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You can tell that elections are around the corner when political parties with long histories of racism and bigotry suddenly start getting gushy about inclusivity and how they are all committed to building one big happy Malaysian family. It’s like they woke up one morning and it suddenly hit them that we are a multiracial, multireligious, multicultural nation after all. 

PAS President Hadi Awang announced earlier this week that “PAS accepts the reality that Malaysia is diverse in terms of ethnicity and religion”. He then went on to talk about the concept of the “brotherhood among humans where we are part of a big family consisting of different ethnic groups and religions”.

Soon after, UMNO deputy chairman Mohamad Hasan said that “Barisan Nasional (BN) is not trying to create a Malay or an Islamic government but a BN government of different races”. He went on to call on all component parties to come together to reflect the country’s plural society.

Has Hadi undergone some sort of epiphany? Has he suddenly found his calling as an apostle of the brotherhood of all men? Is UMNO now a true believer in pluralism and inclusivity? The end of the world must be nigh!

Hadi, as we all know, is one of the most diehard racists in Malaysia. He and other PAS leaders have shown nothing but disdain for Malaysia’s minorities. PAS has regularly demonised Christians, constantly played up unfounded allegations of dark plots by Christians, Jews and Chinese to undermine Islam and the Malays, refused to honour the Thaipusam holiday in Kedah on spurious grounds and demanded that non-Muslims be excluded from the governance of the nation. PAS is pushing for hudud to be the law of the land; something that is completely contrary to the vision of our founding fathers who saw Malaysia as a secular multicultural constitutional democracy.

UMNO is no better. It has a long history of demonizing non-Malays. For more than half a century, it has promoted policies that have marginalized minorities and slandered them as “pendatang”. In pursuit of their Ketuanan Melayu agenda, UMNO has implemented policies that have resulted in the exclusion of minorities from the civil service and other public institutions, discriminated against minority businesses (the proposed 51% Bumiputera rule for freight-forwarders is a good example) and permitted the emergence of a culture of religious intolerance.

Besides, it wasn’t so long ago that both UMNO and PAS schemed with PPBM to topple one of the most representative and ethnically diverse governments we’ve ever had in an endeavour to create a “Malay unity government”. And now, they have the temerity to talk about building an inclusive government that is reflective of our plural society.

It should be obvious that all this sudden talk about respect for pluralism and about building a Malaysian family is just empty sloganeering, a cynical manipulation of the heartfelt desire of most Malaysians for national unity, for respect and tolerance. How many times have we heard that before? Remember Bangsa Malaysia? 

If UMNO and PAS leaders are sincerely committed to building a united and inclusive nation, they can start by apologising for all their race-baiting, for the dismal way they have treated other religious groups and for their discriminatory approach to nation building. If they can prove themselves sincere, I’m sure the good people of Malacca along with millions of other Malaysians would be happy to support them. Until they do, only the most naïve and gullible – and there are plenty of them – will be impressed by all the talk of pluralism and inclusivity. 

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | Wednesday, 30th October 2021]