Hulu S’gor: PKR plays the ethnic game

Written by KTemoc (
The belief shared by the political parties on the Hulu Selangor by-election is that G. Palanivel, deputy president of MIC, is unlikely to be a winning candidate for the BN.
Of course their reasons for that vary, from personal ambitions of a couple of individuals within MIC to the local Umno branch wanting its warlord, Muhammad Muhammad (Mat) Taib as the rightful BN nominee in a Malay-majority constituency to Umno picking its own MIC man – reportedly deputy youth chief V. Mugilan.
In the opposite camp, PKR, needless to say, is delighted that its high-profile Malay candidate Zaid Ibrahim is anticipated to crush an Indian opponent (though to be fair to Zaid, he is certainly a most eminently qualified candidate).
However, leaving aside an irrelevant MIC, another common platform shared by PKR and Umno – at least, at the local level – is that the candidate likely to secure the majority of the votes has to be a Malay. Despite this perception and the reality of a Malay majority in that constituency, the BN chairperson Najib Tun Razak has confirmed that the BN candidate will be from the MIC.
Thus there is sense of déjà vu in Hulu Selangor because it’s the 2007 Ijok by-election all over again. If we recall, the BN candidate then was an Indian local boy while PKR’s was a high profile ‘parachutist’.
Then there is the voters’ demographics where by percentage Hulu Selangor mirrors that of Ijok. The former has approximately 54% Malays, 19% Indian and 27% Chinese, while Ijok had more or less the same voters’ ethnic make-up with only the Chinese and Indians switching percentages, namely 52% Malays, 28% Indians and 20% Chinese.
I can further illustrate other similarities including Anwar Ibrahim’s problems prior to both by-elections, but let’s leave it at that.
Ethnicity matters
It may well be that Umno is prepared to lose Hulu Selangor to prove Najib’s ‘1Malaysia’, with a strategic eye on 2013 or whenever the next general election is called.
As we know, Najib has been endeavouring to regain the support of the Indians and Chinese, although his lieutenants either deliberately or unwittingly throw a spanner in the works. But regardless of whether the Barisan candidate wins or loses, Najib and the BN can stand on high moral ground with regard to fielding an Indian candidate in Hulu Selangor (and Ijok).
What is clear is that the candidate’s ethnicity is a vital consideration for both PKR and Umno (putting aside Najib’s commitment to MIC).
Much as Khalid Ibrahim, the PKR by-election director and Menteri Besar of Selangor, might try to assure us that his party did not place any importance on race, I am prepared to be called a monkey’s uncle if they didn’t.
In the selection of someone from Kota Bharu, race was also a primary consideration in Zaid’s candidacy just like when PKR parachuted Khalid into Ijok in 2007, against the appeals of its Youth vice-chief S. Manikavasagam.
And it’s not as if PKR didn’t have a suitable Indian candidate to stand in Ijok. PKR vice president K.S. Nallakarupan was very disappointed when Anwar selected a political ‘parachutist’ over him.
Then, noted social activist Chandra Muzzafar, Dr Chandra Bose and Malaysiakini CEO Premesh Chandra all commented, in one way or another, on PKR’s ‘cakap tak serupa bikin’ (not walking its talk) conduct in stark contrast to its claimed multi-ethnic credentials.
So what now in Hulu Selangor for PKR?
To make more complex the issue, there was also a rumoured PAS pre-condition to PKR that it would only support the opposition in the Ijok election campaigning if PKR selected a Malay candidate. And why should we be surprised when we have PAS leaders like Dr Hassan Ali of Selangor and those of the ‘Malay unity’ gang.
PAS’ priority not multiculturism
It’s very telling of PAS’ real commitment to a multi-ethnic Pakatan that recently, Erdogan-ite Khalid Samad had to warn PAS members that if they don’t like the direction Pakatan is taking, then the party should withdraw from the coalition instead of behaving in an un-Islamic manner by surreptitiously undermining Pakatan’s policies.
But it’s not just PAS alone in its ethno-centric mentality.
Immediately after the Pakatan’s election victory in Perak in March 2008, Dr Syed Husin, once a liberal left hero to me, immediately demanded that members of the new Pakatan state exco should reflect the ethnic makeup of Perak. This was regardless of which component party won the most seats (‘twas the DAP); meaning, PKR’s Malay state assemblymen should get the lion’s share.
So much for PKR multi-ethnic character …
PAS is essentially a Malay party though the ulama faction believes it’s an Islamic one.
So the bangsa troika – Umno, PAS and PKR – play the ethnic game where surprisingly Umno has demonstrated twice it was/is willing to take chances with an Indian candidate in a Malay majority constituency.
But what about the self-proclaimed, multi-ethnic PKR? Compare its play-safe approach towards selecting candidates based on ethnic appeal or Syed Husin’s demand that the composition of the Pakatan Perak exco reflected the state’s ethnic composition, with that of DAP fielding Indian and (in 2004 in the Bukit Bendera federal constituency a Malay) candidates in Chinese majority areas.
Also compare Karpal Singh’s chairmanship in DAP with that of K.S. Nallakarupan (who has since left PKR) where he was instructed not to contest one of the party’s three elected vice-presidential posts, presumably so that the fourth person in terms of number of nominations could be ensured the final place.
Umno out-Islamizing PAS
Okay, be that as it may, what about the other half of the ‘bangsa dan agama’ twin set, i.e. the religion factor?
In this, an Umno traumatised by Barisan’s March 8 electoral setback has been trying to outflank PAS, in the same way Dr Mahathir did when he declared Malaysia an Islamic state and thereby opening a Pandora’s Box. To mix my metaphors, the genies are still coming out of the Mahathir bottle today to confront non-Muslims.
All PAS has to do now is merely exert its Islamic presence and watch gleefully as Umno tries desperately to convince the heartland it is more Islamic than PAS, for instance in the ‘Allah’ controversy.
The end result would be exactly what PAS wants in the first place – Islamization in toto. Take for example Umno insensitively breaking the tradition of the armed forces’ annual Remembrance Day for fallen warriors at its military sanctum sanctorum (much-valued place), the National Monument.
Warriors’ Day celebration has been one of Malaysia’s few remaining official tradition which is neither religious nor ethno-centric. The national fatwa council had previously in 1987 and 1995 ruled against the ‘Last Post’ and ‘Rouse’ bugle calls, wreath commemoration and the ceremony being held in haram premises, i.e. in deference to Islam’s prohibition of statuary.
And Umno now has implemented a ruling that would make PAS proud.
We have also witnessed the cow head bigotry, church fire-bombings, caning of Muslim women and jailing of a Malay man for one year because he drank beer.
After Muhyiddin Yassin’s “I’m a Malay first, then only a Malaysian” declaration, the deputy prime minister followed up with his ‘small fry’ (“jawatankuasa kecil”) allusion to the cabinet interfaith panel because he wanted to appease both Perkasa and the Mufti of Perak.
Incidentally, the mufti – a man notorious for his irresponsible false accusation of Muslims converting in droves – had in fact congratulated Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for moving the Warrior’s Day celebration away from the National Monument venue for the first time ever to Putrajaya.
Now how long do you think PKR can withstand the vortex that has already pitted Umno against PAS on who’s more Islamic?