Normally, I do not write book reviews. But the writer of "RESET: Rethinking the Malaysian Political Paradigm", Suflan Shamsuddin, is a reader of my blog and has posted several comments here. Suflan is a London based barrister. His book is not an academic work. He noted only a single piece of reference - The Real Malay by Frank Swettenham.
This is a political narrative bordering a personal opinion on what the Malaysian politics ought to be and what can be done to break the current impasse. In his preamble: "Many would blame Malaysia’s current political upheaval on decades of ineptitude, abuse, and race-based politics. Although the electoral "tsunami"suggests a rejection of past methods, an alignment on the way forward remains in doubt."
"RESET examines the fundamentals of Malaysia’s socio-political fabric and delivers an uncompromising analysis of the underlying causes of the nation’s current political crisis. It reveals our collective complicity and explains how, together, we might break the impasse."
Suflan recommends two proposals; First, his notion of hospitality which urges the Malay and non-Malay communities to treat each other as "abang angkat-adik angkat" (step brothers). Malay being the abang angkat (by seniority) is supposed to assist other communities (adik angkat) to settle into the society.
This notion is rather simplistic although I can fully understand Suflan's anxiety. He wants to breach the gap between communities and yet is cautious not to propose a fundamental leap which may upset the peace and stability.
In my earlier response to his post, I have pointed out to Suflan that this notion must be grounded on true historical perspective and take into consideration societal development over the last 50 years. Today, a community's seniority over the other is hard to determine. Intermarriages within and between communities have blurred the lines of our ethnicity.
Unfortunately, this theme is not fully examined in his book. Suflan mentions 'peranakan', Hang Li Poh and Zheng He only once in his entire thesis and fails to elaborate the significance of their existence pre-British colonial period. Many straits Chinese can trace their roots back to the early 15th century. Does this make them adik angkat (younger step brother)?
Suflan mentions about the social contract and argues why we should not interpret this contract in a cold and legal manner. However, he does not consider another strain of argument against the existence of this contract. Notably, Royal Professor Ungku Aziz denied the existence of social contract at a panel. I was honoured to be in the same panel with the eminent professor.
Suflan's groundbreaking work should explore this argument instead of accepting the convention. He should explore if the social contract does exist, in what form, who were the parties and what's the spirit of this contract?
I accept that the social contract, if exists, must not be interpreted in a cold and legal manner. A social contract is supposed to be dynamic and flexible. As a result, the contract should recognise the changing facets of the society. The 21st century Malaysian society is different from the one in 1957. Using the notion of hospitality, there should not be freshies anymore in this country after 51 years of independence and more than 685 years (since 1403) of co-existence.
Suflan's second proposal is equally captivating but difficult to put into practice. He proposes a change in the political structure by looking solely at the ethnic composition of political parties. He classifies political parties into two categories, namely, General Interest Party and Specific Interest Party. A GIP can only be allowed to contest in an election is its membership meets the racial breakdown of the society. SIP can form a coalition together with other SIPs and if the coalition membership base meets the requirement it will be allowed to take part in an election.
I am surprised that Suflan, after showing so much promise in his observation and criticism against race-based politics and dogmas, is caught in the very race-centric formula he criticises. His intention of wanting to achieve equal representation amongst all races can simply be achieved via a proportionate representation system. I fully agree with Suflan that the first-past-the-post system is not going to deliver us equitable representation due to our social demographic.
I salute Suflan for his succinct observation on the third wave of the Malay struggle. He points out that this struggle should be internal (introspective and intrinsic). He envisions the creation of a Malay with these four qualities: He takes personal accountability, he is achievement oriented, he has the capacity to independently understand and analyse a problem, and he plays by the book.
These four qualities encapsulate personal responsibility, meritocracy, self-determination and law abiding. Looking at the behaviour of some UMNO leaders, especially those who are prone to abuse power and rule by law, this qualities are aptly emphasised.
If you are interested to read RESET, I suggest that you focus on the sincerity of the writer. Do not expect the argument to be coherent and well structured. With this book, you should observe great patience. Suflan's proposal does not come until page 149 and his proposal is peppered with his personal narration and email exchanges with friends.
As a writer, I do not relish to review another writer's work. But I promised Suflan to do justice to his book. I promised him not to judge his book by its cover. I hope he will take my review with a pinch of salt.
Unlike mine, this book is available in most bookstores. Price is RM35.