Strange things have happened in Malaysia, and stranger things can occur as the country faces state elections.
In his ongoing and professed drive to unite the ethnic Malays possibly against the purported threat from the other communities, Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently called into question the country’s multi-ethnic nature.
The former prime minister even claimed it to be unconstitutional to promote the country as multi-ethnic because it would jeopardise the “Malayness” of the land.
To deny the multi-ethnic composition of the entire population is akin to forgetting the historical fact there were people, particularly from China and India, who had been brought into the country by the colonial British for the primary purpose of using their labour for economic activities.
Most of these migrants eventually made this country their own and settled peacefully with the indigenous people, particularly the Malays. Not to forget, the former generally contributed to nation-building.
The presence of the Indian Muslims and Baba Nyonya in Malaysia, among other ethnic and cultural groups, who have been productive in the economy, is testimony to the diverse population many consider as a national asset and not a bane.
Concerns about the “Malayness” of the country have already been addressed by provisions in Article 153(1) of the Federal Constitution that ensures that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong will safeguard the special position of the majority Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak as well as the legitimate interests of other communities.
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Article 152 stipulates Malay as the national language.
To be sure, at the independence of then Malaya in 1957, the Alliance party, representing the major ethnic groups of Malays, Chinese and Indians, governed the new nation.
Within the pact, Tunku Abdul Rahman led the Malay-based Umno, while Tan Cheng Lock headed the Chinese-based MCA and VT Sambanthan, the Indian-based MIC. In short, it was a multi-ethnic alliance that was to serve the interests of the diverse nation.
Subsequently, the Alliance morphed into a larger multi-ethnic coalition called Barisan Nasional, which ruled the country for decades until 2018. It was this very multi-ethnic BN that Mahathir led for 22 years since 1981, a fact he should not easily forget.
In other words, there isn’t really a need to consciously promote the country as multi-ethnic as it is already so. It is also not a latter-day invention.
The formation of an entity called Malaysia, following the union of Malaya with Sabah and Sarawak in 1963, only reinforced the multi-ethnic character of the nation with the addition of the natives, non-Malay indigenous groups and the Chinese in the Borneo states.
It is, therefore, unsurprising that many were taken aback and angered by the seeming attempt to erase the fact that Malaysian society is richly diverse in colour, creed and culture. The tourism slogan “Malaysia, Truly Asia”, should jog the memories of those who have forgotten.
The denial of the multi-ethnicity of Malaysia also consequently spurns the existence and rights of the ethnic minorities as legitimate stakeholders of this country. This is obviously offensive to them.
Indeed, it is disturbing that this nonagenarian, in his twilight years and as a former prime minister, has decided to belittle the multi-ethnic significance of the nation, which has the effect of driving a wedge between the ethnic communities.
This is especially so when ethnic relations in the country is at its lowest ebb, with certain parties having no qualms about playing up race and religion within the larger context of the state elections.
Malaysia will always be multi-ethnic, with its official name carved in stone. Those who love this country and advocate ethnic cohesion will see to it that it stays the same.
The rich cultural diversity in the land should be the pride of everyone in Malaysia. Surely, Mahathir is also proud of his own cultural heritage. – The Malaysian Insight