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Chandra explains Umno's 'disgraceful' polls outing and what PAS, DAP gains show

The prominent thinker says all sides, including the federal coalition, are guilty of distortions, leading to the disappearance of the middle ground that once held power in the country.

Staff Writers
3 minute read
Social activist and academic Chandra Muzaffar.
Social activist and academic Chandra Muzaffar.

Prominent academic and social critic Chandra Muzaffar has described Umno's latest electoral outing as a "dismal and disgraceful performance", saying the declining trend for the party and voters' rejection were obvious to everyone except the top leadership.

But he said while the issue of corruption plaguing the Umno leadership was the main reason, the outcome of the state polls also showed the disappearance of the middle ground that had once held the government.

Chandra said this was apparent in the gains made by PAS and DAP, adding that in the case of PAS, grievances such as rising living costs were expressed through identity politics.

"These socio-economic grievances found expression through an ethno-religious political party. This played itself out in the state elections. It was there in the 2022 general election, but it was most clearly manifested in this state election: corruption and the nexus between socio-economic grievances and identity politics," said Chandra, who was one of those instrumental in the reformasi movement of the late 1990s and the formation of Parti Keadilan Nasional in 1999, the precursor to PKR.

DAP and the 'second-class citizen' narrative

Chandra said a similar factor explains DAP's "huge triumph" in the state polls, where it won all but one of the total 47 seats it contested.

He said that since evolving from Singapore's PAP, the party has always been the spokesman for non-Malay grievances.

"This is how it has mobilised its support, and it has played that card effectively in every election."

But he said more importantly was how such grievances were articulated, that is, by arguing that non-Malays were "second-class citizens".

"It is very effective when presented in such blatant and stark communal terms. I said it is blatant and stark because if you look at the total reality and entire landscape, it is not correct to say that non-Malays were totally marginalised or they were subjugated."

He said that besides the economic achievements, the cultural and educational rights given to the Chinese community in Malaysia were unique when compared to other post-colonial societies.

He also said that while some non-Malay grievances were legitimate, there had been "distortion and perversion" in how they were articulated, creating a chasm between the Malays and non-Malays.

"The reason why DAP has been perceived in certain ways by Malays, not just those in Umno, is the way it articulates Chinese grievances," said Chandra, adding that the same is also true of PAS when it channels Malay grievances.

"I am not saying the ruling coalition is free of such sins; they, too, play this game but in a different way and for different purposes."

He said there was a need to be honest when talking about ethnic grievances, saying the tendency to champion a particular race was even more dangerous now than before.

"Ethnic political parties now dominate. The political coalition of the past, despite its weaknesses, was able to hold the middle ground. This middle ground has disappeared, and instead you have dominant forces that speak on behalf of one community against the other."

The recent polls saw the six state governments returning to the status quo, with Pakatan Harapan (PH) retaining Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, and Penang, while Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu remained under Perikatan Nasional (PN).

PH's partner, Barisan Nasional, represented solely by Umno, was trounced again by PN, winning only 19 of the 108 seats it contested – a repeat of the trashing it received in the November general election when it won only 26 parliamentary seats.

The overwhelming Malay support for PN also saw the coalition deny PH its two-third majority in Selangor while emerging stronger in Penang and Negeri Sembilan.

'Winning formula'

Meanwhile, Chandra said PAS' gains in the elections were not surprising, saying both the party and Umno had benefited from the weaknesses of each other in the past.

But a bigger factor, he said, was the rise of Islamic consciousness among Malay Muslims, adding that this can be seen in the popularity of shariah compliance in the business and education sectors, as well as in more Muslim women donning the hijab.

He said PAS' "winning formula" was the successful merging of its religious personalities and technocratic leadership, adding that this was played out in Terengganu when the religious-technocrat team of Menteri Besar Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar managed to win the state by a clean sweep.

"This is why they changed the leadership in Kelantan," he said, referring to PAS' decision on the eve of the polls to drop Ahmad Yakob and Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah as the menteri besar and deputy menteri besar, respectively.

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