A paradigm based on ethnicity cannot give birth to an inclusive mindset. For patriots this is the time to risk going for change, writes K Haridas.
When the perception grew that the call for ‘Merdeka’ had begun to lose its unifying message there arose a need to consider possible uniting factors critical for managing a multi-ethnic nation. It was at this point in time that overarching and transcending factors required to be developed that could appeal to all sectors of the Malaysian community.
The basic tenets were already being considered in the context of achieving greater unity while maintaining a democratic way of life in the hope of creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation could be equitably shared.
A commitment to a liberal approach unifying the nation’s rich and diverse cultural traditions was envisaged with the goal of building a progressive society orientated towards embracing developments in modern science and technology.
Out of these aspirations the ‘Rukunegara’ evolved to guide the nation so that together Malaysians could tackle the challenges ahead. This provided the space where citizens could pursue their dialogue with one another in the quest for equality.
The ‘Rukunegara’ aimed at providing the vertical relationship between the citizen and the state and the horizontal relationship between citizen and citizen. It was a pledge by the people to attain these ends guided by these principles:
- Belief in God
- Loyalty to king and country
- Upholding the constitution
- Rule of law
- Good behaviour and morality.
This was envisaged to give birth, as it was hoped, to a new attitude out of which would be born a renewed sense of solidarity and togetherness based not on power but on shared goals. The ‘Rukunegara’ was to be the driver for the two-prong New Economic Policy (NEP), which aimed at the eradication of poverty irrespective of race and the restructuring of society through the removal of race identification with regard to vocation or location.
Following the riots of May 1969, there was the justifiable aspiration that political power also needed to be supported by economic strength. This led to the goals of economic restructuring aimed at ensuring that 30 per cent of the growing economic cake over the next 20-year period (1970-1990) would be in the hands of the Bumiputras.
In 1970 the economic cake was largely in the hands of foreign enterprise and Chinese Malaysians. Malay and Indian Malaysians hardly shared 1 per cent of the economic cake even though the indentured Indian labourers and the Chinese miners contributed much to the 60 per cent foreign ownership The goal was to reduce the foreign holdings from 60 per cent to 40 per cent, while increasing the bumi participation to 30 per cent and maintaining the Chinese Malaysian hold on the economy at 30 per cent.
In the light of the ‘Rukunegara’ this social contract was agreed upon and endorsed as policy. Various positive discrimination policies were put in place like quotas and controls so as to ensure that social justice would be achieved in the long run. All this was crafted by a multi-ethnic group under the National Operations Council (NOC). The ethnically based Barisan Nasional government (BN) then undertook the task of implementing this programme.
Today, not much is mentioned about the ‘Rukunegara’ except that our children study it in school. The NEP has moved from being a 20-year policy to one that continues to this day with discrimination of all sorts.
Forty years on and with all the instruments and institutions of government under bumiputra hands, the BN government wants everyone to believe that the goals have not yet been achieved. This is the ‘politics of statistics’ promoted by an incompetent government to sustain its hegemonic control.
The non-Malays are easy scapegoats and many still believe that they are the reason why the targets have not been met. This further highlights the incapacity of the BN government to conduct itself in an open and transparent manner.
One of the cardinal reasons for the failure of the NEP as well as the notion of the Rukunegara was because it was born out of a multi-ethnic paradigm under the National Operations Council (NOC). This could not sustain its proper growth and development through a narrow race-based paradigm whose race-based priorities undercut the notions of overall social justice, equality and national unity.
What do we now see but a more polarised Malaysia that continues to live on slogans like ‘Malaysia, truly Asia’. The Rukunegara and the goals of the NEP have been continually debased by race polemics and the stress on stability has provided both justification and cover for continued exploitation, corruption and nepotism to sustain the status quo.
What does ‘Belief in God’ mean when we cannot even have inter-faith dialogues; where even the use of the word ‘Allah” becomes controversial.
Loyalty to King and Country. How does one equate this to the levels of corruption that besets the Royal Malaysian Police, the Customs, the Immigration and the Civil Service, which has increasingly become a rent-seeking service as opposed to one that aims at providing quality service and delivery to the Malaysian people. In addition the politically corrupt elite through nepotism and cronyism continuously milk the system to favour the BNputras.
On ‘upholding the Constitution’, another tenet, it would be best to quote the late Indian Jurist N A Palkhihivala, who in addressing his countrymen in his book ‘We the People’ says, “To my countrymen who gave unto themselves the Constitution but not the ability to keep it, who inherited a resplendent heritage but not the wisdom to cherish it, who suffer and endure in patience without the perception of their potential.”
On the tenet of ‘rule of law’, we can safely say that Mahathir through his strong-arm tactics amended this to read ‘rule by law’.
Lastly we have ‘good behaviour and morality’. While much cannot be said for our politicians on both sides of the divide one must heave a sigh of relief at Anwar Ibrahim’s acquittal by the court.
What can we say about our PM with the shadows of both the Altantunya murder and alleged corruption surrounding the submarine sales looming, Chua Soi Lek and his sexual exploits, the earlier embarrassment cast on our present ambassador to the US, the ‘Dato T’s’ and now the National Feedlot and Copgate scandals. There are more scandals emerging out of BN than the whole of the Opposition put together. I think the BN should review this tenet should they consider bringing the ‘Rukunegara’ up to date in time and reality. While there may be a lack of perfection, the Opposition as a whole has relatively a lot less to be embarrassed about.
The NEP continues to be the sacred cow. Its overall objectives were lost and it was reduced to being a tool to achieve race hegemony. At the end of the day, we still have a situation where race is identified with vocation. Look at the Malaysian Army, the Navy, the Malaysian civil service, the staff at the higher echelons of public universities and one can see how the NEP has been manipulated by ethnicity and the fear of instability to perpetuate Malay hegemony.
This has left many Malaysians who are non-Malays, other bumiputras and Orang Asli to regard themselves as second-class citizens in a country where their parents contributed greatly to the economic well being and even served in concentration camps defending the nation during the Japanese invasion.
While the 1970s saw initial implementation, the eighties under the leadership of Dr Mahathir with his ‘clean efficient and trustworthy’ government saw further lopsided emphasis. He wanted to create 100 Malay millionaires and the net result is there for all to see. It was shameless greed using licensing and other government patronage be it the Approved Permits (APs) or the red forms that constituted Initial Public Offerings, which eventually saw about RM50bn just disappear from bumiputra hands as they sold it back in the market.
Corruption soared and we had scandal after scandal be it Maminco and the cornering of the tin market; the two Bank Bumi fiascos; Markuasa, Perwaja, MAS and PKFTZ to mention a few out of nearly 20 multi-million and billion ringgit scandals. Very few, if any, of those responsible have been brought to justice.
Through the 1990s, with his strong arm tactics as evidenced by ‘Operations Lalang’, the use of the Official Secrets Act, ISA and the Printing Presses and Publications Act, Mahathir singularly cracked the separation of powers between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, weakening all these institutions of government while strengthening Malay hegemony. The MCA and MIC were recipients of the largesse as is evidenced by all the scandals surrounding their leaders. This was BN acting in concert.
The structure defines and shapes the contents. Justice and equality were the end goals of the NEP with the Rukunegara providing the enabling spirit and common shared values. When this was taken over from the NOC and implemented by race-based parties, it was like giving a garland to monkeys.
Race-based parties as we have seen cannot transcend race-based priorities. Hence they all visualise it from their ethnic lenses and their party colours and speak to their own ghettoes. They derive power from these ghettoes and this determines their specific outcomes and goals.
The tenets of the Rukunegara were so violated that it remains today a Charter to be referred to without substance. Had the BN evolved and become the main enabler, a coalition party where the sum of its parts were no bigger that the main then there could have been a possibility. On the contrary, BN was merely a facade; and as we have seen over the last few decades, it is the component race-based parties that have been more significant and powerful.
If this is the continuing scenario, what hope is there for us with all the promises being given by the present government? We have seen the cynicism around the Rukunegara, Vision 2020, Islam Hadhari and now 1Malaysia. They are suffering from paradigm paralysis and there is no way the BN can be the vehicle that provides justice and fairness for all Malaysians.
We have to move away from this race-based paradigm which promotes a narrow mindset if we want to dream of becoming a progressive and united nation where all Malaysians feel an equal sense of belonging.
Our politicians are victims of this paradox, fragmented individuals, who are primarily ethnic-focussed but also have to sound multi-ethnic. This is why we see glaring inconsistencies, which make many become cynical. They speak about a united Malaysia and a 1Malaysia on the one hand and then wield the keris at the next occasion. It is as though ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ and the ‘1Malaysia’ ideas can co-exist in their fragmented minds.
The coming together as a coalition may have been a good beginning but it definitely has not even achieved the objective of coalescing the difference component parties into a single party that represents the interests of all Malaysians.
We cannot keep painting our cabins with their ethnic colours when the ship is sinking and we lack a captain who can lead all of us and steer our ship to its rightful destiny. It is not that one has to be anti-BN but one must realise that if something has not worked we will have to reform it. We have had 55 years of Independence and nearly 42 years of the NEP. What do we see but polarisation in education, employment, opportunities and benefits. This is the tangible factual outcome.
It is incumbent on us thus to ask difficult questions and make those difficult decisions for the choices we make now will determine the destiny of our nation, our children and grandchildren in the years ahead. Is the opposition any better? This is a challenging question but they do provide a choice that is not race based and an alternative paradigm based on justice, democracy and equality.
They are outlining policies that seem more just and fair. What have we to lose because the BN formula as it remains is just not going to work. We cannot remain stupid for another five years committed to a formula that has failed us for decades. It will only succeed in further polarising our nation; this requires fear to sustain it.
Race-based parties react to one another as has been evident over the last five decades. From such reactions, only further polarisation can result. The only option is to crack the prevailing race paradigm of politics.
A time out of power may be the best appreciation we can offer the BN. This may provide them with an opportunity to rethink their philosophy and vision for the future. There is a lack of leadership within the BN today that can provide a transcending call for unity because they lack the correct paradigm and integrity.
A paradigm based on ethnicity cannot give birth to an inclusive mindset. In some ways it is Hobson’s choice for many of us and this contains within it the risks and opportunities for an interesting future. For patriots this is the time to risk going for change.
K Haridas is an Aliran member
This commentary first appeared in Malaysiakini.com