September 29, 2021

Far reaching consequences

4 min read

THE controversial Kongres Maruah Melayu (Malay Dignity Congress) has come and gone. But its impact might have far-reaching consequences as the fiery racial rhetoric by certain speakers has rattled some Malaysians.

What are the political consequences of last Sunday’s congress attended by Malay politicians from both sides of the political divide?

Political analyst Dr Abdul Latiff Mohd Ibrahim noted that non-Malays would feel disenchanted by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s willingness to attend and address the meeting.

“But they also would draw some consolation from the fact that Mahathir used the platform to highlight what was wrong with the Malays. Most of his speech was devoted to ‘scolding’ the Malays for the condition they found themselves in, ” he said.

Abdul Latiff argued that the congress did not achieve much except to show a false unity among Malays: “This Kongres can only be seen as a political manoeuvre by political actors trying to retain and draw Malay support, ” he said.

Universiti Utara Malaysia political science lecturer Kamarul Zaman Yusoff gave five points on the consequences of the congress.

1) The alleged effort by Malay scholars to assert Malay rights, dominance and power failed to get much traction as PM and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) chairman Dr Mahathir failed to strongly respond to the resolution passed.

2) The alleged effort by former Umno MPs to show their relevance in Bersatu succeeded when they managed to gather Malays to come and create the perception of support for Bersatu’s chairman.

3) The alleged effort by Bersatu to show it can rely on Opposition MPs’ support if it is to be challenged succeeded when it managed to create the perception of support from Opposition MPs for Dr Mahathir’s party.

4) The alleged move by Pakatan Harapan to create a rift between PAS and Umno, and MCA and MIC did not fully succeed as it was not just PAS leaders who attended but also Umno leaders despite the nonattendance of the top two leaders, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan.

5) It further strained the relationship between Bersatu and PKR leaders (except deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali’s team), DAP leaders and Amanah leaders (who were mostly critical of the event despite Amanah president Mohamad Sabu attending).

James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, said one could make the argument that Dr Mahathir had to attend the congress to show the Malay polity that he was protecting Malay interests and to undercut the PAS/Umno narrative that Malays are being marginalised under the Pakatan administration.

“Many people in Kuala Lumpur are saying the ‘silent’ organiser is actually Bersatu. Consequently, the real purpose of the MDC was to undercut the PAS/Umno pact.”

Chin said others argue that the congress was part of a larger plan to reset the Pakatan administration.

“In this play, MDC is the continuation of the pressure on PH to retain Mahathir and ignore the leadership transition to (PKR president Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim. The end game is to keep the prime minister’s post in Bersatu’s hands while marginalising PKR and DAP, ” he said.

“Malay pressure”, he said, would also stop DAP advancing its political agenda and split PKR: “Bersatu will take in defectors from all parties, and by the time of the next election, it will dominate Pakatan just like Umno dominated BN. In other words, Mahathir will come full circle, ” he said.

There’s a perception, according to Universiti Malaya sociopolitics professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi, that the congress is a symptom of the Mahathir versus Anwar fight. He pointed out that in attendance were the leaders of the Opposition and the government like Umno’s Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, PAS’ Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and PKR’s Azmin while absent were Anwar and Zahid.

“In politics, every political movement is interpreted. But this perception depends on the reading of the people, ” he said.

Kamarul agreed that the congress is a manifestation of the fight between Dr Mahathir and Anwar based on which politicians attended and which didn’t.

“Despite the top two Umno leaders not attending, Mat Hasan openly asked Bersatu to work with Umno and PAS after the event ended, while Zahid dismissing this as Mat Hasan’s personal view shows there is a crack within Umno, ” he said.

Abdul Latiff observed that nothing much has come out of the congress:

“The Malays remain mainly predisposed towards the Umno-Pas combine. The non-Malays seem to be disillusioned not so much by the Kongres but by Mahathir’s comments about the leadership transition. The foot-dragging in this issue is making the people disappointed with the Pakatan leadership, ” he said.

By now, Abdul Latiff said, the congress is history.

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