Umno presidential debateJUNE 22 — I was being my usual optimistic self about the future of the country, but he insisted that Umno would never die. This conversation happened several months ago.

Barisan Nasional (BN) later lost the 14th general election even though Umno emerged as the biggest party in Parliament with 54 seats.

Malaysians, however, don’t like losers. So various politicians defected from BN, allowing Pakatan Harapan (PH) to form the state government in Perak  and to get two-thirds majority in Johor, whose mentris besar are from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).

In the case of Perak, karma’s a bitch.

However, in general, the defection of elected lawmakers to other parties soon after an election is despicable. If another party wins the 15th general election, will these unprincipled politicians then flock to the new party?

The election of a new federal government for the first time in history should finally allow the functioning of a proper democracy, where power is decentralised to state governments and votes on Bills in Parliament or in the state legislative assembly are not subject to the party whip.

Lawmakers from various parties should be free to demand policies in the interest of their constituents in exchange for their conditional support for certain Bills pushed by the federal government, which is what I am hoping Sabah and Sarawak parties will do.

The root of race-based politics, however, did not die in the 2018 election.

Merdeka Center reportedly estimated that 35 to 40 per cent of Malays voted for BN, 30 to 33 per cent backed PAS, and only 25 to 30 per cent supported PH. It appears that PAS had taken some Malay support from Umno, not split the PH vote as widely assumed.

It remains to be seen what Umno will do. But if they believe they have a shot at winning the 15th general election and work at it for the next five years, instead of winding up with assets at hand, then Umno may choose to be a fundamentalist and extreme Malay-Muslim party on its own, without having to bother with non-Malay BN component parties.

It would be difficult for BN (whatever is left of it) to counter the 95 per cent Chinese support for PH in the 2018 election. The declining Chinese proportion of Malaysian society due to slow population growth also means that the Chinese vote will be less significant in upcoming elections, if political parties remain race-based.

But the new PH government, emboldened with support from Sabah and Sarawak parties, has the power to stop overt racism in politics and prevent the rise of fundamentalism.

PH can easily enact a law to make it illegal to form race-based and religious-based associations, including political parties, while exempting places of worship from this rule.

Why should there be any association open only to one ethnic group? Why must there be Chinese associations or Chinese guilds?

Surely we don’t need to set up exclusive clubs to protect our culture and language. If we want to promote our heritage, wouldn’t it make more sense to open up to everyone so they can learn about it together with us?

If we really want to build a new and equal Malaysian society, then “Chinese rights” must be given up just as much as “hak Melayu.”

As Malaysia’s first alternative government that made reform its rallying cry, PH should take the first step and open up PPBM to non-Malays so that they can run for office in the party and be equal members.

PPBM should change its mission and vision so it does not specifically champion the interests of Malays and Muslims. Parti Amanah Negara, likewise, should remove Islam from its objectives.

Umno, PAS, MCA, MIC, and Sabah and Sarawak ethnic-based parties, similarly, must be compelled under the law to open up and provide the same membership benefits to non-Malays, non-Bumiputera, and non-Muslims.

Since PKR, a multiracial party, has the most Parliament seats in PH at 49, PKR can take the lead and open up the entire coalition to Malaysians across race and religion.

If the DAP can differentiate itself from MCA by letting go its conservative Chinese stance on vernacular schools, then far more ordinary Malay members may join the DAP so that it will not be a multi-racial party only in name.

PH in 2018 is no more multi-racial than the Alliance in 1955.

The difference is, in this new age with an incredible amount of public goodwill, PH can make short-term sacrifices to eradicate race-based politics once and for all.