This thesis examines the evolution of Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (I am Malaysian) from a civil society organisation [CSO] to a social movement organisation [SMO] leading to a social movement with broader networks for reform. Formed at the end of 2007, when Malaysia was undergoing a turbulent time due to repression and victimisation of the non-Malay/Muslim communities, political scandals, and economic mismanagement caused by the UMNO-led BN (Khoo, 2018), SABM had two goals. Firstly, to create a Bangsa Malaysia through its “One Nation, One People” Malaysian civic nationalism campaign, a counter-hegemonic movement to challenge the United Malay National Organisation’s [UMNO] Malay/Islamist ethnic nationalism, and secondly, to form a new left-inclined ‘hegemonic articulation’ free from ethnic- and religious-based politics (Laclau & Mouffe, 2001).
As a CSO, SABM aimed to enlighten fellow Malaysians through its “think and act Malaysian” socialisation process to participate in a ‘Malaysian’ political community instead of narrowly a ‘Malay’, ‘Chinese’ or ‘Indian’ political community. SABM hoped this would encourage the creation of a Bangsa Malaysia which is reminiscent of Anderson’s (1991) inclusive ‘imagined community’. Although the consociational democratic framework was put in place prior to the nation’s liberation from Britain with the hope that it would unite the deeply divided society and encourage the development of a Malaysian nationalism, this power-sharing agreement has only entrenched ethnic divisions and identity-based politics. This failure has also been caused by the so-called ‘social contract’, a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ among the Alliance leaders to grant the UMNO the dominant position within the coalition in exchange for the Chinese’ and Indians’ rights to citizenship (Puthucheary, 2005). This has enabled the UMNO to impose its ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) and ketuanan Islam (supremacy of Islam) on the non-Malay communities.
During the period in which SABM was formed at the end of 2007, there was also a significant rise in other pro-reform CSOs and non-governmental organisations [NGOs], and this saw the emergence of the Malaysian reform social movement. To extend this movement, SABM became a SMO, in which it assisted and participated in various social movement activities organized by the Malaysian reform social movement (Christiansen, 2009). Despite operating in a repressed political environment, the internet and social media enabled the Malaysian reform social movement to mobilise Malaysians for collective action. This also applied to SABM, which employed both the ‘logic of connective action’ and ‘logic of collective action’ to expand its own social movement (Bennett & Segerberg 2012). Whilst the former is a strategy which makes use of personalised action frames that are disseminated and shared through its website and social media networks, the latter utilises conventional methods used by advocacy groups including collaborating with other CSOs and NGOs that are autonomous in their own right and share SABM’s aspiration for a Malaysian civic nationalism.
Commencing with an in-depth analysis from a historical materialist perspective in how Malaysia became a deeply divided society, this thesis then proceeds to examine the voices of counter-power and resistance of SABM members to understand how and why they disaffiliated themselves from the UMNO’s dominant discourse, and how they conceptualised their notion of “One People, One Nation” to create a Bangsa Malaysia. This is followed by a discussion of the strategies they employed, connective and otherwise, to advance this social movement, and the various challenges it faced.