In 2009, The Star did an online survey on the public’s opinion regarding race-based political party in Malaysia. Respondents to the online opinion poll have voted overwhelmingly for the abolition of race-based political parties. Some 90 percent of about 500 respondents believe that eradicating of racial politics would result in greater social harmony and understanding among the various communities. An amazing result considering the ruling government of this country is Barisan Nasional (BN) which three biggest component parties (Umno, MCA and MIC) are race-based organizations.
The idea of race-based political parties has been accepted since the formation of Malaysia back in 1963. That is until when BN received a rude awakening in 2008 when the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat took control of four states which is Selangor, Perak, Kedah and Penang. The outcome of the last election which saw BN lose its traditional two-thirds majority shows that the people have spoken against politics and survey by MCA-owned The Star has reinforced this paradigm shift.
So the big question is, are race-based political parties like Umno, MCA and MIC still relevant? The result of the 2009 online survey proved otherwise. So what is BN doing about it? So far, nothing! What are the Opposition political parties doing about it? A lot!
Of late, long-time Umno rival DAP has been extremely aggressive recruiting members from other races especially Malays into their party. In January this year two Umno veterans joined DAP, citing widespread corruption as the key reason for leaving the ruling party. The two are former Pulau Manis assemblyman Datuk Mohd Ariff Sabri Abdul Aziz and Aspan Alias, a Negri Sembilan Umno veteran. Both are prominent political bloggers who have been critical about their former party.
This is interesting as Umno has repeatedly accused Pakatan, especially DAP, of being anti-Malay. At its recent general assembly, several delegates and leaders including Umno deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (right) accused the opposition as being anti-Malay, anti-Islam, agents of Christianization and disrespectful to Malay rulers.
Somehow, with the two Umno veterans joining DAP, it has proven otherwise. Yesterday itself another prominent figure Mohd Hata Wahari (left) joined the Chinese-majority DAP. Hata is a former president of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and former editorial staff of Umno-owned newspaper Utusan Malaysia. Hata’s move to join become a DAP member would likely be seen as a slap in the face for the Utusan Malaysia and Umno.
In a press conference, Hata said that he wants to attract the Malays to support DAP. He then stated that he is not sure whether his inclusion into the DAP will prove significant for the party, however, he will use the experience he gained during his tenure in the Umno-owned newspaper to help his party in its cause.
The reason for DAP to go all out in its mission to recruit Malay members may be highly political. Some even claimed that they're eyeing a DAP Mentri Besar for Selangor and probably a future Prime Minister. This would not be a problem to us as long as the party’s leaders are able to prove that race-based political party is a thing of the past. However, the ruling political party needs to realize this paradigm shift and do something about it. This is a bit tricky since to move with the time and trends, for a start, the three major BN parties will need to change their names. If we look around the world today it is quite rare to find such situation in which a political party only consists of one particular race. What more in a country like Malaysia which propagates unity through a national initiative called 1Malaysia.