‘Malay first’ Muhyiddin is hoist with his own petard

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‘Malay first’ Muhyiddin is hoist with his own petard

From Terence Netto

It is irony of a rather delicious kind that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin – famed for his “I’m Malay first” avowal in 2010 — is being touted to have committed treason against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

The English word “treason” does not quite convey the potency of the Malay cognate “derhaka”, as a description of acts done in defiance of the role and dignity of the ruler.

In the Malay cosmos, somebody who has committed “derhaka” against the ruler is guilty of an act that very nearly borders on sacrilege, an offence quite distinct from the betrayal that constitutes treasonous conduct in the English-speaking world.

Muhyiddin was not expansive about what he meant in the early years of his deputy premiership (April 2009 to July 2015) when he insisted he was “Malay first” and Malaysian after that.

His insistence was seen as an attempt to enter a caveat to the moves towards liberalism made by Najib Razak at the start of Najib’s premiership (April 2009 to May 2018).

These moves were in the direction of watering down the ethnocentric thrust of policies that the Umno-dominated Barisan Nasional government had long adopted.

By the time Najib assumed the premiership from Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2009, these policies were beginning to be seen as in need of urgent reform to get the country out of the middle income trap in which it was wallowing.

Yes, Najib was a Malay liberal in the early phase of his PM-ship whereas Muhyiddin was trying to become the Malay right wing’s standard-bearer.

Which is why there is a particularly ironic echo to the accusations of “derhaka” now being hurled at Muhyiddin for his alleged marginalisation of the King over revocation of Emergency Ordinances.

No Malay right-wing leader will want to invite the opprobrium that attaches to the term “derhaka”.

Muhyiddin had intimated he had good reasons for maintaining he was a “Malay first” leader before he could own up to being a Malaysian leader.

But he declined to elaborate what he really meant, fortifying the speculation he was merely manoeuvring to prevent rivals from preempting him at championing Malay rights.

There was a time when you could be a Malay rights champion without being a chauvinist or an ethnocentrist.

That was the time when the entire notion of Umno’s primacy in the national political landscape was erected on the premise that the advancement and defence of Malay rights would not redound to the eclipse of the rights of non-Malays.

Sure this stance required a delicate balancing act by the ones attempting it, but it was regarded as assayable by politicians with the rhetoric and savvy for it.

Now that Muhyiddin’s “Malay first” stance, in retrospect, seems to have been based on calculation rather than principle, he stands exposed as a leader more intent on espousing slogans than living up to them.

It’s not that this discovery – that he’s more a tub-thumping opportunist than a leader with the ideas for sustaining a credible national presence – comes as any big surprise.

To most politicians the drive for power, and what that entails in the sacrifice of principle on the altar of expediency, is priority.

Such politicos, however, run the risk of being hoist with their own petards. FMT

‘Malay first’ Muhyiddin is hoist with his own petard


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