Are we seeing a resurgence of Malay nationalism?

Raja Petra Kamarudin

On 4 February 2001, Ibrahim Ali created waves when an informal movement he headed called Badan Bertindak Melayu organised a rally that it called ‘Takkan Melayu Hilang di Dunia’, loosely translated to mean ‘Malays will never disappear from this earth’. Its war-cry was simply ‘Melayu Bersatu’, a call for the Malays to unite.

Ibrahim Ali, the man behind the entire display of what can only be classified as Malay nationalism, is no stranger to controversy. Twice the guest of the government under Malaysia’s dreaded and draconian Internal Security Act (ISA), Ibrahim Ali would create controversy if there are none going begging.

You either love Ibrahim Ali or you hate him. It is extremely difficult not to have any opinion of him. But even his adversaries reluctantly admit that Ibrahim Ali is someone who makes things happen once he has set his mind on something. “If Ibrahim Ali is behind it,” said one Umno veteran, “Then you can bet it will succeed.”

In Malaysia, it is normally know-who and not know-how that moves things. And Ibrahim Ali, being the grassroots leader that he is, has all the required know-who to make things happen.

Many say Ibrahim Ali is an unprincipled man. He is an opportunist, say his critics. Others call him katak (frog) for his penchant in changing parties.

But Ibrahim Ali is just being the true politician that he is. And is not politics the art of survival and being able to exploit situations and people for your own ends? Arguing that politics is about principles is just like saying that business is about doing charity and serving the nation and not about making profits.

Have no reservations about it. Business is about making money and not about anything else. And politics is about attaining power through any and all means available to you. If a politician was to tell you otherwise, then he is offering you nothing short of a song and dance routine. A good politician needs to be Machiavellian. A principled politician who stands on his belief of creating a civil society normally ends up in jail on trumped-up charges of sodomy.

So, the Ibrahim Alis of the political world makes it, while the Anwar Ibrahims just fade away. That, unfortunately, is the reality of life.

Politicians must be able to position themselves correctly. And the position you choose must not be one that turns you on but one that is the demand of the market. The successful entertainers of the world are those that cater to the taste of the audience. And what is the taste of the audience is what counts. Your taste may be that of the minority. You may achieve personal satisfaction by playing to your taste. But you can go far only if you satisfy the audience’s taste.

And this is where Ibrahim Ali is the master of playing to the gallery.

Last weekend, Malaysia Today was invited to cover the Perpaduan Rakyat Kedaulatan Raja convention organised by the Majlis Tindakan Rakyat Kelantan (MTRK) in Kota Bharu, Kelantan. It was of course a pleasant surprise that Ibrahim Ali, the man behind the effort, appointed Malaysia Today as the ‘official news organ’ for the conference.

It was puzzling why he would choose Malaysia Today as MTRK’s official news organ seeing that there are many other more-established and ‘politically correct’ news agencies to choose from. And we are not even a recognised or fully-fledged news agency at that. I suppose what Ibrahim Ali had in mind was not so much the stature of the news portal but the loose cannon tendency of its editor. Ibrahim Ali has an image of being the loose cannon of Umno, so he preferred another loose cannon to act as his media platform.

I really do not know whether I should take that as a compliment.

The event kicked off on Friday night with a dinner in honour of Tun Ghaffar Baba, the one-time Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. What the 80-year old Ghaffar had to say in his impromptu address was indeed most interesting.

Umno has to do some serious soul searching, said Ghaffar. If not, this ruling party would disappear into oblivion. Umno does not really have four million members as it claims, argued Ghaffar. What it has are division heads who pay the RM1 membership fees on behalf of the so-called members in their divisions, most times which do not exist.

The Umno headquarters receives a total of RM4 million from the divisions so it takes this figure as the number of members it has. In reality, the members do not exist. They are phantom members created by the division heads to justify them continuing as division heads.

Ghaffar then said he would like to tell the assembly something hilarious. He said he was never an Umno member all those years right until the time he became the Deputy Prime Minister. Only after the old Umno was declared null and got wound up by the Registrar of Societies and the new Umno was formed did he become an Umno member. So he rose through the ranks to eventually become the Deputy Prime Minister though he was not even an Umno member.

Now that is certainly most hilarious.

The MTRK has been in existence for about five years now, formed around the time the Badan Bertindak Melayu organised the ‘Takkan Melayu Hilang di Dunia’ rally. Therefore, it was formed during the time Ibrahim Ali was still in the government, so he cannot be accused of trying to create a new platform now that he is out of the government.

If I were asked: what was the most significant aspect of MTRK’s Perpaduan Rakyat Kedaulatan Raja convention, I would have to say this was the first time anyone or any organisation was able to organise an event that could cut across all political boundaries. For once, Malays from Umno, PAS, keADILan and the many NGOs could look at something from a totally non-political party platform.

Ibrahim Ali may have finally pulled off the coup of his political career.

MTRK is not about political parties or general elections. It is about Malay education and the future of the Malays. Currently, MTRK has 40,000 members, mostly Kelantanese. But if MTRK can spread its wings to the other states, it could eventually dwarf even Umno itself. And, as Ghaffar said, the real membership of Umno is suspect as it is.

Will MTRK eventually transform into a new Malay political party? Probably not, but it would certainly be that new Malay platform that most Malays lament has been lost due to serious intra-party and inter-party bickering that has plagued Malaysian politics for the last three generations.

Is MTRK a mere flash in the pan that would soon die a natural death? With Ibrahim Ali behind it who can tell? MTRK has, after all, been around for five years and Ibrahim Ali is a man who is known to never give up. And now that he has succeeded in getting the Malays to set aside their political differences and unite under a common non-political party platform, Ibrahim Ali may yet pull off what even Dr Mahathir Mohamad has failed to do.

Are we seeing a resurgence of Malay nationalism? I suppose only time will tell. Then again, if Umno perceives MTRK as a threat to its own existence, there may be forces at work that may try to deliver MTRK a death blow before it outgrows the party that is supposed to be the defenders of Malay interests.

Ibrahim Ali may yet emerge as the new Malay nationalist if his plans work out. Rest assured, though, there will be many who would like to thwart him before he steals their thunder, so he will now have to watch his back every step of the way.