A Malay friend recently told me that a community group for Malay Muslims had organised a high tea reception to welcome the “two new People's Action Party Malay MPs”, which the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs saw fit and proper to attend as a guest.
He asked me, “What about the new opposition Malay MP?”
The report noted that “about 100 others, including leaders of various Malay/Muslim organisations as well as Malay MPs - were also present”.
To the ordinary person, events like these would disturb greatly.
Leaders of any community are pillars of inclusivity. Their participation in such an event may send the wrong signal to the general population. For example, it could signal that one, for the sake of scoring political points or gaining political traction, is willing to pursue a partisan agenda, which could have the dire consequence of polarising further an already fragmented society.
It would disturb one even more that a Minister, who is meant to represent all Muslim persons, saw it fit to endorse such an event. Could he, for example, have made it a condition for him attending that the event be one for all new Malay MPs?
Nevertheless, I am not surprised by this development. (I dare even suggest that mine is the view that represents more Malay Muslim persons.)
It underscores to me the state of affairs that pervades the Malay Muslim leadership presently: a commitment to continue with a pro-PAP agenda because it is the political party that has taken care of them, and it is quite possibly the only party that will continue to look out actively for Malay Muslim interests.
The last general election was unprecedented for many reasons. The most controversial precedent being that an almost unknown Malay man, one Muhammad Faisal bin Abdul Manap, stood for elections against a well-known entrenched Malay leader, the great Zainul Abidin Rasheed, and won.
This victory will now go down in the history books of Singapore: the first elected opposition Malay MP in the Legislature, since Singapore achieved independence and separated from the Malaysians.
Reading the pages of Berita Harian the day after Polling Day, one would not get this awesome sense of history. Instead, one would come away with the awful feeling that Berita Harian tried as best as it reasonably could to down-play this development.
Some suggest that this was because the Berita Harian did not wish to lose readers by reacting positively to the outcome. I got the same sense attending an event for Malay Muslim leaders a few weeks later. Any support expressed whatsoever to this outcome was in the form of an almost reluctant acceptance of this Malay Muslim opposition leader in the Legislature.
Others point to the sociology (and perhaps loyalty) of Berita Harian’s news-room. For a long time, it has been a fertile recruitment ground for the ruling party and its coverage leaves no doubt that its editorial position is one highly supportive of the ruling party.
The well-known Malay leader that lost the election had been the face of the newspaper for some two decades before he pursued political office. In this context, it would have been heretical to make heroic his challenger.
The fact that there has not been a single word of protest by a Malay Muslim person to such partisan events or coverage shows that the Malay Muslim person that supports an opposition party may find himself or herself in the minority. It is reasonable to suggest that such a supporter may well be expendable to the Malay Muslim leadership.
If the Minister for Muslim Affairs had even suggested that the partisan event be extended to the new Malay opposition MP, he may have found himself facing a backlash within the community; the kind he faced most recently when being quoted out of context that Malay should be taught as a foreign language.
The Malay Muslim leadership is merely mirroring the sentiments of the general Malay Muslim community in pursuing their interests in a manner that is pro-PAP – as much as such an agenda would appear partisan or polarising to some.
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