of Najib’s photographs.
“Now with 1MDB, his popularity is really hitting rock bottom and that’s worrying to old leaders like Tun Dr Mahathir (Mohamad),” said Ooi, referring to the government-owned investment firm 1Malaysia Development Bhd, which has racked up debts of RM42 billion, and the former prime minister who has become a strident critic of Najib.
Explaining the change in Najib’s approach compared with the start of his tenure in 2009 when he promoted the 1Malaysia slogan as a way to unite the country’s multiracial populace, Ooi said the point of change came with the 2013 general election, where the ruling Barisan Nasional lost more seats to the opposition, even though it still formed the government.
“I think it was obvious already on election night, May 5, 2013, when he gave his victory speech which was given in a very depressed mode, and there he talked about the Chinese tsunami, and from that point onwards, I think the phrase ‘1Malaysia’ was not used seriously again. 
“I think, sadly, the phrase 1Malayisa will be remembered for its connection to 1MDB. The Chinese went even further from the BN ruling coalition. He sort of gave up.”
CNA said while Najib may be able to stay in power by filling positions in Umno and government with loyalists, he would eventually have to face voters.
Ooi added that Umno would eventually lose power if it “continues the way it is under Najib”.
“It has to somehow change its image and that cannot change as long as Najib is there.” – September 25, 2015.
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