The political evolution of the Malays

With the present scenario, the Malay race will never again be united like it had been during the early post-independence days because the younger internet-savvy ‘Malay’ generation will never understand the mentality of the ‘Malay’ generation of the 50’s or 60’s.

Stephen Yaman, Sabah

The Malays have been a predominant race in Malaysian politics. This had been the situation since the early days of independence when the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) was a very strong and cohesive party. The Malays among themselves were very united in their struggle for independence from the British colonial rule.

After the independence of Malaya, the Malays as the majority race managed to unite and rule, initially with the help of the Chinese and Indians, and later, after the formation of Malaysia, with other native races of Sabah and Sarawak. As Malaysia grew, developed and prospered over the years, the Malay race became more powerful. Individuals among the Malay leaders wanted to have more control, more power and more wealth (money) that goes with power.

But who are the Malays? From a very brief study at school regrading the history of ‘Malaya’, we were taught that the ethnic ‘Malays’ originated from the Indonesian island of Sumatra back in the year 1402. They came to ‘Malaya’ with their king Parameswara who fled from the kingdom Singapura after it was sacked by naval forces from the ruler of the kingdom of Majapahit.

After embracing Islam, Parameswara changed his name to Iskandar Shah. Before these refugees landed in ‘Malaya’, I assumed the country was already inhabited by the Orang Asli in the interior and by the Thais in the north. So the ‘Malays’ were newcomers to ‘Malaya’. (Corrections to all this is very much welcome!)

However, the history of the Malays only became more widely known after they embraced the Islamic religion — as before that they were Hindus, just like their king, Parameswara. Very little is taught in school of the history of the Malays in the period when they were Hindus, before they embraced Islam.

For a few hundred years, the ‘Malays’ ruled a large portion of the land now known as ‘Malaya’. They fought and won several wars with the Thais in the north and later with the European invaders who came in their battleships with their superior weapons to whom they eventually lost. (As we do not want a repeat of our defeat to the Portuguese, we have bought the two submarines, the Scorpions to defend Malaysia!)

Up until then, the Malay people were a fairly well defined race by their bloodline and ancestry. They were a group of people who lived the area of the world, named by the British as the Malay Archipelago, which covered the present countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

However, beginning with the colonial days with the influx of people from other countries, notably from China and India, the racial bloodline of the ‘Malays’ started to get diluted and became much less well-defined, to the extent now the physical features of the ‘Malays’ range from the ‘original stock’ of small and brown-skinned people to tall and dark skinned more like the Indians, or medium height, light skinned and rounded face like the Chinese, or tall and light skinned eith sharp facial features like the Europeans.

The Malays of Malaysia as a race have evolved so much that being a ‘Malay’ now is more a matter of definition rather than being determined by the bloodline of the person.

A ‘Malay’ is now defined by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as a person who ‘speaks the Malay language, mainly observes the ‘Malay’ customs, habitually wears a sarong when relaxing at home, often comfortably eats with his fingers while seated on a mat on the floor, but most importantly who professes the religion of Islam’.

So by this definition, a person of any racial grouping in the world could become a ‘Malay’ in Malaysia. So now it is quite possible to have a Chinese Malay, an Indian Malay, an Arab Malay and even an ‘orang putih’ Malay! In Sabah it is also possible to find Dusun Malays, Bajau Malays and of course Brunei Malays. With all the different varieties in the ‘Malay’ race, the ‘Malays’ as a race in Malaysia, are no longer united, with each variety seeing a different path to their future and the future of the country.

The Kelantan Malays and PAS could not be bothered with all that were happening in the Malaysian capital and they have stayed out of BN-UMNO although Tengku Razaleigh, a Malay of Kelantan, did show some interest in the leadership of the party and with Musa Hitam, he did try but failed to topple Dr Mahathir in UMNO.

Mahathir, an Indian Malay, was a very strong minded prime minister who could not tolerate anyone who questioned his authority. As Lim Kit Siang, who is not a Malay, said, “Mahathir is a PM with a mind of his own. He is capable of doing great good but he is also capable of great evil.”

“He can believe that he is right while the whole world is wrong, and he does what it takes to change it. Well, if you are right, then, fine. But if you are wrong, then you can cause great evil. There is nothing to act as a brake”. Dr Mahathir managed to survive for many years as the longest serving Prime Minister but finally fell due to “money politics” within UMNO.

The Malays in Malaya were further broken up by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim with the setting up of Party Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). In the 2008 General Election, Anwar successfully managed to pull together a coalition to form Pakatan Rakyat (PR) comprising PKR/DAP/PAS opposition parties that broke the two thirds majority of BN in the Malaysian parliament.

In the meantime, Sabah had been a big headache and a huge problem state for BN. To counter the racial ‘imbalance’ problem in Sabah, new ‘Malays’ were needed and was created with the now infamous ‘Project IC’. With the creation of the new ‘Malays’, the population of Sabah ‘Malays’ exploded over a very short period of time, the Project IC ‘Malays’ being a naturally prolific breeder.

Even with the help of the new Project IC ‘Malays’ in Sabah it took some years for Mahathir to successfully suppress and put PBS under his control but Pairin, who is not a Malay by definition, remained as an opposition leader until 2003 when UMNO set up office in Sabah.

By then, Pairin had no choice but to ask his followers to jump ship for their survival. It was then that PBS coined their famous saying, “To join BN and correct BN from within” as justification for joining BN.

So the situation now is that, apart from the various varieties of ‘Malays’ mentioned earlier, we also have UMNO ‘Malays’, PAS ‘Malays’, PKR ‘Malays’, Sabah ‘Malays’, Sarawak ‘Malays’ and the Project IC ‘Malays’.

From the early post-independence days of ‘unite and rule’, the Malays have now evolved politically to adopt, from their previous British masters, a political strategy of ‘divide and rule’ – the Chinese, Indians and others.

But now UMNO as a ‘Malay’ political party had become too big and too fat and serious cracks began to appear from factions or groups within the party due to power struggle, control and greed.

The Malay in-fighting, which started in the 1980’s, resulted in UMNO being deregistered, ‘New UMNO’ being born, many leaders were sidelined, Anwar left, Mahathir resigned, Badawi, a Chinese Malay, took over and lost control, and Najib, a Bugis Malay, came to power.

It is now impossible to bring back the ‘Malays’ together as a cohesive race like the days prior to Malaya’s independence.

It is now widely believed that Sabah and Sarawak will play the role of the “King Maker” again, and for the second time, in the coming 13th General Election. This is the reason why Najib and many BN leaders have been making frequent trips to Sabah and Sarawak; and so have opposition leaders from PR.

The side-players on the BN “chess board” are slowly dropping off – the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), Gerakan, and Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), are becoming less and less significant in Malaysian politics.

Meanwhile, Sarawak BN seems happy for now with the Party Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) leadership of Taib Mahmud (a Melanau Malay by Mahathir’s definition) at the helm. There is, however, no successor to Taib Mahmud’s decaying dynasty as his boys are indifferent to the politics of the country and couldn’t care less about the welfare of the people because they have rich toys to play with and they already have billions of dollars in their bank accounts.

The natural phenomenon of the tsunami of reformation and transformation in Malaysia will come in the 13th General Election with the power of the now fragmented Malay race in Malaysian politics very much weakened. The smaller BN component parties in Sabah and Sarawak will inevitably fade away just like their counterparts in Peninsula Malaysia – with less and less representation in parliament.

With the present scenario, the Malay race will never again be united like it had been during the early post-independence days because the younger internet-savvy ‘Malay’ generation will never understand the mentality of the ‘Malay’ generation of the 50’s or 60’s.

And with the fragmentation of the ‘Malay’ race, Malaysia and the world would see a totally different picture in the 13th General Election, which will give birth to a natural balance of power. If the individual wealth of ‘Malay’ leaders is measured in billions of Ringgit, what significance is now the value of giving RM500, even twice, to the generally low income, dangerously dissatisfied and resentful ‘Malay’ populace?

Politically, the ‘Malays’ of the various varieties have matured. They will no longer accept peanuts while their leaders swim in wealth, drive in exorbitantly expensive cars, live in palatial residences, have multiple wives with unlimited expense accounts and with children educated in expensive foreign universities. They also want a piece of the Malaysian cake so they will surely cast a vote for change in the next general election.