KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 — The theme of Perkasa’s annual general assembly this year was “Social Contract and Rukunegara, the core foundation for peace in Malaysia”.
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Unsurprisingly, leaders and members of the Malay rights group zoomed in yesterday on Malay and Bumiputera rights, and the need for stricter laws and policies to protect the country’s ethnic majority.
During debates, delegates lamented how Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) have not done enough to adequately safeguard the interests of this majority group, with one leader even suggesting that Perkasa turn itself into a political party to lead the country.
Umno, complained the leader, has fallen short of expectations.
Perkasa’s president, the outspoken Datuk Ibrahim Ali, even labelled those from Umno who have criticised the group as bangsat(bastards) and declared himself the true hero of the Malays and Islam.
Taking a leaf from their leader, others used the assembly for the same purpose - as a platform to rebut criticisms against Perkasa, an NGO that has successfully muscled its way into mainstream politics and planted itself firmly at the forefront, as a presence that even Umno daren’t ignore.
Here are three lessons we learned from Perkasa’s fifth general assembly:
1.The threat is not liberal Malays, it’s about daring to challenge the status quo
Ibrahim’s rebuttal to the recent open letter by 25 prominent Malays was that liberal-thinking Muslims are now out to destroy Islam in Malaysia, taking over from other anti-Malay and anti-Islam proponents from the the country’s non-Muslim communities.
The Perkasa president insisted that the views of the 25, whose open letter questioned Islamic laws and the religious authorities, were not representative of the majority of Malays here.
He said: “In 2015, we will be haunted by issues involving Islam’s defence. Malay liberals have now replaced those who want to destroy Islam”.
But Ibrahim may have got it wrong. The threat is not the fact that the 25 former civil servants and influential leaders defended the supremacy of the Federal Constitution over all other laws in the country. The threat is that they dared to challenge the status quo and the fact that Perkasa believes their myopic views on religion and race represent how most Malays here think.
The 25 prominent Malays had only reinforced the view held when Malaysia’s founding fathers drafted out the country’s highest laws - that while Islam is the religion of the federation and there is the Shariah Court, which deals with Muslim matters, the Federal Constitution remains the highest law of the land. This supreme law was made all-powerful simply because it recognises and caters to multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia.
2. Corruption - a hindrance to both the Bumi agenda and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s reform plans
Interestingly, corruption within the civil service and political parties, a succinct issue, was briefly mentioned at Perkasa annual general assembly.
The group’s leaders admitted that the issue remains unaddressed and claimed that it seriously affects the government’s efforts in ensuring the Bumiputeras, who make up the bulk of the country’s hardcore poor, receive an equitable slice of the economic pie.
“Malays make noise when they do not get positions and when they don’t get projects. They (Malays) are so easily impressed if they get to ride inside a deputy minister’s car they won’t be able to sleep for three weeks,” Ibrahim said during his closing speech at the groups annual assembly here yesterday.
Similarly, Perkasa vice-president Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said that corruption was evident in all communities — Malay, Chinese and Indians.
“The Chinese, the Indians they corrupt our leaders. That is because they are smart.
“Now, even the Malay corrupt our leaders,” the Perkasa leader had said.
3. BN survival in GE14 still a toss-up, and Perkasa knows it
Umno is no longer the political animal it used to be in it’s heyday. Ibrahim hit the nail on the head when he predicted that there will be no landslide victory in GE14.
Perkasa has in the past, and at least for now, been a pressure group in support of Umno. They may criticise the Barisan Nasional lynchpin, but it is no secret that many in Perkasa are also active Umno members.
Fearing Perkasa’s hardline stance may force BN to lose middle ground votes, Umno has been subtly and gradually attempting to distance itself from the Malay rights group.
But the refusal of the ruling party’s upper echelon of leaders to publicly denounce Perkasa has shown one thing - Umno can ill-afford to offend the NGO as it could find itself losing the support of the conservatives, who form the bulk of the Malay party’s traditional vote bank.
Recognising their worth, Umno’s conservatives have grown bolder and have repeatedly urged their party leadership to be more decisive when fighting for the Bumiputera agenda.
But others, however, like Khairy Jamaluddin and Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamad, feel the 57-year old party should slowly revitalise itself, and gravitate closer to the centre while still retaining its core roots.
Perkasa’s open attacks on Umno today paints a picture of the BN party struggling to find its footing in modern society - where the younger generation of voters want to move beyond race policies and more on bread-and-butter issues.
Yesterday, Perkasa vice-president Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said Umno and BN have grown weak, and suggested that the group take over as the country’s next ruling party.
“I would urge Perkasa to fortify efforts to become a political body which will rule this country.
“Once you run this country, no need to complain (to Umno and Barisan Nasional),” he said in his speech.
Whether or not this suggestion will come to fruition in the near future remains uncertain.
But with BN now seen to be at its weakest, and its foes in Pakatan Rakyat still bickering over key ideological differences, a Perkasa political party could very well prove to be a formidable opponent to both the troubled coalitions in the next federal polls.