Malaysia

Can reconciliation really work when we talk like this?

BY JENNIFER GOMEZ AND YISWAREE PALANSAMY
June 30, 2013

Today, The Malaysian Insider launches a package of six stories on the critical challenge ahead – reconciliation. What is the state of the nation, among brothers and sisters with strong views, friends in the coffee shop arena, civil society, academics and the thinkers whose job it is to chart the way forward? It is a new Malaysia, a divided Malaysia. Is it here to stay?

 

Fact: GE13 was like a tornado cutting through Malaysian society, tossing friendships like confetti and leaving the country reeling under the rubble of hate, fear-mongering, suspicion and just plain nastiness.

Fact: Malaysia cannot continue on this path of score-settling and destruction. At stake are race relations, its economic well-being, political stability, simple civility and the country's hard-earned reputation for moderation.

Burning question: Whether the Najib administration will put aside the corrosive elements of anger, betrayal, retribution against born and bred Malaysians who did not vote for Barisan Nasional – and focus instead on building bridges.

Najib himself has said on a few occasions that there will be serious consequences for Malaysia if the polarising trends of the polls are not addressed.

The big picture is not promising. For that matter, even the usually tranquil setting of the home front has become murkier since May 5.

Take the experience of the Gopal family. Where once there was camaraderie between the wives of the Gopal brothers, there is now animosity. 

The breaking point was when the sister-in-law who lives in Pantai Dalam told her husband’s sister-in-law who lives in Serdang that the Indians in the Lembah Pantai constituency were ungrateful. After accepting cash payments under the BR1M scheme from the BN government, these Indians still voted for Nurul Izzah of the opposition.

Sister-in-law from Serdang hit back, calling the woman from Pantai Dalam and twisting the knife in with news that all 12 votes from her extended family were given to Ong Kian Ming, the DAP candidate for Serdang who defeated MCA's strongman Yap Pian Hon.

The angry telephone calls have stopped and only silence fills the vacuum. This is by no means an isolated case of strained ties. A long-standing business partnership between a Chinese tycoon and a state government is on the rocks because the Umno politicians are angry with the non-Malays for not supporting BN.

They grilled the tycoon at an exco meeting recently and levied onerous terms for land usage onto him. The friendship which the tycoon had spent precious years nurturing with Umno warlords from when Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister did not count for much after GE13.

There is also anecdotal evidence that the yarn spun by the Umno-owned media before the polls that the Chinese wanted to usurp the political power of the Malays has found some traction, even among educated Malays. 

At private dinners, they have been mouthing the same drivel put out in the public domain by Utusan Malaysia and Perkasa: that the Chinese should have been more loyal to the government which nurtured the environment for their economic success.

Not surprising therefore that former High Court judge Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah has in recent weeks slammed the Chinese for their so-called betrayal and urged that all vernacular schools be closed and that the government focus on Malay special rights. He was chastised by non-Malays but his views are by no means a minority view among Malays.

Among Christians, distrust is too soft a word to be used in the post-election era. To be sure, there was general antipathy towards the government over a host of unresolved issues, including the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims. 

But since the general election, the antipathy has morphed into disdain, with the victors from BN and their supporters viewed as the ones who cheated their way to Putrajaya.

Across the political spectrum is the feeling of betrayal and anger. Even though Najib's team returned to power by winning 133 of the 222 seats in Parliament, the BN performed worse than in 2008, even losing the popular vote for the first time since independence.

Against this backdrop is a lust for retribution. Putrajaya has a list of businessmen who hedged their bets and gave contributions to Pakatan Rakyat. If the hawks have their way yet, Najib will put them in economic Siberia.

DAP's Lim Kit Siang has seen much in his more than 40 years as a politician – the May 13 riots, ISA arrests, the sacking of a deputy prime minister, the crippling economic crisis in 1997 – but not this urge by the government to punish voters who didn’t support BN.

So is national reconciliation possible?

Political analyst Wong Chin Huat, a fellow at the Penang Institute, said that reconciliation was necessary but the challenge was not in the context of racial and religious lines. He noted that the divide was between those who wanted to move towards greater democratisation and those who felt that the country was over-democratised.

"Both sides need to sit at the negotiating table," he said, adding that the 51 per cent who voted for Pakatan Rakyat wanted an assurance that there will not be fraud in GE14.

"On the other hand, the fear and anxiety of the 47 per cent who voted for BN also needs to be addressed. We need to find out what they are afraid of," said Wong.

For a start, there needed to be a roadmap towards substantial and effective reforms, so that whatever is the results of the next polls, it will be accepted by all.

University lecturer and political commentator Dr Sivamurugan Pandian said that for a national reconciliation to have a chance, the perimeters and scope of the problem first needs to be defined.

"We must ask what needs to be reconciled and then set the objectives," he said, adding that sincerity and trust were key factors if closing the divide is to be successful.

Pas' Khalid Samad and law lecturer Dr Azmi Shahrom are less than impressed with all this talk about national reconciliation.

For Khalid, the man who ended the political career of Perkasa vice-president Zulkifli Nordin in the battle for Shah Alam, the answer is simple: "We just need to be rid of those in power who are sowing seed of distrust and hatred among people. BN needs to stop pitting Malays against non-Malays."

Azmi is even more straightforward.  Division along political lines is normal in a democracy, he said. But if Najib is really serious about national reconciliation, then all he has to do is build trust in the electoral system among Malaysians, said the law lecturer.

Sounds simple, but the starting point shows how daunting the task is – Najib conceding that the electoral system in Malaysia is flawed and in need of repair. – July 1, 2013.