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Muhyiddin’s colonialist mind

A COLONIALIST mindset is always linked with phrases such as “these people are not grateful”, said intellectual Prof Emeritus Dr Benedict Anderson one week after April Fool’s Day this year. Anderson was delivering a public lecture, Is Asian Nationalism Unique?, on 8 April 2009 at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

Anderson is the author of Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, which topped lists of academic citations, even outnumbering Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order. Those who have been following Indonesian politics would also know him as the scholar barred from entering Indonesia during President Suharto’s era because of his treatment of materials relevant to the overthrow of President Sukarno.

What struck me was that Anderson’s quip resonates with the kind of mentality we have seen again and again in the leadership of Malaysia. What’s more striking is that four days after Anderson’s insightful lecture, the new Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, was quoted saying Chinese Malaysians appeared unappreciative of the ruling regime’s efforts by supporting the opposition.

Muhyiddin (Pic courtesy of theSun)

Muhyiddin was the Barisan Nasional (BN) leader tasked by new Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to lead the coalition’s machinery in the triple 7 April by-elections, in which the BN only won in Batang Ai.  

Muhyiddin’s remark, despite his subsequent backpedalling, essentially demonstrates the colonialist mindset that Anderson joked about, only Muhyiddin’s mindset is embedded in a broader political ideology: ketuanan Melayu.


If one studies the factors ensuring the ruling regime’s victories before 8 March 2008, one will notice the role of institutionalised brainwashing of citizens by the Umno leadership. Given the extent of such brainwashing — including the justifications for ketuanan Melayu — one wouldn’t be too shocked reading such a familiar remark from Muhyiddin.

In his newly published book, Saya Pun Melayu, the “five-months-and-27-days-minister” Datuk Zaid Ibrahim says that many Malays did not realise the notion of ketuanan Melayu was not a constitutional provision.

On the contrary, it was former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s ideologue, Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad, who started linking the ideology of ketuanan Melayu to his interpretation of the “social contract”. It is to Abdullah’s credit that an Umno-defined ketuanan Melayu was reinvented, turned into a constitutional right, and ceased being mere affirmative action defined by a limited timeframe.

Dr Mavis C Puthucheary, one of the authors of the book Sharing the Nation, has produced a good piece of research: Malaysia’s “Social Contract”: the Invention and Historical Evolution of an Idea. She points out that “social contract” in the Malaysian context was first used by Abdullah in 1986, in his own words, as follows:

“The political system of Malay dominance was born out of the sacrosanct social contract which preceded national independence … The [New Economic Policy] must continue to sustain Malay dominance in the political system in line with the contract of 1957. Even after 1990 there must be mechanisms of preservation, protection and expansion in an evolving system.”

But that’s Abdullah, writing in 1986. What surprises me now is that within days, the same media outlets that reported Muhyiddin’s colonialist message also introduced us to his boss’s 1Malaysia concept.

Wouldn’t the Number One’s vision directly contradict the Number Two’s remark? Is 1Malaysia a euphemism to continue a neo-colonial illusion, à la Abdullah? Or is it an admission that for the past half century, what we actually had in this country was 2Malaysias — a product of the BN/Umno regime?

Ooi Heng is a political observer and follows parliamentary proceedings closely.

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