POLITICIANS from Malay parties Umno and the opposition Bersatu, as well as the largely Chinese DAP, came to the conclusion at a forum last night that ending race politics would take time and it had to be the effort of both voters and political parties.
Bersatu’s Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who left think-tank Ideas and recently joined the party, said the change should start with political parties, and in a Malaysian context, had to start from a Malay party as the ethnic group formed the majority of the country’s population.
National political discourse has also long been shaped around the position of the Malays.
“(The agenda must come) from a Malay party. It is the same with Chinese and Hindu nationalists. The change must come from themselves.
“So if you really want to see the end of race politics, or a change in direction where we can actually debate policy (instead of race politics), it is really crucial for people like Shahril Hamdan and many others in Umno Youth now to quickly rise up the ranks.
“That’s the only way we can have healthier politics in Malaysia, but that would take time,” said the Bersatu strategy and policy bureau deputy chairman at a forum with about 200 urban young adults in Kampung Attap, Kuala Lumpur, last night.
Umno is Malaysia’s ruling Malay party and linchpin of the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled the country since independence. Bersatu, in the opposition pact Pakatan Harapan, is also a Malay party.
Umno’s Shahril, the party’s Youth wing exco member, was also a panelist, along with DAP Socialist Youth vice-chairman Lim Yi Wei.
Wan Saiful hailed Shahril as an emerging leader in Umno, noting that the older generation in the party would find it hard to do away with race politics.
Shahril pointed out that voters themselves had to understand the Malaysian landscape and not form opinions based on what they were familiar with.
“The problem with us and and those of our background is that we socialise or work with the Bangsar, Hartamas types. That’s really not representative of the rest of the country,” he said, referring to affluent suburbs in Kuala Lumpur.
“Yes, there is some hope that more and more people in the future will vote past racial lines. But in particular states, there is still a clear trend (of voting along) Bumiputera and non-Bumi lines.
“Passionate debate (on policies) is not happening yet. People still vote based on sensationalism and favouritism,” Shahril said, adding that ending racial politics was a “two-way street” that involved voters “incentivising” politicians.
DAP’s Lim, meanwhile, said race politics could only end if everyone stepped out from their “bubbles”.
The two-hour forum, organised by public affairs and political risk consultancy KRA Group, saw active participation from the young adult crowd.
Shahril, being the only pro-government representative against two opposition representatives on the panel, ended up being evaluated by forum participants.
Daniel Teoh, 27, from Petaling Jaya, who works as a translator, said while the discussion was good, he felt like Shahril was guarded and could have been more frank.
“There are things they can’t say and I think that it is okay because it is part of their party discipline, particularly Shahril (from Umno).
“I think he tried his best to sell a really bad product and he was doing his best,” said Teoh.
Engineer Shazmin Ghazali, 36, who lives in Pantai Dalam, said Shahril from Umno was impressive as a thinker and speaker, but this did not change his view about the ruling party.
“My view on Umno has not really changed. I still believe that reform can only happen if BN becomes the opposition,” said Shazmin.
Strategy executive, Alia Astaman, 25, from Bangsar, said Shahril did his best to relate to the urban crowd, but his affiliation with Umno also made it difficult for him.
“I think he is capable of becoming a leader in Umno if he can find enough people who think like him and who are progressive like him. Then he can go somewhere. Otherwise – we’ve seen this happen before – young, bright politicians just end up toeing the line when they go up the ranks.
“(Shahril himself) said you have to toe the party line. As soon as you say that, you are admitting that your integrity is compromised. You have already accepted that these are the rules of the game and you have to play the game to win the game. So, I think it was a bit disappointing,” Alia said.
Like Shazmin, Alia also said a change in federal government was due.
“As Wan Saiful said, until we can (change) government at least once, democracy is not complete because we are always afraid of first-time change,” she said. – March 27, 2018.
First published for The Malaysian Insight , 27 March 2018
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