Muhyiddin mirrors Umno’s dilemma — Ooi Kee Beng

The shocking and defiant statement made recently by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin that he identified himself more with his race than his nationality reveals the difficulties that the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) faces.

By Ooi Kee Beng

He was responding to opposition stalwart Lim Kit Siang’s challenge to him to state whether he was Malay first or Malaysian first.

First, Muhyiddin was making a public statement with both eyes on his own effective audience, which was not the imaginary Malaysian, but the imaginary Malay. This is clear from his fearful caveat that if he said he was Malaysian first and Malay second, “All the Malays will shun me … and it’s not proper”. He was hinting that his statement was not an honest one; just a politically expedient one.

Here lies the crux of the matter. Many leaders of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) have for decades been appealing to their own low opinion of what the Malay ground feels.

This perception is kept alive partly by Umno’s need to convince the Malay community that it is basically a helpless lot that needs eternal party protection, and partly by the gap that has opened up between the Umno leadership and the changing Malay community.

The notion that the Malays are in danger of disappearing is the bogeyman that Umno’s leadership seems to have trouble discarding. Despite — perhaps because of — the fact that young Malay voters are showing increasing support for opposition Malay-led parties that avoid mention of racial exclusivism, some leaders in Umno are moving to fill the vacuum opening up at the other end.

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