The Politics of Colours

Malaysian politics, like the body politics elsewhere in the world, has its fair share of colours as symbols or as visual representations of political causes. But never before has colours and its different shades made a significant impact in the realm of Malaysian politics as it has done since the last General Elections in 2008.

Flag of the People’s Republic of China
(source : wikepedia.org)

Flag of the USSR,
also known as the Sickle and the Hammer
(source : wikepedia.org)

On the world scene, colours have long made its mark, with one of the major political references to colour that I can recollect being that of the colour red. No small thanks to Marx and Lenin and Mao Ze Dong, the colour red has been synonymous with the Communist Party of both the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR) and The People’s Republic of China (PRC) for as long as we can remember.

So synonymous was the colour red with the PRC that under the rule of the Communist Party, the PRC was more commonly known as Red China, especially so during the Cold War Era, as a means to differentiate the PRC from Taiwan, regarded as a rebel state by the PRC. And never has the relationship between the PRC and the colour red being more evident than in the sporting arena, with teams from the PRC always sporting red outfits.

USSR’s sporting teams also sported red outfits during international sporting events, and not surprisingly most teams from the old Communist bloc also wore red. This may or may not be down to the fact that the USSR, being the main Communist nation in the western hemisphere, always wore red and that they, being diffident to the USSR, decided to follow suit, just to affirm their political allegiances.

The breakup of the USSR also coincided with the appearance of a myriad of colours appearing onto the sporting arena as worn by teams representing the various states of the former USSR as well as the countries that were once members of the Soviet bloc (some of those countries do not exist anymore eg Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, amongst others). Wearing outfits with colours closely associated with their respective nations, these colours reflected the renewed hopes and aspirations of these mix of new (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Czech Republic, to name but a few) and existing nations (Romania, Bulgaria amongst others).

From the opposite side of the Cold War, Rev. Jesse Jackson’s reference to the colours of the rainbow sometime in the 1980s when making a bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination as candidate for the President of the United States, springs to mind. Jackson had the support of various special interests groups, so diverse and so varied that they were dubbed The Rainbow Coalition. But so diverse were their interests that ultimately cracks appeared within the coalition and as a result Jackson lost in his bid for the nomination, and lost again when he ran again for the nomination four years later.

Rev Jesse Jackson
(source : tlsbi.com)

One of the reasons put forward as to why Jackson lost in both his bids were the fact that his support base was so varied and diverse that had Jackson won, it was opined that a Jackson Administration could wrought havoc on the body politic. With various interest groups within the coalition fighting amongst themselves, it was further opined that a Jackson Administration would self implode. These possibilities weren’t being looked on too kindly by the movers and shakers of American politics, but had Jackson succeeded then, he could have been the US’s first black President and not Barack Obama, as it is today.

Elsewhere in the ASEAN region, yellow was the colour when Corazon Aquino took up the mantle her late husband’s untimely death left behind. So successful was she and the movement she headed that the then President Ferdinand Marcos was deposed and martial law was finally lifted. It was then People’s Power became a byword in international politics, rightly or wrongly.

In Thailand, colours made a grand entrance into Thai politics. When the then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted, his supporters took to the streets wearing red t-shirts. In response, an opposing faction, being deemed as anti Thaksin and pro royalist, also took to the streets wearing yellow. Things got a bit heated up, to put it mildly, that it became a battle between the yellow shirts and the red shirts and that was how it was known.

The Battle of the Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts
(source : khonkaen.ws)

If yellow was the victor in the Philippines, then red can be deemed as the victor in Thailand when Thaksin’s youngest sister stood for elections and won, to become Thailand’s first woman Prime Minister. As for Thaksin, he is no more in self-imposed exile and from all accounts, has regained his Thai international passport, thanks no less to his youngest sister.

Closer to home, the colour yellow also took to the streets, as the colour of choice for a movement more known for the violent and disruptive conduct of some of its supporters, more than anything else. The colour yellow taking to the streets were in turn met with the colour blue, with the boys in blue trying hard not to let the colour yellow get out of control and not to get bashed (or kicked) in the head in the process.

Yellow is respected as the colour of the Malaysian royalty as it is also in Thailand. Therefore it is a pity and a shameful state of affairs that the colour yellow gets hijacked by this particular movement and by its supporters, what more so by being tarnished by irresponsible acts of violence. The colour should be treated with respect and be left well alone, leaving it only for the use of the national teams in the sporting arena as well as in the Royal standards.

The colour green has always been associated with Islam and because it proclaims itself as the party championing Islam (although the actions of the party and that some of its leaders may say otherwise), the colour green is synonymous with  PAS. With PAS now forming the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) together with PKR and the DAP, and adopting new policies that has raised the ire of traditional PAS followers, the colour green may soon give way to another colour, one that reflects their affiliation with their new-found partners. What that colour may be is anyone’s guess.

The same colour is also adopted by the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), although it may be of a different shade of green.

Dato’ Onn Jaafar, 1st President of UMNO
Campaigning against the Malayan Union
(source : siapamoyanganda.com)

The colour red is associated with UMNO, as red symbolises bravery in Malay culture and NOT communism as it was in the case of USSR and Mao’s China. It must be stated that it took a lot of guts for UMNO leaders to face down the British on the issue of the Malayan Union despite the British being a world superpower then. And to insist the Malay Rulers reject the Malayan Union knowing that the act could be interpreted as being treasonous in Malay culture, also took guts. Lots of it.

This is historical fact and recorded as such, although there have been attempts to make these sacrifices irrelevant in today’s Malaysia. And it took lots more guts and a lot of sacrifice (both spiritually and materially) to demand for Independence and upon Independence, more sacrifices had to be made for all concerned to develop the country to what it is today.

Blue (a different shade of blue compared to the Royal Malaysian Police) is associated with Barisan Nasional (BN), that coalition of parties bringing all the races in Malaysia under one roof, sharing power for the development and prosperity of the country. Not a bad formula, bearing in mind the country has been ruled by first, the Alliance and then by the Barisan Nasional ever since free elections were held in this country (despite what some people may say).

As for UMNO and PAS, both have the same design for the party flag, with the slight difference being at the centre of the parties’ respective flags, which reflects the origins of PAS as being an offshoot of UMNO.

Tunku Abdul Aziz
Former Vice Chairman, DAP
(source : nst.com.my)

Ironically, despite the colour red being more associated with the Chinese community, all Chinese-dominated parties tend to adopt white as their colour of choice. A sign of purity of heart maybe? A sense of righteousness? Well, action speak louder than words, and in the case of the DAP, we will have to refer to Tunku Aziz, the former Vice Chairman of the party for a clearer picture.

The politics of colours makes for an interesting study, if one is observant enough. It reflects the political affiliations as well as the community adopting it. It would not be surprising that colours that have yet to be adopted may suddenly find itself the centre of attention in the near future. Who knows? The essence of politics is perception and colours, next to flags, has always been a form of rallying the masses for a cause.

But in the meantime, any thoughts on indigo and magenta?

4 thoughts on “The Politics of Colours

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