Clearly, many politicians do not believe that the specter of May 13 had been buried after the 2008 Tsunami and/or the 2011 Bersih 2.0 Rally. Or perhaps, they just don’t want to do so.
And the firebomb attack of the Church of Assumption in Penang perhaps just makes a stronger case for this fear of riot.
Lest anyone overlook, Umno’s weapon to defend its regime is not just 3Rs – Race, Religion and Royalty – to mobilise the Malay-Muslims. It has actually 4Rs, the fourth one is of course Riot, which aims to scare the ethnic minorities and middle-ground voters across the board.
To threaten riot in the past would require a “perceived challenge” on the sensitive issues like Bumiputeraism, Islam and royalty. Under Najib the Moderate, the threshold has been much lowered. Even vegetarian offers can make bloods boiling.
The logic now goes:
1. Although my leader likes “kangkung”, you feeding my leader “kangkung” is insulting him.
2. Since my leader is a Malay, you insulting him is insulting all Malays.
Insulting Malays? That is of course a good enough excuse to stage an intimidating protest to demand an apology for feeding the great leader Kangkung or to threaten a replay of May 13. And our police who are known to be tough on protesters just watched and did nothing, ensuring the complete unrestrained freedom of assembly for the anti-kangkung protesters.
Unlike the expensive “The Wolf of Wall Street”, this “Wolves of the Kangkung Street” drama is much low cost. It nevertheless strikes to drive home one message: May 13 is near; we must do whatever necessary to avoid this!
How to avoid May 13? Basically two solutions are offered.
The first is a return to authoritarianism. For politicians like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the communal tension today has all got to do with liberalisation and democratisation. If we roll back free speech and human rights (of course, the likes of Perkasa and Isma will always have their maximum right), bring back ISA, everyone will toe the government’s line, and Perkasa and Isma don’t have to demonstrate, and peace shall prevail.
The second is grand coalition. The talk of national reconciliation, if happened behind closed doors and smoked rooms, may well be the first step of some power-sharing arrangement. Just not long ago we read reports about the failure of such negotiations which started soon after May 5, and no one openly denied it.
Both these solutions point to one common goal – peace without politics. When everyone gets silenced, or when every major party gets to share power in the government, of course we won’t hear any quarrels, because we virtually won’t have politics. And without politics, we won’t have democracy!
Before politicians continue to fool us to think that 2014 can be the replay of 1969, let us look back at what happened in 1969.
Malay – not Chinese – desertion of Alliance
To set the record straight, there was no more Chinese desertion of the Alliance (the forerunner of BN) in 1969 than in 1964.
In the 1964 Malayan parliamentary election, the four non-Malay-based opposition parties – namely the Socialist Front, the People’s Action Party (PAP), the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) – won 25.82% of votes.
By the 1969 election, the SF was dissolved, its Chinese-majority component Labour Party boycotted the election while its Malay-majority component Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) soldiered on in a small number of constituencies. UDP too met its demise while its key leader Lim Chong Eu set up a new party called Gerakan. As a result of the expulsion of Singapore in 1965, PAP was succeeded by Democratic Action Party (DAP). Only PPP stayed the same.
But adding together the three non-Malay-based opposition parties, DAP, Gerakan and PPP, one would get 25.88% of votes in the Peninsula, marking a 0.06% point increase compared to their forerunners five years ago.
What actually happened in 1969 was a desertion of the Alliance by Malay voters. In 1964, PAS and the only other Malay opposition party, Parti Negara, won between them 14.99% of Malayan votes. (PRM is counted as part of Socialist Front here).
By 1969, Parti Negara finished its journey while PRM joined the field of Malay-based opposition parties. PAS and PRM together won 25.02% of Penisular Malaysia votes, marking an increase of 10.03% points compared to the Malay-based opposition in 1964.
Specifically, PAS won 9.10% points more of Peninsular Malaysia votes while Umno lost 4.64% points. And the ratio of Umno:PAS vote share had diminished from more than 8:3 to less than 3:2.
A two-party system in Malay politics was almost established, and Umno’s monopoly of Malay representation almost ended, if not because of the May 13 riot.
What has not changed – illusion created by electoral system
Why did we always see the 1969 election as one of Chinese revolt against Umno?
Merely because of our electoral system. The gain of PAS merely translated from nine parliamentary seats to 12 while the three non-Malay-based opposition parties saw a jump from 6 to 22.
In 2013, PKR and PAS respectively won 20.39% and 14.77% of federal votes. Together, they won nearly 20% points more than DAP’s 15.71%. However in terms of seats, PKR and PAS merely won 6% points more than DAP.
The “Chinese Tsunami” in 2013 and 1969 (although Najib was not there to coin the word) was very much a perception created by our highly-distorting electoral system. Like visual illusions, the electoral system successfully created a post-election impression of Malays being under siege.
But this is as much as 2013 is similar to 1969.
What has changed – inter-communal solidarity
What has fundamentally changed between 1969 and 2013 is the ethnic relations. Contrary to so many people’s view of worsening ethnic relations today, this is not true.
In 1969, while there were anecdotes of Malays and Chinese protecting their neighbours from the other side of the ethnic divide from attacks of their fellow co-ethnics, there was not anything comparable to Pakatan Rakyat.
There was not any move between PAS and three non-Malay opposition parties to form a coalition to defuse the political tension. Then, Gerakan leaders handed an olive branch to Umno, but not to PAS.
Certainly there was no PAS’ Unit Amal or Angkatan Muda Keadilan (AMK) to vow dying to protect the Chinese from any Malay ultra-nationalist thugs.
The very reason why May 13 would not replay in Malaysia is the very fact Mahathir laments – there will be no Malay unity to start an ethno-religious warfare.
While a small group of Malays may be blood thirsty and may even want to package their violence in the name of Allah, true Muslims will stand up and stop them.
Many Chinese were politically transformed after the baptism of tear gas and water cannon in Bersih 2.0 rally, the first street rally since 1969 which saw massive Chinese participation.
While most of these Chinese might have grown up being brainwashed that both Malays and politics were dangerous, they realised some Malays in politics – like PAS’ Unit Amal and other Bersih supporters – not only were far from dangerous, but the most trustworthy allies.
Many still remember the legendary anecdote of how a Malay man who found a way out of Tung Shin Hospital at its backyard and shouted to his fellow protesters who were running away from police violence: “Cina lari dulu!”
Why? The most moving version was “If there must be bloodshed today, let it be Malays’ blood. Malaysia cannot afford to have a second May 13!”
To me, a new nation Malaysia 2.0 was born when this unsung hero – no one knows his name – offered himself to save his fellow countrymen and women of different ethnicity and faith.
He and plenty other Malaysian patriots out there are the very reason why Malaysia won’t have a second May 13. It’s a shame that some Pakatan leaders actually forgot about the difference that Pakatan has helped greatly to make.
Happy and Fearless New Year!
According to Chinese ancient legend, “Year” was a monster that came to snatch people and eat them alive once a year. And firecrackers were the weapon to scare the monster away.
For this Chinese New Year, I wish all Malaysians, no matter how old or young you are, to be free from this fear of May 13. Light the firecracker in your heart if necessary.
You cannot find the firecracker?
So how? Macam mana?
Just join the next demonstration. When you find yourself standing up with other Malaysians peacefully demanding a better life – not just cheaper kangkung – your fear will vanish!
Dr Wong Chin Huat is a political scientist at Penang Institute. He believes the most relevant question to ask in Malaysian politics may not be "why", but "so how