Is BN guilty of criminal negligence?

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The BN has failed to explain the Constitution and the so-called Social Contract to the people, says Hishamuddin Yahaya.

Hishamuddin Yahaya: It’s either do away with race-based political parties or stay race-based, in which case the country would forever remain divided along racial lines

Are our efforts to foster racial unity really doddering, as alleged by some? Indications are that they are. Incidents involving people in responsible positions making derogatory racial remarks all point to that direction. What these people said is too sensitive to quote here. But suffice to say they were derogatory and racist remarks, which no amount of apology will erase.

Again what prompted the PM to give a stern warning that the government would not tolerate such sensitive issues being raised by any quarter? The answer is simply that racial unity is still elusive, and unless programmed and implemented wisely, it will not easily be achieved.

I am prompted to reminisce about what the late Koh Kai Boh, a Cabinet Minister prior to the May 13 incident, said when he came to Malaysia Hall, London to give a briefing on the situation, weeks after the infamous incident. Among other things, he said, “the government is guilty of criminal negligence in not teaching and explaining to the people our constitution.” Had that been done, he said, the racial riot could not have occurred. The late Koh Kai Boh himself was a lawyer.

In short, what the former Minister meant was, had the people understood their respective rights and obligations under the country’s principal law, things would automatically have fallen into place and the racial outburst would not have occurred. Understanding the constitution would also teach the people that to be a Malaysian is not just to be a Malay, Chinese or Indian, but to assume a nationality that is ‘Malaysian’. Race is relegated to nationality and only becomes relevant when applying personal laws such as marriages and other customary practices.

The United Kingdom is relevant example. All citizens are British, not English or Scottish or Welsh. Though, to a small extent, regional sentiments still exist, but on a common front, they are one people, “British”.

So-called ‘Social Contract’

Forty one years later, the BN government still carries the same sin, as pointed out by the late Koh Kai Boh. In fact, another negligence has been added to that: the BN’s failure to explain what the so-called “Social Contract” is about. Many do not know the existence of the Social Contract and have heard it only for the first time. Others think that it is a created thing to justify the BN’s failure to achieve the target for Bumiputra economic participation. If, as some quarters allege, a breach by one party of this alleged Social Contract is the reason for Malays lagging behind economically, then a manipulation of the issue could create something really frightening.

As a 71-year-old, I think the so-called Social Contract is best described as a vague, unpublished agreement, concealed from public knowledge and made to surface at a convenient time, purely for the BN’s political exigency. But this is an issue too dangerous to toy about with. As citizens, we have the absolute right to forewarn the powers-that-be that there are other ways of gaining political support. Do not follow the aphorism that in a time of storm, any port will do. It is simply self-destructive. And we know that the BN is now in a precarious position.

So that brings us the question how a country ruled by a coalition of race-based parties will fare with the One Malaysia concept or any other racial-integration pro-gramme for that matter. As each party’s policy is governed by decisions made in the party’s convention, we wonder how consensus in Cabinet meetings can be reached on issues touching on race or a particular community. But even when a “forced” concensus is reached, when the issue comes unstuck, it could invite disguised retaliation, which would only exacerbate misunderstanding and dissatisfaction. So that will take us back to square one.

Every race-based political party has a communal drive, which is the reason for its successful formation. Spurred on by a feisty party symbol, a race-based party’s move along chauvinistic lines is something ‘natural’ and to be expected; after all, race or communal interest is its raison’d etre, without which it would not exist.

One has only to attend any race-based political party’s convention and listen to the delegates’ speeches to realise how racist their members are. It may sound mortifying to these party members but it’s the stark reality.

This is the foremost issue that each Malaysian will have to think about seriously. It’s either do away with race-based political parties or stay race-based, in which case the country would forever remain divided along racial lines and the One Malaysia concept would never be achieved. And, in which case, the ISA would be needed even more than ever before. Now, the choice is ours!

Dato Hishamuddin Yahaya is a lawyer and former MP for Maran.

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