Rejoinder to Ooi Kok Hin: A fragile victory of Pakatan Harapan heralds the potent threat of MMN? — Rais Hussin

Rais Hussin, Malay Mail Online

Ooi Kok Hin ought to be congratulated for his magnanimous response on my rejoinder against his concept of Malay Muslim Nationalism (MMN).

Although MMN, is an idea jointly espoused by Wong Chin Huat and Ooi Kok Hin, both attached to Penang Institute in some forms, under no circumstances did I underestimate the threat of MMN, as Ooi claimed. And, the facts below will be self-explanatory. But allow me to list them out in order of importance, to shore up the salience of my argument against MMN.

First and foremost, I merely argued — then and now i.e. in my first and current rebuttal to Ooi Kok Hin — that one must not “over” estimate the power and reach of MMN.

Perhaps an analogy of militant radicals in the Muslim world is apt. Now, Islam has more than one billion followers/believers spread all over 58 predominantly Muslim countries. But as Lim Kit Siang noted, “with the exception of Malaysia and Brunei,” almost all Muslim countries have ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). This does not mean the Islamic world is a paradise on earth that respects human rights. On the contrary, gross violation of human rights abuses exist across the Muslim world, with or without ICERD. My point? Identity markers like Malay, Muslim or nationalism, are malleable. They can be good or bad depending on the quality of the governance of the day.

Second, Malaysians, including Malays and Muslims, are not completely aloof when it comes to issues of good or bad governance. Either way, they know they need a good government to keep the economy churning. In the concept of MMN, Ooi Kok Hin over emphasised the emotive responses of the Malays and Muslims, and not their economic considerations. Quoting a professor in sociology, Ooi Kok Hin argued that “pride” and “honour” are important. Bersatu, as a party, has never discounted that. Least of all Tun Dr Mahathir himself. Thus, it is erroneous to claim that Bersatu or Pakatan Harapan take the power of MMN lightly. Neither do. What Bersatu and Pakatan Harapan affirm is this: Do not over emphasise the fetish of MMN.

Thirdly, as a master strategist of Bersatu, one might note that on the last day of the campaigning period on May 8, at 10pm, Tun Dr Mahathir did just that. He did not offer any cash or economic candies (at all). Zero. Thus, Tun Dr Mahathir was not beholden to any issues on money that the voters must necessarily have to choose Pakatan Harapan.

Referring mainly to the Malays, he merely said that if “all of you voted for Pakatan Harapan, we will deliver your pride and honour back as a race.”

In winning the election, Tun Dr Mahathir focused on good governance, though tied in to Malay pride and Malaysian honour.

Now, just last week, Tun Dr Mahathir affirmed something important again, which MMN did not capture: “If previously cash was king, now time is money.”

In other words, instead of sheer rhetoric on pride and honour, now that Pakatan Harapan has been in office for seven months, Pakatan Harapan must deliver the economic betterment and better welfare.

In the MMN concept peddled by Ooi Kok Hin, his paradigm did not include the strategic flexibility of the strategies of Pakatan Harapan, either as a coalition, or, a government.

This is why the straw-man of MMN which Ooi Kok Hin tried to build — to anticipate the politics of the next general election in 2023 — does not work.

It is too dogmatic and static, almost phobic to Malay, Muslim and nationalism, when in fact all three can be moulded to suit various purposes once good governance has been established; which at the very least means a society free of grand corruption, and a litany of endless financial scandals, as were the hallmark of Umno and BN and PAS.

Yet Pakatan Harapan engineered a swing of at least 10 per cent of the Malay votes into Pakatan Harapan to deliver a grand victory.

While Ooi Kok Hin may believe it was a “fragile” electoral victory, one must remember that on the same night and time, Najib Razak was offering billions of ringgits to the Malays and Malaysians. Some took the bait, which explain the large number of Malaysians who still chose Umno and PAS. But a substantial number, enough to be deemed a “Malay tsunami” or swing, DID NOT fall into temptation at all.

Fourthly, when Malays or Muslims do see an excess of identity politics being used as MMN to advance the goals of PAS and Umno, the Malays and Muslims know how to step in, to put on the break.

Pakatan Harapan’s strategy has always been a focus on a “Malay swing of 10-15 per cent”; not the entire group or cohort of Malays. MMN assumed, one dare say incorrectly, that to win 2023 again, one must win over more than 20 per cent or 25 per cent of the Malays and Muslims.

There is no need for such a heavy emphasis on Malay, Muslim and nationalism, when the next election is about whether Pakatan Harapan can stay together as a coalition of four or not, to deliver decent or good governance, perhaps to the UN Human Development Index.

Besides, the membership numbers of Bersatu, Amanah, even PKR, and DAP, have all swelled. Many of them are Malays and Muslims; even Chinese and Indians and other ethnic groups in Borneo.

They join the new parties either to contribute to a new Malaysia, or, to atone for their previous mistakes of vouching, perhaps voting, for Barisan National and Umno and PAS.

Thus the electoral numbers of Ooi Kok Hin, as peddled in his article in Malaysiakini, are losing their relevance and salience even as we speak. Indeed, even if 2/3 of the Malays voted for Barisan National (BN), the facts showed that BN has crumbled. And, more and more Malays and Muslims are waking up from their slumber.

Let’s take Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the former President of Umno and Prime Minister of Malaysia as an archetype, for instance. Six months into his 1MDB investigations, and grand larceny, even Najib himself admitted that he “had been cheated by Jho Low”. The same goes with Khairy Jamaluddin, another UMNO stalwarts. Just today, four Umno members in Sabah became an independent. Datuk Mustapha Mohammad, a strong man in Umno, has also thrown in the tower. When they do, their followers will begin to realize that they too had been hood winked — leaving PAS as the only Islamic party that MMN must be the only way for PAS to survive.

Finally, between May 9 and December 10, I have never written any articles to look down on PAS and Umno. Indeed, I was the first one to warn of the dangers of trying to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

I wrote to Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, the Foreign Minister of Malaysia, not to ratify ICERD, as that would be akin to stirring the hornet’s nest. He didn’t listen. And, out came the anti-ICERD rally. But a rally does not an MMN make. Bersih had to have 5 rallies to raise the voters’ consciousness. The anti-ICERD rally could be genuinely dangerous to Pakatan Harapan. But that is premised on the likes of the ministers in Pakatan Harapan assuming that they are brighter than other electoral field marshals and strategists on the ground.

Look at the fate of Tony Pua. He could not even get into the top 15 leadership positions in Selangor despite all his great work in exposing the shenanigans of 1MDB. Now, party members, including DAP, can be cruel and vicious, in punishing one of their own, when their interests are not protected.

MMN can only morph into a monster if Pakatan Harapan does not protect the rights and privileges of the Malays and Muslims and their economic livelihood and honour. Everything must be catered in balance.

In truth, the ICERD rally, cannot be used as a barometer of MMN too, or, the hint of the beginning of MMN. As Ooi Kok Hin may have noted, the anti-ICERD rally was held to celebrate the rejection of ICERD. The rally, in other words, was a plot to make PAS and Umno look relevant, at a time when both are increasingly irrelevant. They may even be totally obsolete by 2023.

Rather, what Pakatan Harapan should be aware of, is the toxic politics of PAS and Umno, especially if their members make a beeline to join the coalition parties of Pakatan Harapan — not necessary to serve — but to sabotage Pakatan Harapan from within.

In this context and others, of course Pakatan Harapan can lose in the next general election for a variety of reasons. As I mentioned before, voters are concerned with prosaic issues of good governance, jobs and secure economic future. Identity politics still matter, but bread and butter first, not social bonds of the Malays and Muslims necessarily. Ooi Kok Hin and Wong Chin Huat seem to believe in the latter. I disagree. MMN can only thrive in an environment of poor policy coordination, bad governance, and dismal cabinet performance. Incidentally, all three were the symptoms of the Najib administration.

Thus if Pakatan Harapan turns bad, it too can risk a certain defeat at the Federal and State level in 2023. But the issue is “if” not “when”. Ooi Kok Hin and Wong Chin Huat ought to be applauded for trying to prepare for the 2023 general election based in MMN. But my two cents affirm that the key lies in winning the hearts and minds of the people — especially B40 — with solutions that can solve their daily woes.

*Rais Hussin is Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia strategist.