Politics and Policy: Choices for MIC, MCA and Muafakat Nasional

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 9, 2019 - December 15, 2019.

For MN to be a success, that is to win the 15th general election, it must garner the support of Malaysians of all races and religions. Photo by Reuters

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UMNO secretary-general Tan Sri Annuar Musa is reported to have stressed that Muafakat Nasional, or MN, is not meant to be Barisan Nasional 2.0 and, according to Malay Mail Online, Annuar insists MN is going back to the basics, adopting a “more pragmatic stance”.

He was then quoted as saying: “Muafakat Nasional cannot be BN2.0 ... because BN was in power for too long. We grew complacent, took things for granted and even lost touch to a certain degree with the needs of the people.”

So, does this mean Annuar does not want MN to be in power for too long? I don’t think so. I would assume that Annuar was talking more about approach, methods and behaviour. Or how not to behave like BN did in the past.

As Annuar rightly says, MN must not be another BN. For MN to be a success, that is to win the 15th general election, it must garner the support of Malaysians of all races and religions. The way to do this is for it to grow into a coalition made up also of non-Malay political parties. But wouldn’t that make MN just like BN again? MN now comprises Umno and PAS only, which cater exclusively for the Malay-Muslim community.

I reached out to Annuar for his comments but to no avail. His silence was understandable as it was the eve of the Umno assembly when I contacted him, so his schedule would have been packed.

But Umno president Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi and other leaders, including Annuar himself, have previously spoken about the need for MN to get non-Malay support. Even PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang shares that view. In fact, MN is open to MIC and MCA becoming components. Both parties are still in BN with Umno.

Should MIC and MCA join MN, would that mark the demise of BN? That is a topic for another day. For now, we are hearing that MIC has expressed its willingness to join MN.

Is this good for MIC? Political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian has this to say: “In the current political ecosystem MIC and MN need each other so MN can avoid being seen as racially based.

“This was tested at the Tanjung Piai by-election. It is a new vehicle for BN and PAS. The dilemma is when it comes to a general election. They have to decide on a logo, seat distribution and machinery as well.”

In MIC’s present condition, obviously MN would be the Indian party’s backbone, Siva points out. As to whether MIC can deliver the Indian voters, Siva says: “Many Indians still go and see their MIC leaders when they need assistance but it is a dynamic relationship and not static. They can swing anytime, depending on the issues as the date of the GE approaches.”

While MIC has more or less made up its mind to join MN, MCA seems unsure — preferring to keep its options open.

Deputy president Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon turned philosophical when the media asked him if MCA would be joining MN, especially after the resounding victory in Tanjung Piai. Mah responded, “Politics is like life. It is unpredictable. You cannot say for sure what will happen tomorrow.”

Still, will MCA take the plunge? Should it? Political observer Francis Lai, who is a keen MCA watcher, says that although MN is a loose cooperative alliance and not a registered political entity like Pakatan Harapan or BN, MCA — which is “barely alive now” — nevertheless needs to cooperate with Umno, MIC and PAS well to survive.

“For now, MCA is cohabiting with MN and this suits them fine. I must say again — for now. I use the term ‘cohabiting’ as MN is not an official marriage. This cohabitation status somehow makes it easy for the party to jump off in the event some of the more aggressive PAS members start to flex their muscles, playing up divisive racial and religious issues.”

However, as Lai sees it, “The big headache for MCA leaders will be if MN is registered as a full-fledged political entity as they would then have to make hard decisions.”

To political analyst Dr Oh Ei Sun, “There is no rush for MCA to join MN. The current veiled and ambiguous collaborative arrangement with PAS works out just fine for MCA, as was evident in Tanjung Piai.”

But that is not the end of the story. Joining MN officially, says Oh, “will only acknowledge MCA’s true, opportunistic political nature of condemning religious extremism while partnering the very same embodiment of the same, that is PAS, which would not help to regain Chinese support”.

If one were to agree with Oh, I wonder how MN would feel about MCA because, to them, the party is needed specifically to bring in the Chinese votes.

 

Mohsin Abdullah is contributing editor at The Edge. He has covered politics for more than four decades.

 

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