Of moderates and extremists: Labels won’t help, M’sia needs a unifying path

By Datuk Zaid Ibrahim


RECENTLY, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad lampooned Sungei Pelek state assemblyman Ronnie Liew as an extremist (together with Penang deputy chief minister P Ramasamy), with Lim Guan Eng and Lim Kit Siang defined as moderates.

The ruckus was started when Liu called on DAP to retain its “Chineseness”, as its character and identity need to reflect the majority members of the party. As a former member, I think this name-calling by the former premier and labelling some party members as extremists and others moderates is unhelpful and divisive. It is also not accurate!

I joined DAP to see if they were extremists and chauvinists, and found that they are no different from Malays who joined Malay-based or Islamic parties. Some of my former colleagues in Umno, and other Malay based parties, were passionate when defending Malay rights and privileges, and they too appeared, on occasions, to fit the “extremists” label to those looking from the outside.

One could even say that the PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s insistence that only Muslims should be leaders of the country as an “extremism”.

In a country still grappling with itself, divided by schisms of race, religion and class, and failing in its search for its national identity, it is not surprising that certain communal leaders expressed themselves in language which is not normally associated with what we call as “moderate” or reflect mainstream identity.

They are not sure what that mainstream or moderate identity is. They may want to push forward their community’s interests, and in doing so, sound very extreme.

Nation building failed, inclusive narrative a must

This is our failing in nation building; to make every citizen embrace a unifying theme of what constitutes this single national identity. We have no national characteristics to articulate, to be proud of, and no political underpinnings to serve as a foundation so we can together bind and cement our sense of nationhood.

So, perhaps let us judge our leaders and politicians on what they do and not what they say. Let us not be quick to label one another as such things exacerbate our division and bring disunity.

As for Liu, he won his seat of Sungei Pelek, which is a Malay majority area with only 28% Chinese voters. If he is indeed a chauvinist and an extremist, he would be a dead duck during the election.

He is controversial, that is for sure, and Liu does not always express himself in an agreeable tone; but having known him, I think he will continue to serve his constituency well, whatever label he carries.

As for DAP, they too have to be sure of themselves. There is no need to go to extra length to “differentiate themselves”, say from other major parties, especially Umno. They have different political and economic ideas, but that does not mean they need to “look down” on those whose political message is perceived to be different.

We are all searching for a unifying factor to get the country moving forward, and so the less we look at our differences, the better. Instead, let us look at how to make use of the mutual strength of the parties can build this country.

We have no choice but learn to work together. Collaboration need not always be in the ideal form, but what is workable is good enough. Our country is in an impossible situation right now, which collectively we must set right. – April 22, 2021


Datuk Zaid Ibrahim is a former Law Minister and this post was first published on his Facebook.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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