11 June 2011

Mat Sabu in Bukit Bintang - a mission not impossible....

Mat Sabu, the newly-elected deputy president of PAS, has a jovial personality which most people find engaging.

I have known him personally during my brief period in Parliament, and like many other people from my party, I find Mat Sabu cosmopolitan, open-minded and original in his ideas. He is one PAS MP who is customer-friendly.

This week he came out with the seemingly ridiculous suggestion that the opposition party should field him as the candidate in Bukit Bintang.

Bukit Bintang is a traditionally Chinese area and has always been so since Merdeka. It is the bastion of Chinese political might in Malaysia. Though it has fallen into BN hands once in a while, it has always been firmly in the grip of the DAP, representing the main thrust of Chinese political will in Malaysia. And now, Mat Sabu is proposing the Chinese seat of Bukit Bintang should be contested by the non-Chinese party, PAS.

Many Malaysians will gasp in amazement at Mat Sabu's proposition. The first problem is the practicality of such a suggestion. Malaysian politic has always been polarised along religious and ethnic lines.

A DAP strongman in Bukit Bintang would never dream of moving away from his comfort zone and go and contest in a constituency where the Malays form the majority of the voters.
A Chinese strongman like Fong Kui Lun must contest in a Chinese-majority area and that is the iron law of practical politics in Malaysia.

On the surface, the proposition looks ludicrous. A strong Malay candidate like Mat Sabu has no business in a Chinese-majority area for fear of losing popular support. It is a sad reality in Malaysia that in popular politic, voters will support only a candidate from the same race and not from other races.

New era for a new PAS

But Mat Sabu has opened up an interesting and highly provocative proposition. What if PAS nominates Mat Sabu to the Bukit Bintang constituency? How will the voters react to his candidature?

In this new era for a new PAS, it is generally recognised that the professionals in the party are far more acceptable to the Chinese than in the past. Notwithstanding the ideology of PAS' theocracy state, can the Chinese voters in Bukit Bintang support PAS? This will be the million-dollar question for the new Malaysia under discussion.

I am suggesting that this question must be considered seriously for it will determine the viability of multi-racial and multi-religious politic in Malaysia. I am looking forward 30 years ahead of the current situation.

In recent months, I have sensed a certain subtle change of tone in the DAP narrative. The Sarawak DAP has now began to consider widening the party appeal to a more multi-racial constituency, in order to attract the Dayak voters of Sarawak. This could be a new trend in Malaysian politic within the practical considerations of an electoral contest.

In order to break through the gridlock of race and religion in Malaysian politics, the more we break from the old mould and the more we achieve a breakthrough from sectarian representation, the better it is to remove the old assumptions about politics and race and religion. That is what makes Mat Sabu's suggestion interesting and thought-provoking.

Frankly, I see nothing wrong in Mat Sabu becoming the MP for Bukit Bintang. In the larger question of national politics, the most important thing about the MP for Bukit Bintang is not that he should speak up for the Chinese but that he should represents all Malaysians in articulating their aspirations.

The MP for Bukit Bintang does not have to be a Chinese to be a people's representative, as long as he is closely connected to the voters of his constituency.

Knowing something about Chinese voters in Malaysia, it is not impossible for Bukit Bintang to have a Malay MP, although the initial problems of racial and religious segregation look formidable. But given the unique personality of Mat Sabu, it is a highly provocative proposition.

A matter of changing people's mindsets

At the moment, I don't think it will become a reality for Bukit Bintang to have a Malay candidate. We cannot wipe out the 60 years or so of racial prejudice overnight.

But politics is a matter of changing people's mindsets as a prerequisite towards instituting major social reform and changing the way people think.

Sometimes you need something really unique and unexpected to make people rethink the assumption of their orthodoxy. Mat Sabu as the candidate in Bukit Bintang may just do that.

It is often said that a politician thinks of the next election while a statesman thinks of the next generation. To bring about a change in the minds of future generation, we have to discard all assumptions about how people make their political choices.

Many traditional wisdoms will have outlived their relevance. A far-sighted politician will always train his gaze upon the political horizon which has never been explored before.

I, for one, do support Mat Sabu's candidature in Bukit Bintang. That may start Malaysians thinking about politics. - Sim Kwang Yang




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