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Analysts, politicians differ on Perkasa’s role

February 16, 2010

Analysts feel that Datuk Ibrahim Ali’s political relevance is questionable. – Picture by Jack Ooi

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal

Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 16 — Malay rights group Perkasa is growing in popularity among the community with its rhetoric but analysts and politicians differ about its actual purpose in a country where Malays dominate the government.

Its founder, seasoned grassroots politician Datuk Ibrahim Ali claimed that Perkasa has been seen by the Malay grassroots as the substitute platform to champion what they feel as eroding Malay rights despite being the dominant race in the country.

Critics however slam the newly-minted right-wing group of being “ultras” pushing their own agenda to ensure that the long-standing practice of communal-based political hierarchy remains. Ibrahim has dismissed the critics as “liberals” threatened and jealous of Perkasa’s surging popularity.

“Perkasa is now a brand every Malays talk about but many have attacked us, calling us a racist group and conservative hardliners because of what we fight for,” said Ibrahim.

But analysts say otherwise.

“I don’t know that he (Ibrahim) is fighting for. This guy is confused, what he is doing right now is trying to fan racial sentiments, although we cannot argue that he has a fundamental right to organise a group,” said Professor Dr Abdul Aziz Bari, a constitutional law expert with the International Islamic University (IIU) in Kuala Lumpur.

Abdul Aziz conceded the law does not prohibit Ibrahim from setting up or recruiting more members for Perkasa’s cause but his main concern is the reasoning behind Perkasa’s “struggle.”

“The thing is, Malay rights have always been outlined, stated and guaranteed clearly by the Federal Constitution. I don’t see any logic in Perkasa’s rhetoric about protecting the Malays. The constitution has already provided a space for Malay rights, and it is never challenged.

“If there’s still dissatisfaction or unhappiness after all these years, then Perkasa’s target should be the government, where Umno, those in power have failed. Ibrahim should set his guns on Umno then,” Abdul Aziz  told The Malaysian Insider in a phone interview.

According to the law academic, Malays have never been in danger of losing their rights or position as the legal provision for that cannot be amended.

He also noted that many people are unaware or ignorant of these issues, therefore giving Perkasa the  ammunition it needs to propel support for its agenda.

“Frankly, I think this is an opportunity to keep Ibrahm afloat or politically relevant. I’m not sure whether he can retain his seat in the next general elections,” he added.

Abdul Aziz believed that Perkasa’s frontline stand on racial issues have made things very political, citing involving the Sultan of Selangor in officiating the group a bad move on its part.

“It is unfortunate to bring the Ruler in this situation. The Monarchy is retained to accomplish certain purposes and for all races. The Monarchy has to be above politics,” he declared.

PAS chief strategist Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad firmly believes that Perkasa is a vehicle for the extremist Umno members and is undermining Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1Malaysia concept.

“Najib has to take on Umno if he does not want Malaysia to be destabilised, he has to take on this hardline Malay issue. His silence on Perkasa’s role is not good because if Najib identifies with Perkasa’s political initiatives, his 1 Malaysia is finished,” Dzulkefly told The Malaysian Insider.

He also criticised Perkasa’s mission, dismissing it as having nothing to do with the concept of nation-building and merely “championing the rights of one race.’

When asked about Perkasa’s growing popularity, Dzulkefly argued that Perkasa is giving people a false perception that it was gaining support when in truth it was only preaching to the converted.

“This is a false perception that Perkasa is trying to paint, that they are somehow mobilising support. You are only talking to your own people, your supporters who are a minute minority within the Malay population who do not agree to Perkasa’s aims.

“The Umno members in Perkasa, they are still caught in the backward Umno politics of the past. The system has now shifted, it rejects racist politics.

“However, credit must be given when its due. Politicians within Umno like Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, and yes even Khairy Jamaluddin have spoken out against these kind of racist elements,” said the Kuala Selangor MP.

Selangor opposition leader and former state Umno chief Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo however maintained that Perkasa is relevant as it “has its own role to play,” but at the same time stated that it cannot be compared to Umno’s struggles.

“I think Perkasa is doing its job well, but you cannot compare it with Umno, Umno has its own principle. In Barisan National we need to learn how to give and take, how to take care of our component parties,” said the former Selangor Mentri Besar.

According to the politician, Perkasa, like many Chinese and Indian NGOs, is only pushing for Malay rights, and there no should be no cause for alarm because of that.

“There is nothing wrong with Perkasa. They are fighting for their own community needs, like so many other race-based NGOs.

“If there are no NGOs championing for the rights of the races, then we would have a real problem,” the Umno leader said.

Khir was the only one warm to Perkasa’s aims.

Professor Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, a political analyst with UKM said that there are no real figures to verify Perkasa’s supposed growth in popularity, and refuted that anyone should even take its president seriously.

“Who listens to Ibrahim Ali outside his family, friends and supporters in his constituency? Maybe, just maybe, there are sympathisers to his opinions, but they are just listeners.

“Those who take him seriously and feel threatened by him, who is just a court jester in Malay politics, must be themselves seriously very insecure personalities,” said Shamsul through a text message to The Malaysian Insider.

The politicial analyst claims that Ibrahim has also confused the meanings of “liberal” and “traditional” in reference to the Independent MP’s recent outburst against critics of Perkasa.

“In the past, Ibrahim Ali usually used terms, such as ‘liberal’ and ‘traditional’ in his rather simplistic literal sense to mean “liberal=not loyal” and “traditional=loyal.

“I don’t know why I am spending so much my valuable time on this ‘accidental politician’,” Shamsul Amri said.

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