In this cogent and comprehensive analysis, @dririshsea examines, in great detail, the three Rs of Malaysia's political polarisation - race, religion and reform - as refracted through a chronological lens, and how it is influenced by various socioeconomic factors.
"Polarization over race, religion, and reform has afflicted Malaysia for decades and powerfully shaped its electoral politics."
"Since the country’s independence in 1957, its ethnic Malay majority has enjoyed a constitutionally protected special status, while ethnic minorities have been treated as second-class citizens."
"But what makes Malaysia’s polarization so complex is that two additional cleavages—over religion and competing visions for political reform—overlap with and often intensify ethnic divides."
"Political elites regularly appeal to these divides to mobilize their supporters but also make intermittent efforts to downplay one or more of these fissures, with the aim of winning the “center ground” and securing power."
"Ultimately, however, these polarizing issues have scuttled efforts to reach political compromises, constrained the adoption of much-needed reforms, and fueled political instability."
"The damaging effects of polarization were evident most recently in February 2020, when sharp, identity-driven divisions contributed to the collapse of the most inclusive, secular government in the country’s history."
"What is more, although polarization is largely confined to the elite level, it is increasingly permeating Malaysian society, endangering interethnic harmony, and eroding social cohesion."
"Malaysia’s polarization feeds on three primary divisions, each of which has deep historical roots. The country’s main dividing line is ethnic."
"The country’s prevailing racial hierarchy has faced repeated challenges, which have exposed ethnic cleavages and led to different levels of inclusion over time."
"Malaysia’s ethnic divisions date back to the struggle for independence from British colonialism. A key moment came in 1946, when the British formed one administrative unit, the Malayan Union, for the ethnically diverse states that later would become part of Malaysia."
" In response, Malay elites mobilized, and that same year they formed the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), an ethnonationalist party that defended special privileges for Malays."
"UMNO joined forces with political parties from the Chinese and Indian ethnic communities, and it became the leading force in a multiethnic national coalition known as the Alliance, which later expanded and renamed itself the National Front (Barisan Nasional, or BN)."
"This UMNO-led coalition would govern from independence in 1957 through 2018. Although it stood as an example of interethnic political cooperation, it also institutionalized the fundamental role of ethnicity in Malaysian politics and granted Malays special rights."
"The country’s independence period also saw the emergence of a second divide, this one between Islamists and secularists."
"Debates over the appropriate role of Islam in public life intensified among Malay elites starting in the 1930s and shaped different conceptions of Malay nationalism."
"These divisions led Muslim clerics to break off from UMNO and form the Malaysian Islamic Party (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, or PAS) in 1951. The enduring push for a less secular state has shaped Malaysian politics for decades, sharpening differences over political Islam."
"At the same time, divisions between Islamists and secularists have reinforced Malaysia’s ethnic polarization. Race and religion have increasingly fused, with most (although not all) Malays adopting an Islamist outlook and minority communities being more secular."
"A third divide, over the issue of political reform, rooted in different conceptions of state power, has further intensified racial polarization."
"Malay political elites have propagated the view that they are the “protector[s]” of the Malay/Muslim community and, as such, that they are implicitly entitled to control state resources as they see fit, including for their own personal benefit."
"Other elites and Malaysia’s expanding civil society have challenged this view and championed a more participatory system, arguing that the government should respect the inputs, interests, and rights of ordinary citizens."
"Both sides, the self-appointed “protectors” and the “participants,” advocate for reform, but their ideas of what reform means and whom it should empower differ sharply."
"This complex third divide did not materialize until 1969, when the governing Alliance lost its two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time, leading to racial riots and eighteen months of emergency rule."
"In the aftermath of this turmoil, rising Malay nationalism became tightly intertwined with a hierarchical, undemocratic model of politics. In this period, Malay special rights became embedded in a social contract through the concept of ketuanan Melayu or Malay dominance."
"The government also introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1971, an affirmative action plan nominally based on need but that favored Malays in practice."
"Crucially, this period also marked a shift in how state power was to be controlled; it was now to be dominated by Malay elites, viewed as the protectors of the community."
"The government narrowed democratic space and limited civil liberties, seeking to protect Malay rights and those in power."
"These antidemocratic changes crystallized very different outlooks regarding the state, its legitimacy, and how and by whom it should be controlled and reformed."
"These three cleavages—over race, religion, and reform—have intersected in complex ways over Malaysia’s postindependence history. Over the years, they have fueled elite divisions and led to shifts in the intensity and dominant mode of polarization."
My unreserved gratitude and appreciation, as always, to kak @rahah_ghazali (my "Rock of Gibraltar"), for the headsup of this article. 🙏🏽

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5 Apr


We are truly living in a decadent age of abject moral decay, one that is exacerbated by the toxicity of racial and religious polarisation, and where integrity has been so corrupted that it has lost its intrinsic value. Image
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