COMMENT | This weekend will witness the formalisation of a new political alliance (The Alliance) between the two largest Malay parties, Umno and PAS.
It happened once before, when the nation was in turmoil following the 1969 tragedy, but the pact did not last long. It was an instinctive response to what was perceived as a Chinese threat; there was no substantive agreement on the future direction of the country.
The current arrangement has the promise of being more effective and lasting. Some people are scared of the PAS/Umno Alliance.
They describe it as an axis of religious extremists and ultra-nationalists. Listening to the speeches of some of their leaders, no one can be faulted for being concerned about where our politics and country will end up.
But speeches alone are deceiving. If you listen to the speeches of Pakatan Harapan leaders during the election campaign, you would think we have turned the corner, that our leaders will take this country forward without the hang-ups of the past.
We thought that under Harapan, no one needs reminding about loyalty and identity; that we just work hard to improve the economy, care for the poor, and the environment.
We were hopeful the one-man rule in the style of the late Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe would not see the light of day. You see, speeches are misleading in many ways.
It’s a little early to dismiss the new Alliance as a potent political force. On the contrary, I think they are capable of forming the next government if they can deal effectively with the concerns of the business community, the moderate Malays, the people of Sabah and Sarawak, and the large swathes of non-Muslim voters.
The fear is that the Alliance will continue feeding the demands of the supporters by telling the non-Malays “we don’t need you.”
The leaders can pander to their whims of a 'united ummah', but no responsible party can effectively govern this country without the consent of Chinese business, Sabah, Sarawak and the international community.
The former attorney-general, now the ideologue of the Alliance, says that they can govern without the support of the non-Malays.
Yes, they can, but only by adopting the Mugabe reign of terror. Zimbabwe was once the “jewel of Africa” because of its prosperity. Today it’s a bankrupt country, and the people suffer extreme poverty.
Even the Zimbabwean dollar is no longer in use because its worthless. All it takes for the wealth and prosperity to perish was for Mugabe (photos), in 1990 telling the whites and the non-African business and landowners in Zimbabwe that “we don’t need you.”
He expropriated their lands and he chased them out of the country. If the Alliance leaders do the same, then Malaysia, as we know, will be history. Yes, the Alliance can govern; but govern a desolate, poor and impoverished nation.
The Alliance can also flounder and fail in other ways. They have a new partner in the religious party, PAS. If PAS, as I suspect, is business-friendly and gives the confidence to the Chinese business that they will be supported, and their lifestyles protected, then they might give Harapan a run for the money.
The moderate Malays just want the Alliance to protect other Muslims who don’t wear jubbah, protect women who don't use hijab, and don’t disturb voluntary organisations like Sisters in Islam doing good deeds.
The Alliance needs to present religion with a human face. They have to be practical in the ways of the world. Don’t be like the Selangor government.
They raided and humiliated Syiah believers in Selangor, but they also want to sell palm oil to Iran. You cannot do both. If some Muslims are considered “deviants” or that they are parctising unacceptable rituals, it's best the Alliance just leaves that to God.
The political leaders must not be distracted from solving the problems of this world by venturing into areas best left to the all-knowing, compassionate and merciful.
The Alliance needs to, soon after the signing of the pact, put forward their prime minister candidate. They must remember that our cabinet system works differently in practice from that of Westminster.
In London, the prime minister in the cabinet is first among equals. In other words the ministers are of equal standing with the prime minister, while acknowledging that he or she is the leader of the team.
In Putrajaya, it is not like that at all. The prime minister is everything and the only thing that counts. So it is important for the Alliance to present to the people who their prime minister will be.
This persona of the prime minister candidate will have a huge bearing on the electability of the Alliance. The people will want to compare the style of leadership, his temperament, and even whether the candidate is rich. They may want to know if his family members are wealthy businessmen or just ordinary people.
The next election will hinge on the public acceptance of the prime ministerial candidate from the competing groups. What good are all the beautiful promises made during the election campaign if the number one does not honour them?
Likewise, it does not matter that certain things are not in the manifesto, they can still be done if the prime minister wants it done.
In that sense, if the Alliance, despite the fury in their speeches and the toxic and frightening sound they emit, can find a likeable prime minister acceptable to the voters, then half the battle is won.
I don’t know who that suitable person might be, but someone like a stronger version of former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will be fine.
The people want a kind leader with some integrity, but the firmness to deal with the conglomerates and the cabals. This candidate from the Alliance must be one who understands poverty and that the lives of so many people in this country are tough.
To galvanise support for the Alliance, I would suggest they focus on the economy 90 percent of the time. Don’t spend too much time on Dr Zakir Naik, or the dress women wear.
By their dressing, they might be tempted to seduce men at times, but leave it to us Muslim men to take care of that. The focus for the Alliance is to change the direction of our economic policies.
The priority now is to give back some of the nation’s wealth to the people. Give ordinary Malaysians higher wages, clean water, repair the kampung roads, supply them better quality fertilisers, better fishing boats; and quality equipment to farm their lands. It is time the blocked drains and the stench be a thing of the past in our towns. The people expect the old pipes built after the war to be replaced.
I hope the Alliance will do more for the small things that matter to the lives of ordinary people. Also, agriculture, an important sector, has been neglected for too long.
Our people are not lazy, for they built our railways, roads and giant rubber and oil palm plantations. It’s the parasites who are lazy, who live on commissions and profit from corporate deals made easy with information from inside.
In their enthusiasm to protect Islam, the Alliance might neglect the most important injuction, which is for Muslims to lead an honourable life. We all know Malays are particular about what they put in their mouths, it must be 100 percent halal.
The Malays need to be equally scrupulous and be extra careful with what they put in their pockets. If they are prone to corruption, and love a comfortable and glitzy life which their salary cannot match, then no ummah unity can bring much good.
Corruption and abuse of power do not end just by having a new government. If the new Alliance leaders are fixated with wealth, and want to see their friends and family become richer, then there will be no change. The Alliance must bring about a new set of values to the Malay decision-makers.
The Alliance leaders can start the ball rolling, if they promise that they will not use private jets in performing their work. Just leave one for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to use. Many countries richer than us do not have private jets for their leaders. By this act of humility, the Alliance will attract immediate, support nationwide.
The prime minister and the deputy prime minister of the Alliance may have to move to smaller bungalows. Bring them to the level of the ministers. Ministers in other countries live simply, so try this new approach.
PAS leaders already have a simple style, they just need to extend that improve the Umno habit. They can use the present mansions in Putrajaya for public purpose.
The nation is waiting to hear what they, The Alliance leaders, have to say this Friday. It will be in their interest to bring hope and positive message to the country.
They can assemble a battery of orators berating multiculturalism and how the Chinese and the non-Muslims are taking over the country. They can instil fear and indulge in pettiness and use soiled language. This will just isolate and make the Alliance redundant.
However, a measure of introspection, a willingness to admit the excesses and errors of the past will do much good. The people have been duped many times, but they will be patient. They will want answers to the many problems we have.
Diversity is not just changing the slogan or the theme of the Friday meeting. Diversity is not just inviting some non-Malay leaders to be present.
Our real strength is the collective strength of all: The Alliance needs to acknowledge this and to let the country grow.
ZAID IBRAHIM is a former law minister and DAP member.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.