Harapan Baru (A New Dawn) is the theme for this year’s PKR congress
THE results of the 8 March 2008 general election suggested that voters are not completely besotted with race-based politics. Since then, there has been encouraging talk about multi-racial politics and policies which respect all Malaysians as equal citizens.
One of the proponents of multi-racial politics has been Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). Since its earlier manifestation as Parti Keadilan Nasional before merging with Parti Rakyat Malaysia in 2004 to become PKR, the opposition party has always tried to project itself as a multi-racial party. Its main principle states “PKR is a political party that strives to form a just society and a democratic, progressive and united nation for all the rakyat regardless of race or religion.”
However, after winning the most number of seats as an opposition party in the March general election, one of the party’s biggest challenges has been to live up to its multi-racial ideals and image.
The party is preparing to hold its annual congress from 28 to 30 Nov in Shah Alam. This would be the party’s 10th congress since Keadilan was founded in 1999 after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking from government.
In light of the current political context, the question that needs to be asked is how successful has PKR been in promoting multi-racial politics? Will it succeed, and can the electorate trust that the party will be committed to transforming Malaysian politics to one that is less divisive than race-based politics?
PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali says the party is committed to multi-racial politics and policies but certain Umno politicians have been fanning racial sentiments. These have overshadowed PKR’s attempts to highlight the viability of its ideals.
Hence, PKR’s response to Umno’s ketuanan Melayu has been ketuanan rakyat but it’s hard to tell how much traction the latter has gained within the public realm. Syed Husin adds that the Umno-controlled media have also distorted or not reported on PKR’s multi-racial position.
“The media under Umno’s control wants to exploit racial issues to erode Malay support for PKR. If possible, they want to force (Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri) Khalid Ibrahim and Pakatan Rakyat out in the next general election,” Syed Husin tells The Nut Graph. PKR, DAP and PAS are members of the loose Pakatan Rakyat coalition which is in power in five states.
Indeed, Khalid was the one who proposed that Universiti Teknologi Mara recruit more non-bumiputera students. He also promoted Low Siew Moi as Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS) acting general manager, despite protests from Umno and PAS.
Political analyst Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff observes that PKR has been doing well as a multi-racial party. “They do not talk about racial issues, unlike Umno. This is proof enough that PKR is a successful multi-racial party,” says the associate professor from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
Angkatan Muda strategy bureau chairperson Mohd Yusmadi Yusoff is confident that PKR has changed people’s mindset about racial politics.
But PKR still has enormous challenges in consolidating its multi-racial platform and outlook, observes political analyst Ong Kian Ming. “There are still Malay leaders within PKR who prefer a more Malay-centric approach, for example Zulkifli Nordin.
“Such Malay leaders don’t mind the non-Malay leaders but they want them to be like MCA and Gerakan — to kow tow to Malay interests, so to speak,” observes Ong.
PKR Angkatan Muda executive committee member Ginie Lim, however, says people can see that PKR is a democratic multi-racial party as its leaders are from various ethnic communities who are focused on solving national issues.
“For example, if we have an Indian (Malaysian) leader, it does not mean the Indian (Malaysian) leader focuses on solving the issues of only the Indian (Malaysian) community or developing only that community,” she says in an interview.
Ong agrees, noting that PKR has Members of Parliament (MPs) of different races. “I think that PKR has arguably been the most successful multi-racial party in Malaysian history,” he says.
“Malay leadership at the top but with strong non-Malay leaders near the top. And most of the top leaders genuinely support a multi-racial future for Malaysia,” he adds.
More to do
Syed Husin says PKR is keen to publicly debate multi-ethnic policies, including in Parliament where the party has 30 MPs. “Unfortunately (even in Parliament) most of the opposition-mooted motions are rejected by the Speakers. We can’t even have debates on many important issues that affect the country,” he says.
PKR leaders, however, realise that they cannot just blame others, and acknowledge that the party hasn’t been doing enough to promote its multi-racial policies.
Syed Husin says there is a lack of understanding about the party’s multi-racial policies because not enough has been done to share such information with the grassroots.
“Hence, the party is conducting trainings at national and branch levels. It will also hand out pamphlets to promote discussions on multi-racial politics,” he says.
Fuziah SallehSupreme council member Fuziah Salleh reckons that the party’s top brass alone has been upholding the party’s political ideology for far too long. “The grassroots have not grasped the meaning of multi-racial politics. This is a problem of the party’s middle-level leadership.”
“Some of them still have not fully embraced multi-racial politics because the process takes time. It is not easy to understand [multi-racial politics], you’ve got to feel it, experience it,” she says.
Fuziah adds that there is a gap of understanding between PKR’s existing members and the new members, who mostly joined after the March general election. She explains that new members have not gone through the party’s ups and downs for multi-racial politics over the past ten years.
Whether or not the party has done enough, Ong says PKR has to adopt a give-and-take strategy.
“On certain issues, they cannot give in all the way to the non-Malays. PKR must be careful on this part.
“It will have its fair share of missteps but as long as the majority of non-Malays are willing to vote overwhelmingly for PKR, the party will likely dominate the mixed seats [in the next general election] like they did in March ,” Ong says.
Ong adds that PKR is the most likely party to successfully promote and practice multi-racial politics in Malaysia. “If PKR can’t help build an alternative multi-racial vision for Malaysia, no other party can.”
See Part II: Still hoping for change