Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Who are Perkasa?

Who are Perkasa? Print E-mail
CPI Writings
Written by Dr Lim Teck Ghee
Wednesday, 17 February 2010 14:07

Dr Farish Noor’s assessment of Perkasa as “a class issue… reflecting the anxieties of poor Malays who are scared of the globalization process” is not only off the mark but also plainly incorrect.

There is presently little or no data on Perkasa’s membership or ideology to support his assertion. For example, we do not know how large its membership is, the demographic and socio-economic profile of members, the reasons for participation in the group’s activities, the number of poor, middle or upper class Malays that are members, the attitudes of these members and other supporters towards the globalization process, etc.

What are known are its origins, leadership, ideological position and the objectives and causes it stands for. The facts known about it are clear and unambiguous evidence of what the organization stands for and aims to achieve. They are a far cry from the class-based, nebulous and even heroic concerns that Farish draws attention to in his assessment.

Perkasa is an organization registered with the Registrar of Societies on Sept 12, 2008. It traces its origins to the aftermath of the momentous March 8 general elections with the early discussion on forming the organization publicly announced in June 2008.

Its objectives clearly prioritize the defence of “Malay special rights” (rather than the “special position” of the Malays) as well as the position of Islam, Bahasa Melayu and Malay rulers.

There is nothing in its objectives (or its subsequent activities) to make it out as being concerned with or wanting to take up the plight of poor Malays. Instead its positions are based on the anxieties of “Ketuanan Melayu” and “Ketuanan Islam”.

Article 4 of Perkasa charter

• Memperkasakan Islam sebagai agama persekutuan
• Memperkasakan Bahasa Melayu sebagai bahasa kebangsaan
• Memperkasakan kedaulatan Raja-Raja Melayu
• Mempertahankan hak-hak keistimewaan orang Melayu
• Memperkasakan kaum pribumi
• Menyatupadukan kaum pribumi dan perpaduan rakyat Malaysia
• Mempertahankan kedaulatan Negara.

The names and positions of Perkasa’s office bearers are just as instructive in pointing to the racial supremacy orientation of the organization.

Perkasa: Main office holders as at Oct 2008

• Datuk Ibrahim Ali (President)
• Datuk Fuad Hassan (Timbalan Presiden) – ex-Abim
• Datuk Shuaib Lazim (Naib Presiden) – former Umno senator & Adun from Kedah
• Datuk Yahya Lampong (Naib Presiden) – former state deputy minister, Umno Sabah
• Datuk Mokhtar Samad (Naib Presiden) – Umno Bandar Tun Razak chief, president Malay Contractors Association
• Syed Hassan Syed Ali (Setiausaha) – vice chairman Penang Malay Chamber of Commerce
• Muhammad Afiq Aziz (Penolong Setiausaha)
• Datuk Abdul Rahman Bakar (Bendahari) – Johor Perkasa chairman
• Datuk Ruhanie Ahmad (Ketua Penerangan) – Umno former MP

Besides its “frog king” President, Ibrahim Ali who is notorious for his party hopping (“The frog under the coconut shell hops from padi-field to padi-field, it does not hop …far, just nearby” ) and racist and sexist outbursts (“… there would be fewer marital problems and a lower divorce rate if Muslim women were taught to accept polygamy”), most if not all of its leaders are professional politicians or businessmen, mainly from or closely associated with Umno and fitting in or flirting with the opposition camp when it suits their interests.

None have had any track record in the espousal of the socio-economic problems of the Malay working class. All have been beneficiaries of the Umno system of patronage and profited enormously from the power and wealth distributed by the party to its members, especially those at the top. All unashamedly make use of the propaganda depicting Malays as the hapless victims of the colonial and post-colonial development process and greedy non-Malays as standing in the way of legitimate Malay concerns and interests.

Dr M, the Perkasa patron saint

The mentor and ideological godfather of Perkasa is the former PM, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

In his welcome note to their March 2009 Assembly meeting which was telecast live by Astro Awani and contained in the programme booklet, Dr Mahathir argued that the emergence of Malay NGOs was rooted in Islamic and Malay causes and showed that the Malays now have less confidence in the political parties that are supposed to represent them. He endorsed Ibrahim Ali as “(someone) who is neutral, who is concerned only with good governance, who will criticise whoever, whether the government or the opposition.”

Dr Mahathir and Ibrahim not only have a common interest in publicly massaging each other’s ego and respective causes but also in being perceived as comrades in the frontline of fighting for Malay rights in the face of rising non-Malay challenge. But are other Malays buying this line?

Are Malays from the poorer and lower classes flocking to this and similar or clone Malay ‘NGO’ movements taking up the cudgels on behalf of ‘oppressed’ and ‘long suffering’ Malays whose rights are being trampled on by non-Malays?

The evidence to date is negative. On Feb 5, a Penang-based Malay NGO ‘Sedaq’ or ‘Aware’ claiming to represent 50 members, organized a demonstration after Friday prayers at Komtar to protest against the state’s alleged discrimination and oppression of Malays, especially Malay traders.

Although the demonstrators succeeded in setting fire to an effigy of the Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng, it could only mobilize a much smaller crowd of supporters than the 10,000 the organizers were targeting for. Various media estimated the numbers attending to range from 300 to 2,000.

In response, the MPPP has refuted the claim of Sedaq that Malay traders are being singled out for harassment and discriminatory action. The data provided by the city council showed that Malays comprised 38% and 29% respectively of the 2,063 and 2,789 cases in the years 2008/09 against taken by the MPPP against illegal traders. The claims of racial discrimination made by the Malay NGOs were groundless.

Although Perkasa and Sedaq were given much prominence in the Malay vernacular papers and official media, there has been little critical analysis of the actions and activities of such groups in these media outlets and counter arguments such as those put out by the Penang state government and others against the Sedaq group have not been given the coverage they deserve.

Cultivating the radical fringe

It is as if the present Umno leadership which controls the mass media and the spin given to these new forces sees it as in its interests to coddle and legitimize Malay racist organizations, however extreme their message and opportunistic their agenda may be. The convergence of interests between the Umno leadership and the various manifestations of these ‘grassroots’ movements is not surprising.

Also not surprising is the apparent rapport between the Deputy Prime Minister and these groups. For example, on Feb 2, Perkasa spent two hours privately discussing its myopic socio-economic and political agenda with Muhyiddin Yassin. The group’s position on key policy issues is known to be contradictory to that held by the 1Malaysia ideology and New Economic Model espoused by the Prime Minister.

What message did the Deputy Prime Minister intend to send to other Malaysians and Umno members by being so deferential to Perkasa? Was the event staged to strengthen Muhyiddin’s Malay ‘nationalist’ credentials further and to undermine the Prime Minister’s vision of transformation and change for the country?

Or is there some tacit agreement between the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister with one acting as the liberal and progressive face of Umno and the other as its unchanging and non-negotiable Malay nationalist face, thus enabling it to cynically exploit both wider public and hardline Malay support?

There has always been an important dimension of racial pandering driving Umno’s ideology. Having an attack hound bare its fangs in defence of exaggerated Malay insecurities on economy, religion, language or culture has been a key weapon in the Umno arsenal to remind the non-Malay communities of their real – that is, subordinate – place in Malaysia. The harder the line these groups take, the more liberal and progressive Umno’s leadership appears to be.

However, this strategy no longer works with a more enlightened Malaysian electorate refusing to be intimidated or browbeaten by distorted or propagandistic versions of history bandied by BTN types and the logic of Malay dominance.

It is also a dangerous game as Perkasa, Sedaq and other fringe extremist groups may turn around to bite Umno and weaken the country’s social fabric in other ways such as the church fire-bombings have already proven.

Who are Perkasa?