KUALA LUMPUR – The Pakatan Harapan, barely six months in power, must have felt the blitzkrieg – translated here into lightning rod – from UMNO and PAS, the current opposition in Malaysia.
The ICERD or International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination became the battle-ground for an opposition that is trying to gain traction with the ethnic Malay communities in Malaysia, a significant voter bank in the next general elections.
The United Malays National Organisation or UMNO and the Islamists PAS lost their footing after the landmark May elections. While the PAS is used to the role of the ‘opposition’ prior to the General Elections; the UMNO, decimated by the victory of PH was left in the lurch.
Opposition parties in Malaysia were looking for a weak-spot in the Pakatan Harapan policies and they found one that they could exploit to destabilize the racial harmony and balance, which would give them the much need political boost.
After May 2018, UMNO was sliding deeper into the abyss of oblivion, not knowing which direction to take as they were unable to act like a true opposition entity.
Then came the ICERD, which the Pakatan Harapan doyen Lim Kit Siang unwittingly brought to the table, not realizing that Malaysia was not quite ready for full meritocracy.
The Pakatan Harapan coalition came to power after winning the hard-fought elections in May guaranteeing the respect of Malay rights in the country. But confusingly enough, the leaders of the PH also promised a fair share of equality for the other races.
Malaysia was created on the basis of the Malay race remaining in control, politically, and the rights are skewed in this direction. More rights to Malays, fewer rights to minorities.
On the backdrop of this tightly woven principle, the subsequent regimes in Malaysia after the 1969 racial riots, knitted an affirmative action plan that catered to the economic needs of the Malays.
And what really triggered the period of social uncertainty in the months of October and November is the questioning of the affirmative action policies.
In the space of a few days, the government of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir found itself between a rock and a hard place.
The ant-ICERD campaign took it by surprise. The Seafield temple riot in USJ 25, Subang Jaya. showed its naivety.
The UMNO organised a series of nationwide protests against the ICERD, driving thousands onto the streets in Perak, Terengganu, Kelantan and a bulk of the big crowds in Kedah, the state where Dr Mahathir is an MP.
The UMNO and the Islamist PAS seized the occasion. The Pakatan Harapan leadership gave them an unexpected political instrument to ferment their return to political relevance.
For the UMNO, it was manna that fell from the ‘sky’. They ganged-up with the Islamists to call for Dr Mahathir’s resignation. They were hoping the old man will panic and will quit, causing the collapse of the PH regime.
Though they found a weak-link within the PH government, they failed to gauge Dr Mahathir’s capacity, thinking the PM would be so distracted by their rallies that he will give up his power.
Mahathir played the game well. Allowing the UMNO-PAS to think they were getting somewhere with the ICERD only to shut down the light in the tunnel with the Cabinet’s unanimous decision to abandon the controversial issue.
While the opposition swallowed the defeat with a so-called victory rally last week, and Dr Mahathir thought the sticky ICERD problem was gone, another rock fell in the PH lap.
The opposition had another tool in its hands. It dusted-off an old video of the PH Minister of Unity Waytha Moorthy. In the video, the Hindraf leader is seen criticising the Malaysian government for sidelining the Hindus in Malaysia. He was attacking the Najib Razak regime, not the PH regime.
At that time, he raised the issue of Indian temples that he said were being demolished across the country.
The old video went viral. Cyber troopers working from some dark corners took Waythya to task and called for his resignation as Minister of Unity. This then became the battle horse of the remaining Malay opposition to the PH.
But behind the scenes of this nasty trick by the opposition, the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman temple issue was brewing. Whether it is a lawyer group who paid the thugs, or it was a fight among Indians matters little in the end.
What matters is the country was on the brink of a wider racial strife, when the temple fiasco escalated right after the ICERD was abandoned.
Racial divide in Malaysia is taking a nasty turn. The temple brawl did not make it any better since it altogether exposed a feebled government in the face of crises.
Plotters will devote all their energies to attempt a wider racial divide of the country if the PH does not act swiftly to nip the racists in the bud.
The temple fiasco and the ICERD slurs gone unchecked shows there exists a weak-spot in Malaysian politics.
Government Ministers came out in the open to slam the police in the temple issue. This says a lot.
Malaysians are asking whether the PH can get the law enforcement agencies to act swiftly and unequivocally, just like they did in the 1MDB issue?
Once if it can achieve this type of action, the PH will give another definite blow to a rising opposition that is not ashamed of using all the tricks they used while in power to attempt at destabilising the country.