The way forward is for Malaysians to work as common citizens, with ethno-religious identities playing a minimum role in national consciousness, writes Ronald Benjamin.
The coming general election on 5 May 2013 is going to be a defining moment for Malaysians who desire change in the way country is governed.
There were several arguments on the both sides of the political divide. The argument that caught my attention is the write up to The Malaysian Insider titled ‘Voting for ethnic harmony’ by Dr Chandra Muzaffar. He states in a nutshell that Pas and the DAP are not fit to govern because of its ideological orientations, which will widen even further the chasm that divides Malaysian communities. Therefore, if a victory for the opposition will result in a divided Malaysia, how then can Umno, the MCA and the MIC (who jealously guide their ethnic political identity by closing the doors to other ethnic groups) not widen the chasm among Malaysian communities especially among the younger
Dr Chandra states in his article that Barisan National has proven its credentials in defusing ethnic tensions over the years, but that does not portray the source of ethnic tensions and how it has been dealt with over the years.
The claim that Barisan National has defused ethnic tensions arising from certain events such as the 2010 sporadic attacks on churches, mosques and a Gurdawara ignores the fact that it was the political practices of the ruling party that led to such attacks. Is it not true that the current entrenched elitist-based ethno-political establishment, when it finds itself challenged for accountability, resorts to ethno-centric fears that trigger extreme behaviors? Is it not that too much focus on the identity of ethno-religious groups has led to a similar response by other ethno-religious groups?
How can ethnic harmony be built under such a political framework? For example, the 1990 general election was one of the most ethno-centric general elections held. The scenario of a Christian state was created, and Umno invited Pas to join in its struggle to oppose the so-called threat to Muslim rule, which culminated in the tengkolok salib issue. This led to a change in voting behaviour in the peninsula at the time.
In 1987, the squabble between Umno and the MCA over the Chinese school headmasters controversy came to a head. Ethnic tension reared its ugly head when Umno Youth, headed by current Prime Minister Najib Razak, held a demonstration in protest against its ally.
Dr Mahathir used this event as an opportunity, to detain opposition figures as well as Dr Chandra Muzzafar and a number of social activists who had no connection to the issue. The ISA was used in name of ethnic harmony and national security, when the real motive of the Mahathir regime was to muzzle growing dissent among vocal groups to his autocratic rule.
It is surprising that Chandra has forgotten these events making his article lack objectivity in a real sense. He has failed to acknowledge that race-based emotions have been used as a convenient buffer to protect the powerful from accountability on issues such as abuse of power, corruption and the growing economic gap between the rich and the poor.
Therefore, it vital for discerning Malaysians to understand history and culture provided by the constitution that would help forge ethnic harmony – but not in a way that supports an ethnic framework that reinforces ethnic identity using history and culture and identity as convenient tools to divert the nation from real issues such abuse of power, corruption and the glaring gap between the rich and the poor.
The way forward is for Malaysians to work as common citizens, with ethno-religious identities playing a minimum role in national consciousness. This means rejecting exclusive race- and religious-basd base political parties, which would ultimately encourage them to open up their political parties to other ethnic groups. Voting for ethnic harmony starts here.