Dapatocracy: A form of government wherein politicians are out for what they can get (dapat) for themselves. It is notable that the parties in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, including the Democratic Action Party (DAP), have unconditionally backed their Prime Ministerial candidate, Anwar Ibrahim, in forming his Unity Government post GE15. When the cabinet line-up was announced, DAP only got 4 out of 28 positions. This is a sacrifice from the perspective of a party which won the largest quotient of Anwar’s 148 seat majority. They won a whopping 40 seats and, as such, can be said to be making a noble sacrifice. Indeed, it can be said that the DAP is not part of the Malaysian DAPatocracy. But what will become of this traditionally Chinese dominated multiethnic party, given the likely reactions of its base to the equally likely machinations of PH’s new fellows (UMNO, GPS, GRS) remains to be seen.
Sivakumar Varatharaju Naidu is the Minister of Human Resources and the only Indian in Anwar Ibrahim’s cabinet. Gone are the glory days of the Pakatan Harapan government that followed GE 14 when there were 4 Indian ministers in a cabinet of 25 ministerial portfolios. Waytha Moorthy Ponnusamy was Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for National Unity and Social Well-being, Xavier Jayakumar Arulanandam was Minister of Water, Land, and Natural Resources, Kulasegaran Murugeson was Minister of Human Resources and Gobind Singh Deo was Minister of Communication and Multimedia. Today, in Anwar’s Unity Government there is only 1 Indian minister from a cabinet of 28 portfolios. Indeed, the ratio has gone down dramatically, and there is a lot of discussion in the media, about the implications for the place of Malaysian Indians in the political paradigm of Malaysia.
Malaysia is a nation founded in the wake of colonial immigration and postcolonial communalism. Race and religion are determinants of status and rights in our constitution and the majority of the political parties in our constitutional democracy are defined in terms of ethnic and religious interests. As East Malaysian parties figure more prominently in the political leadership of our nation (as they should in the cause of strengthening the Federation) the space for Indians in the leadership of the nation will naturally diminish in time.
In any event, while some Indians have risen to power based on communalist politics, Samy Vellu being the exemplar, this order has not really served the Indian community very well in the post Independent period. So, while I acknowledge the communal nature of the Indian Malaysian stake in the nation, I believe the time has come to pursue our community interests less directly, by perpetuating general principles of justice and citizenship for all. As the power dynamic shifts in Malaysian politics, Indians need to assert their needs and rights as citizens, rather than as a members of a community. They need to entrench themselves within the multiethnic political parties and contribute to the deepening of trans-communal ethos that may be emerging, in the Malaysian political landscape, albeit, with difficulty.
Our community is clearly on the way to losing its 3rd place in the triumvirate of Malaysian races – Malay/Chinese/XXX, we need to be at the forefront of the effort to transcend communalism in Malaysian life. This might be a losing battle in the face of the rising wave of Malay ethnoreligious sentiments, but I believe it is still the only way forward, and the best chance for Indians to have a say in a future Malaysia. We should stop worrying about the number of Indians in the Cabinet, and focus on deepening our role and influence at the back end of governance. Indian Malaysians have everything to gain from thinking and acting as Malaysians per se, and much to lose by being entrenched in the Indianness of our national identity. I believe that Indians can best serve our community by striving to raise the living conditions and opportunities for all Malaysians who have been left behind in the post-independence period.
A is for Anwar Ibrahim. He is now the 10th PM of Malaysia and his first job is to form the cabinet of the new unity government. Partiularly, he has to find a compromise that satisfies his old allies of choice and his new allies of convenience (or duty, to put it positively).. What will this mean for all the hopes of his base, particularly their ‘no compromise on corruption’ and ‘the Malaysia for all’ aspirations. Whatever the outcome, Anwar Ibrahim is now the leader of a larger coalition than he started with and this logically means a degree of detachment from the community that brought him to the Prime Minesterial role. The pertinent question is – how far he will rise above his base?
Update 17. 12.2022: Some quarters are now suggesting that Anwar Ibrahim’s Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)signed with his Unity Government supporters on the eve of the vote of confidence on his new government, is a prelude to a new Malaysian Autocracy! The MOA allegedly contains a condition that misconstrues Article 49A of the Federal constitution as it refers to it as the basis for a clause that requires government MPs to vacate their seat if they vote against the prime minister. On the other hand one cannot but sympathize with the new PM in his desperate need to restrain Malaysian parliaments inherently amphibious condition – its tendency towards Katakcracy!
In a specifically Aboriginal perspective, Gord Hill (Zig Zag), a popular historian from the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, addresses the corporate pressure on native governance in Canada. The caption to one of his powerful political cartoons addressing land tenure and band councils, in the context of the Indian Act reads “All Hail the New Chief – Chief Executive Officer that is!.” In this powerful expression of the complexities and complicities of contemporary native land tenure and economic development, it seems to me, that Zig Zag has given us a universally applicable image of the assertion of corporate will within neo-liberal regimes, where pressure is brought to bear on individual elected leaders, and whole polities even, through inducements and deterrents both legal and illegal. In the SNC Lavalin debacle we have a case-in-point. Here an elected indigenous leader, not just of her own people but of all Canadians, the Attorney General of Canada, was allegedly put under pressure in service of Lavalin’s corporate good.
At the end of her testimony to the House of Commons justice committee the former Attorney General states “…my understanding of the rule of law has also been shaped by my experiences as an Indigenous person and as an Indigenous leader. The history of Crown-Indigenous relations in this country includes a history of the rule of law not being respected. Indeed, one of the main reasons for the urgent need for justice and reconciliation today is that, in the history of our country, we have not always upheld foundational values such as the rule of law in relations to Indigenous Peoples. And I have seen the negative impacts for freedom, equality and a just society this can have first-hand.” It is, clearly, this indigenous perspective she must have of the sustained and insidious mechanism of influence, the co-option and/or coercion by the few, of those who are elected to serve the many, that made it impossible for Jodi Wilson-Raybould not to put her foot down for the rule of law, on behalf of all Canadians!
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