Racial politics is toxic and contaminates justice

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Cartoon: Zunar

We need to remove the emphasis on race and unleash the potential of all Malaysians so they can contribute to the wellbeing of the nation, writes K Haridas

The present prime minister claims that he is prime minister for all Malaysians.

This is a fact, but is this the reality shared by everyone? I have to ask myself serious questions. While I respect the office of the prime minister, I do also accept the fact that the PM also has to earn the respect of all Malaysians. It is in this context that I have many serious questions.

A man who once called himself Malay first and Malaysian second does not inspire confidence in people, in particular the younger generation. Yes, he was just being honest about how racialised the country had become. His ideas would resonate with those who share the same mindset. I have greater expectations from him as PM.

Most Malaysians would agree that while we have particular ethnic identities, we are known to the world as Malaysians, holding a Malaysian identity card (and those who travel, with Malaysian passports), singing the same national anthem, respecting the same flag. How else can the several dozen ethnic identities in Malaysia coalesce and work for the common good?

However, if a Chinese or Indian Malaysian were to say that they were Chinese or Indian first, then they would probably be reprimanded by the “ketuanan Melayu” (Malay supremacists) elites.

The British used to call their rule on the Indian subcontinent the British Raj, and they ruled India for nearly 300 years. One wonders if ketuanan Melayu is trying to assert itself using a similar outdated mindset.

What do you say about leaders who, over the course of five decades, have come out with the Rukunegara, Vision 2020 and 1Malaysia, to mention a few. These are all slogans, and today we can conclude that these are merely utterances from the mouths of politicians out to secure our votes.

They have actually not imbibed such inclusive ideas. Such ideas have not inspired them. They have not committed to these ideas as part of their political cause. Often these slogans are the product of think tanks, who then ‘sell’ them to politicians.

In the end, the remaining Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition parties are mostly racially oriented. Each appeals to ethnic interests and, only to a lesser extent, the Malaysian cause.

Mahathir is the epitome of our leadership. Here was a man who had the capacity to build a multi-ethnic coalition but missed the opportunity by founding the Bersatu party only for Malays. Mahathir has long had personal identity problems, and that is why he has always postured himself to be more Malay than even the Malays.

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Mahathir’s so-called popular Malay party, Bersatu, under his leadership, could only bag 12 out of the 54 parliamentary seats it contested. If Mahathir was so popular with the Malays, his party should have done far better. The party’s number of seats has since grown because “frogs” (defectors) have jumped into the party.

We have kept faith with this man, but when the chips are down, he repeatedly fails us badly. He even tried a national unity government (which he planned to helm, of course), but this venture failed because he suffered from a serious trust deficit.

Lack of integrity

Because of the lack of integrity amongst the constituent parties within the ruling “Perikatan Nasional” (National Alliance) this is an experiment that, over time, is doomed to failure. A loose alliance, it is not bound by any larger cause than ketuanan Melayu.

Racial politics is the biggest poison in Malaysian politics. It gives short-term results, but in the long term, it divides the nation.

Consider the representation amongst the 70 appointed ministers and deputy ministers. We have some sell-outs within the MIC and the MCA whose presence attempts to give PN some multi-ethnic legitimacy. About 28% of the population would feel very under-represented. But the PM claims he represents all Malaysians.

“Look for three things in a person – intelligence, energy and integrity. If they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two,” says Warren Buffett. How many in the present ruling coalition party are persons of integrity? You cannot have integrity if you do not have honesty, and without honesty you can never have trust. 

What is integrity? It is about honesty and trust in all your dealings – personal, interpersonal, with your peers, with those below you and those you report to. It is only in Malaysia that we have an Institute for Integrity – as if you can train people to become persons of integrity.

Only those with a deep commitment to values and moral standards in their personal lives can translate these into their politics, governance and responsibilities. This seems soundly lacking. Where are the mentors? So many individuals have milked the system to their advantage that they do not have clean hands; hence their inability to stand firm and speak out.

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If you have people who are defecting, however legal this may be, who keep on signing statutory declarations and then changing their minds, who defect because of power and positions, then can such leaders be described as politicians with integrity?

Over the years we have heard cries of money politics. Yet no one has had the moral strength and conviction to tackle this issue and come out with policies to fight it because politics is seen as an easy means of wealth creation.

Consider a former MIC leader with fabulous wealth and an MCA leader whose son was such a “genius” he became a billionaire in his twenties. Let’s not forget the many Umno warlords and the wealth they have secured at the expense of many fisherfolk and farmers they represent. Can words like character and integrity be used to describe such mercenary politicians?

The present ruling coalition is one of convenience, and the trust levels within and between the coalition members are tenuous. The articles in social media relating to Muhyiddin’s role while Menteri Besar of Johor and the video where he says he would never return to Umno discredit him.

You have Mahathir and his Bersatu party, which secretly hopes to see the end of Umno and become the leading Malay party.

Then you have Umno, which wants to resurrect itself and secure resources critical for its preparation for the next general election. One can assess by the ministries they hold how Umno has been kept in check within the present ruling alliance.

By joining Muhyiddin’s coalition of convenience, Umno may have to pay a high price. They may find themselves divided and, in the process, even marginalised. With Mahathir around, it looks as if Umno has not learned its lesson. One is out to swallow the other, and the party in power has some advantages. Despite being Malay parties, there is no love lost when it comes to power and money!

Whatever anyone may say about Pakatan Harapan, they seem to be a solid opposition. They have had their turncoats, but the core is stable. They represent a cause and belief in Reformasi (the reform agenda), which is seen by some Malay elites as a threat.

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These elites have plundered this nation and continue to do so under the cover of “race, religion and royalty”. There are many undisclosed Malays with extraordinary wealth, and with the late Jamaluddin Jarjis and Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, we have seen two of them – the tip of the iceberg.

How many of these wealthy elites have paid their proper taxes on time? Last year, it was reported that the federal government was seeking almost RM1.7bn in additional taxes from former Prime Minister Najib Razak for the years 2011 until 2017. Similarly, the government is seeking unpaid taxes from three of Najib’s children.

Obsession with race must end

The obsession with race corrupts and contaminates society. We need leadership that is just, inclusive and fair. For over 50 years, we have had the BN government and increasingly, the system is dominated by a particular ethnic group, be it the civil service, the army, the navy, the air force and the police. The same can be said about education and the management of government-linked companies.

To get another Malaysian – a non-Malay or even a Christian bumiputera – appointed to any senior positions becomes a problem and is seriously questioned. This is unfair and hurts the integrity of Islam. Unlike the Dutch Reform Church during the apartheid era, Islam does not condone racial discrimination.

We need to decontaminate the future by removing the emphasis on race. We need to respect all Malaysians and unleash their potential so they can contribute to the wellbeing of the nation. Only in this way can we value one another and empower everyone to have a sense of belonging.

Those who play the race game will eventually destroy themselves. Islamic teachings would not condone their actions. The present ruling alliance lacks politicians of character who will do what is right by Malaysia and all Malaysians.

The fight is between elite political Malays, and the issue here is not race but greed, lust, envy and jealousy brought about by the rent-seeking mentality that has evolved over the last five decades. Our politicians need an inner jihad if they are to rise above this.  

There will be those who will blame the DAP for instigating all these divisions because they lack the capacity to look at themselves. Peace is not just the absence of war but equally the presence of justice. This has to be practised and felt in tangible ways.

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J. D. Lovrenciear
17 Mar 2020 11.13am

Indeed the writer has spoken with integrity and down right honesty. Such penning can only come from a heart that is truly patriortic and lives a life of deeds. Thank you Sir. Hope this article becomes a core material for our politicians who should go for a compulsory reflection camp.