Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s new party is roundly denounced by many even before it could see the light of day. But it is being criticised for the wrong reasons.
His Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, or Bersatu for short, is facing flak over its bumiputera-only membership, instead of accepting all races as ordinary members. It has been rejected as a clone of Umno — old wine in a new bottle.
Many quarters, including the media, have denounced it as a racist party. There is a big difference between a racist and a race-based party. Bersatu is a Malay and bumiputera-based party.
It is only a racist party if it advocates racist policies, meaning it could practise dog-whistle politics and marginalise the non-bumiputeras further. A racist party is openly chauvinistic and xenophobic.
In Malaysia, the confusion between a racist and a race-based party is somewhat understandably as there is not much to distinguish these two categories at the moment.
This goes for parties on both sides of the political divide. Those, who front themselves as multi-racial party, unabashedly keep their chauvinist appeal as it translates to votes. Race pandering, non-inclusive policies and outright race baiting have been the game of all in the fray.
We readily take to the streets to cow our fellow citizens. We window-dress our party with token representation of other races and not give them influential positions in the organisation. We overlook unacceptable stands and form allies in the name of political expediency.
The people blame these parties for being divisive, and yet they throw our support behind them.
How different is Mahathri’s Bersatu from Umno, PKR or DAP? We moan that race-based parties are not good for our multicultural society and blamed them for being barriers to national integration.
We only see the difference in Bersatu’s restriction on membership. Needn’t we look further into its essence?
We blame political parties for having done irreparable damages to national unity and integration. The reality is that we as a society are our own biggest stumbling to a truly united country that is able to look beyond race and religion.
It is to simplistic to denounce Mahathir’s new party for its limited membership and to equal that to perpetuating racism. This limited membership move is to accommodate disgruntled Umno’s supporters who are not ready for a truly multiracial party.
Mahathir is a victim of his own doings. The political manoeuvres at the height of his power have resulted in the barriers he must breach to oust sitting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
His past misdeeds continue to haunt and hamper him as he throws in everything except the kitchen sink to unseat Najib. Ironically, the judiciary, legislature, executive, governmental instruments and media which he compromised have given extreme powers to the prime minister.
Whether we agree with Mahathir’s politics or not, many see the need to decentralise the Prime Minister’s powers. Mahathir now seeks to battle Najib through the ballot.
Mahathir is being pragmatic because he knows what appeals to voters. Former deputy prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin applied for registration of his new party.
It is telling that the man to handle Bersatu’s registration is the one who gave Najib’s 1Malaysia programme a knife in the back when he declared he is a Malay first before a Malaysian.