The big plus point about Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s newly-founded Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) is that it represents all the bumiputra groups in the country, irrespective of ethnic background and religion. The party is open to Malays, the Orang Asli and ethnic Sabah and Sarawak tribes (many of whom are Christians) who are the first communities of this nation earning the rights to their bumiputra status.
Some may argue that the party’s exclusivity to only bumiputras may push minority groups to the category of second-class citizens. Whether bumiputra or not, everyone must have a vehicle to express their concerns. Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), although Malay-based, provides that vehicle to minority groups. The dominant minority groups have their own parties; the MCA, Gerakan and the DAP are all Chinese-based parties, with the former two with the Barisan Nasional (BN) and the DAP with the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH).
The Chinese have a choice of the parties they want to represent them. The Indians have the MIC, which is with the BN but they are also represented in PKR. The Sabah and Sarawak parties are solidly with the BN although some are represented in PKR.
The issue right now, however, is not whether the minority groups have political representation. The problem is with the majority group, the bumiputras, particularly the poorer rural bumiputras, who are torn between bread and better issues and the middle-class issues of justice, rights and integrity. Umno has successfully capitalized on their concerns with promises of development and other benefits to keep them voting for them.
Those bumiputras who have progressed beyond bread and butter issues to justice, rights and integrity have abandoned Umno and the BN it leads. These are the urban Malays and they are solidly with PKR. Their numbers are more than the rural bumiputras who can be bought for their bread and butter because that is their need. It is this group, smaller in number, but represented in more parliamentary and state constituencies which currently forms the bulwark of support for Umno and the BN. They see in the BN a government which helps them. They don’t see an alternative which can do the same.
Bersatu, if approved by the Registrar of Societies, could provide that alternative. It represents the collective bumiputra interests, which is good, but the question is whether it will get supporters. For a start, it may get the support of the disgruntled members of Umno. It plans to go on a nationwide roadshow to explain the contentious 1MDB to the grassroots. It would be good if it would ally with the opposition on the roadshow and include reforms in its agenda.
The reform agenda is necessary because all the problems we are having now is due to the lack of it. The only reason why BN has to go is to enable the PKR-led opposition to introduce and cultivate a culture of reforms to ensure checks and balances in government and to proscribe the errant behaviours of leaders so that their actions are confined by law, and the excesses we see are never repeated — ever, again!
People need to know what is at stake, that we risk losing all the gains we have made so far and this has to be made known to the grassroots. A nationwide roadshow by Bersatu and the opposition would likely win over many supporters. If they succeed, they would certainly break up Umno’s current support base.
That, maybe, Bersatu’s immediate strategy — giving the traditional BN supporters an alternative where their interests will still be maintained. If Bersatu works hand in glove with the opposition, they will present a very credible coalition to the people, one which has majority bumiputra and minority support. In addition, the coalition will have national level leadership as well, and will have the experience, talents and passion and numbers to rule.
If Bersatu succeeds, in the long run, it would become the party that adequately represents bumiputras, especially the rural communities. Any ruling coalition would have to woo it to have majority bumiputra support in their pocket and with it, that coalition will have the right to rule.
From the way I see it, Bersatu is a way out and forward — if the bumiputras are smart enough to follow.