Can Malaysia relinquish communal governance?


January 5, 2013

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

Can Malaysia relinquish communal governance?

by Angeline Loh

racismIn our current political environment, Malaysians are becoming more aware of what we tend to term “racism”.

No doubt, since May 13, 1969, the word was one confined to whispers, as was discussion of the topic that was mainly more open, behind closed doors. Yet, every now and then, the topic would emerge in verbal expression about an apparent incidence of race discrimination, by those who felt victimised in this way.

Since the implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP/DEB), the practice of affirmative action in favour of “Bumiputeras” made the system of privileges more visible, where selective “positive discrimination” virtually became the unquestionable norm. Within this environment, those who came under the select category (Bumiputera) but seemed to be sidelined, and those excluded (non-Bumiputera) from the select category, carried on with compressed lips to maintain the peace and harmony of toleration in the national interest.

The subject of race discrimination became altogether taboo. Bumiputeras i.e. Orang Asal, and indigenous peoples of Sarawak and Sabah were more publicised by the mainstream media only recently since 2008. They had been neglected and exploited by the current administration that has dominated government for the past 49 years since Malaysia was formed in 1963]

It was a peaceful toleration imposed with suppression of dissent. Could we call this peace or harmony in our multiracial society? Such was the peace of autocracy and dictatorship prevalent in most of Asia and Africa after World War II when imperialist empires crumbled and native nationalistic feelings ran high for independence and sovereignty. Malaya, like some other British colonised territories, was left with pockets of migrant minorities living outside the traditional system established by the indigenous rulers, but administered by British colonial authorities. There seemed no bridge between the two systems. The British never encouraged assimilation.

Many potentially sovereign nations in Southeast Asia had to wrench independence out of the hands of colonial powers that came from Western Europe, with the exception of Japan which greatest influence was achieved economically after the war. Japan had a policy of colonisation through conquest, particularly on the Chinese mainland but also towards Korea and Russia for a long time. The issue was taken up at the war crimes trials in Tokyo after WWII.

Malaya, however, was picking itself up and seemed to be undecided on the question of independence. Different factions advocated different political solutions for the future. Yet, overall, there appears to have been a feeling of “wait-and-see-when-the-Brits-come-back” (according to most conventional historical accounts). No specific body could claim to spearhead a popular united mobilisation towards independence or liberation from colonial rule, as was happening, for example, in Indonesia and the Philippines. Malaya had no acknowledged popular de facto leadership to lead the charge towards independence.

Communal survival

With this kind of segmented political history, it was inevitable that communalism became the mechanism of communal survival. It hung mainly on who the former colonial government would favour as allies they could work with, to hammer out some kind of independence arrangement for a future sovereign nation. It looked like the British colonial divide-and-rule tactic had succeeded too well in this country. Obtaining independence was hailed by all as an achievement; yet it turned out to be more of an achievement for some than for others.

We the Rakyat

What had not been done in this country was the exploration of political, economic and social options under varied ideologies to shape the future nation. No real discussion ensued from the anticipation of independence except the question of the position of the Malay Rulers and elite, who were the usual negotiators with the colonial authorities.

In contrast, an intellectual renaissance occurred in China in the early 20th century with the New Culture Movement (the May 4 Movement, 1919),when China was threatened with fragmentation by western imperialist powers and Qing government reform attempts failed, causing it to flounder in political quicksand. Intellectuals like Hu Shih held public discussions on pragmatism, Sun Yat-sen on republicanism and nationalism, whilst Mao Zedong looked to the Soviet Union for inspiration, but invented his own brand of communism to suit his vision for China. These “new” ideas emerged as China searched for a viable ideology to protect its sovereignty and independence from imperialist encroachment and division of the nation.

Malaya in contrast, faced two extremes i.e. absolute monarchy of the Sultans — the traditional set up of governance in the Malay states — and authoritarian communism, at that time, the newly adopted populist political system in China, the Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe. The British, in collaboration with the elite Malay ruling class, installed a system of constitutional monarchy over a system of parliamentary democracy, a variation of what they had in the UK.

Nevertheless, this was only the framework around which other alternative systems could operate, as in Britain today. Perhaps, this was the middle path to maintain the monarchy, appeasing the rulers of the Malay states and the Malay elite, but leaving an open end for populists’ choice of government, hopefully, keeping democracy intact. What the colonial authorities seemed to overlook was that the indigenous population had never known or experienced any other system of government apart from monarchical rule under the Sultans and colonial rule. Both these systems were not exactly democratic. They had never experienced democracy as such and were ignorant of the nature of democracy in the British sense.

Little thought

Onn JaafarDespite their privileges and open opportunities to learn from experience overseas, some of the Malay elites seemed to give the questions of government and governance of a sovereign nation less serious consideration than self-interested enjoyment and profit. Onn Jaafar (left) was an exception, who was subsequently ostracised by UMNO for his supposedly British-influenced ideas.

Onn Jaafar perhaps understood the basic need for unity and equality in forming a nation better than many of his compatriots. Those from the communist factions who also aspired to Malayan independence were sidelined and subsequently suppressed by the British with the support of the Malayan leaders they favoured.

In the Cold War aftermath (1947-1991) of World War II, the British interest lay in maintaining close links with their victorious western war allies; thus nurturing leaders of anticipated independent nations like Malaya was not their business. What mattered was the rebuilding of war-torn Europe and protection of Western political and military interests against the Soviet Union and its bloc of eastern partners.

The post-Second World War period also saw the official formation of the United Nations in 1945 and the UN General Assembly that passed Resolution 1514, Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Territories and Peoples in 1960, intended to free territories from colonial domination with a right of self-determination. Therefore, it was in Britain’s interest to be seen as justly handing over independence to an erstwhile colony to fend for itself, whilst concentrating on the British bid to become a world power.

Yet, the British are only partly to blame for the initial irresponsibility of the Malay elite in establishing a communally divided independent nation. Basically, few amongst the initial leaders of this country made an effort to think of its future as a united multiracial nation or showed interest in the daunting task of bringing cohesion to an initially divided multiracial society. The fault also lies with those who wanted to keep an iron hold on power indefinitely, through race and religious politics.

Shared struggle

From this historical background of popular ignorance and inexperience of democracy or any alternative systems to unite Malaysia’s multiracial population in a spirit of fraternity beyond mere tolerance, we have much to learn. Still, at this point in time, when freedom of speech is selectively curtailed and the more destructive and divisive elements in society are encouraged in their mission to cause unease and suspicion amongst the rakyat, hope lies in unifying for change. But for how long?

If Malaysians are determined to get out of this communal rut, we have to learn to respect National Unityeach other, individually and as communities of various ethnicity and faiths. We must grow out of giving way to impulsive reactions to irrational and false perceptions and generalisations regarding the ethnic profile of others. We must learn to ask intelligent and educated questions, without prejudging a situation. Growing up is a difficult process — adolescence being one of the hardest to cope with. Yet, that is possibly where we are, and we must not be defensive or discouraged by what we do not understand or know.

The will to learn and the determination to mature do not stop at common difficulties but must struggle through this painful process to make the dream of justice, peace and unity a reality. With the realisation of a shared struggle in condemning corruption, ethnic and religious aggravation, and campaigning for a true democracy as one people, a milestone has been reached. But there are many more along the way before arriving at our destination of true unity and appreciation of being the people of a united nation, called Malaysia. — aliran.com

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

9 thoughts on “Can Malaysia relinquish communal governance?

  1. In order to learn to respect each other, individually and as communities of various ethnicity and faiths maybe, Malaysians need to be introduced to ‘The Pledge’ just like what Singapore did in the sixties when they were developing the island city-state as a nation .

    Here’s The Pledge:

    “We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation”.

    So, our version of The Pledge should be:

    “We, the citizens of Malaysia, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation”.

    In Singapore in the 60’s, immediately after the separation from Malaysia on 9th August 1965 before the introduction of National Service, the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, introduced ‘The Pledge’ in all primary and secondary schools.

    This was done to instill loyalty, discipline and unity in all the young people of Singapore, both boys and girls regardless of race, language or religion to ensure that the state’s desire to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for the small nation.

    Read more here: http://hak55.blogspot.com/2010/02/pledge.html

  2. “The British never encouraged assimilation.”

    Why should they?? They were a colonial power; and colonial powers do what colonial powers do. They exploit the natural resouces of territories they have fought for (in some cases with huge loss of lives) and control, to keep their factories working at maximum capacity and their people at home at full employment.

    Assimilation? Wrong word. The word is integration. Assimilation is anathema to the Chinese who are proud of their culture.

    Racism is still here in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave after more than 200 years. Today it is illegal to discriminate. Unfortunately, the country’s 200 plus year old Constitution only regulates government or state behaviour and not the behavior of private individuals – with one exception the Thirteenth Amendment.. In Malaysia, racism has come to be institutionalised.

    How does one go about de-institutionalizing racism?? Introduce laws that make racial discrimination illegal would be one way to do it. But then the government is the architect of racial discrimination.

  3. Mr Bean, integrate what? Its peaceful co-existence via respect for differences. We need to develop open minds and critical thinking skills so that we deal with issues, not personalities.–Din Merican

  4. In terms of nation-building popular once in the ’50s and ’60s, various theories were floated but all based on the theory that societies based on the western models are superior. Integration as a model is preferred because the individual parts do not lose their identity. They do following assimilation as a model where the whole is not the sum of its parts and in the mix a new identity emerges.

    The race riots of 1969 sent social sceintists studying Malaysia as a case study in nationbuilding on over drive trying to discover the root causes of such social disturbances. It is not all political and economic.
    One root cause is the resistance of the Chinese to theories of cultural assimilation. Much as the Old Goat wants to blame the Brits for their divide and rule policies, it is not. It runs deeper than that.

  5. As much as I hate it, I have to admit that I see Lee Kuan Yew’s point of view that commnunal line are deep schism within our society that cannot be erased or covered up any time soon.

    But just because we cannot wipe away communal lines does not mean we cannot relegate commnunal drive governance to its proper place. Just as a society move forward must protect individual rights and private property while removing entitlement in the long run, the proper role of communal rights should be viewed right of protection rather than right of entitlement..

    The fact of the matter is that even in the beginning of Mahathir’s reign, we did not agree that there was such thing as communal entitlement. The NEP was suppose to end under Mahathir and he not only extended it, he did twice and then indefinitely. Today we have every communal group arguing over entitlement even the supposedly traditionally undependent Chinese.

    It means that governance itself have been damaged by communal governance and we need to restore governance first even before we can really get to the core of correcting the role of communal politics in this country. Insisting all at once that right governance must remove everything communal before we are ready for it, invite disaster of fixing governance itsefl..

  6. “Can Malaysia relinquish communal governance?”
    The subject its self is not correct. Is Malaysia running a communal government?
    Is the Barisan Nasional Federal government with 13 political parties from the Peninsular, Sabah and Sarawak representing all the races in the country a communal party?
    Is the Barisan Nasional Federal Cabinet Ministers a communal Cabinet?
    The Barisan Nasional party represents political parties of communal background and of one particular race especially UMNO, MCA and MIC yes, I agree. But when come to running, managing and administering the Federal and States government at Federal, States, Districts, Local governments and Mukims and up to the villages the governance is 1Malaysia. It is for all Malaysians.
    Certain journalists and reporters especially those supporting the opposition political parties like PAS, DAP and PKR like to play and spin around the use of the words communal and racism and NEP/DEB.
    Some pro DAP like to harp on and on on NEP/DEB saying that NEP is benefitting the Malays and the Bumiputras only when actually NEP have benefitted all especially the Chinese businessmen, developers, contractors, importers, exporters and in all other ECONOMIC sectors. Just look around all the cities and all the towns in the Peninsular and in Sabah and Sarawak.
    Look at the shop-houses, the bungalow houses, the condominium, the Supermarkets and the Mall, the restaurants, the go-downs etc who are the owners, the Malays and the Bumiputras? No! They belong to the Chinese families.
    Some journalists and reporters like to say that majority of the employees in government departments and agencies are Malays and Bumiputras and blame the government for being racialists and for favoring the Malays and Bumiputras. I don’t agree.
    The reason for the small number of non-Malays in certain government departments and agencies is not because the government is communal. It is because the non-Malays choose not to work in government departments like the Police, Army, JPJ etc because their pay is lower when compared to the pay offered in Chinese businesses and other industries.
    I don’t think DAP or PR with DAP and PAS as a partner will be able to manage the Federal and States government as just and equal for all Malaysians like what Barisan Nasional is doing now, before and in the future.
    DAP can change their CEC election results. They can change their policies as their leader wishes.
    Change ROCKET way?
    “Can Malaysia relinquish communal governance?”
    The subject its self is not correct. Is Malaysia running a communal government?
    Is the Barisan Nasional Federal government with 13 political parties from the Peninsular, Sabah and Sarawak representing all the races in the country a communal party?
    Is the Barisan Nasional Federal Cabinet Ministers a communal Cabinet?
    The Barisan Nasional party represents political parties of communal background and of one particular race especially UMNO, MCA and MIC yes, I agree. But when come to running, managing and administering the Federal and States government at Federal, States, Districts, Local governments and Mukims and up to the villages the governance is 1Malaysia. It is for all Malaysians.
    Certain journalists and reporters especially those supporting the opposition political parties like PAS, DAP and PKR like to play and spin around the use of the words communal and racism and NEP/DEB.
    Some pro DAP like to harp on and on on NEP/DEB saying that NEP is benefitting the Malays and the Bumiputras only when actually NEP have benefitted all especially the Chinese businessmen, developers, contractors, importers, exporters and in all other ECONOMIC sectors. Just look around all the cities and all the towns in the Peninsular and in Sabah and Sarawak.
    Look at the shop-houses, the bungalow houses, the condominium, the Supermarkets and the Mall, the restaurants, the go-downs etc who are the owners, the Malays and the Bumiputras? No! They belong to the Chinese families.
    Some journalists and reporters like to say that majority of the employees in government departments and agencies are Malays and Bumiputras and blame the government for being racialists and for favoring the Malays and Bumiputras. I don’t agree.
    The reason for the small number of non-Malays in certain government departments and agencies is not because the government is communal. It is because the non-Malays choose not to work in government departments like the Police, Army, JPJ etc because their pay is lower when compared to the pay offered in Chinese businesses and other industries.
    I don’t think DAP or PR with DAP and PAS as a partner will be able to manage the Federal and States government as just and equal for all Malaysians like what Barisan Nasional is doing now, before and in the future.
    DAP can change their CEC election results. They can change their policies as their leader wishes.
    Change ROCKET way? Don’t follow the DAP way! Tak boleh! Tak betul! Mana boleh sudah 2 minggu baru tahu ada silap!

  7. “Can Malaysia relinquish communal governance?”

    The subject its self is not correct. Is Malaysia running a communal government?

    Is the Barisan Nasional Federal government with 13 political parties from the Peninsular, Sabah and Sarawak representing all the races in the country a communal party?

    Is the Barisan Nasional Federal Cabinet Ministers a communal Cabinet?

    The Barisan Nasional party represents political parties of communal background and of one particular race especially UMNO, MCA and MIC yes, I agree. But when come to running, managing and administering the Federal and States government at Federal, States, Districts, Local governments and Mukims and up to the villages the governance is 1Malaysia. It is for all Malaysians.

    Certain journalists and reporters especially those supporting the opposition political parties like PAS, DAP and PKR like to play and spin around the use of the words communal and racism and NEP/DEB.
    Some pro DAP like to harp on and on on NEP/DEB saying that NEP is benefitting the Malays and the Bumiputras only when actually NEP have benefitted all especially the Chinese businessmen, developers, contractors, importers, exporters and in all other ECONOMIC sectors. Just look around all the cities and all the towns in the Peninsular and in Sabah and Sarawak.

    Look at the shop-houses, the bungalow houses, the condominium, the Supermarkets and the Mall, the restaurants, the go-downs etc who are the owners, the Malays and the Bumiputras? No! They belong to the Chinese families.

    Some journalists and reporters like to say that majority of the employees in government departments and agencies are Malays and Bumiputras and blame the government for being racialists and for favoring the Malays and Bumiputras. I don’t agree.

    The reason for the small number of non-Malays in certain government departments and agencies is not because the government is communal. It is because the non-Malays choose not to work in government departments like the Police, Army, JPJ etc because their pay is lower when compared to the pay offered in Chinese businesses and other industries.

    I don’t think DAP or PR with DAP and PAS as a partner will be able to manage the Federal and States government as just and equal for all Malaysians like what Barisan Nasional is doing now, before and in the future.

    DAP can change their CEC election results. They can change their policies as their leader wishes.

    Change ROCKET way? Don’t follow the DAP way! Tak boleh! Tak betul! Mana boleh sudah 2 minggu baru tahu ada silap!

  8. Again, a bad miss on my part here, but IF i could be allowed belatedly to echo Adam Abdullah that ‘ the subject (or topic ) itself is not correct…..” i have to AGREE WITH HIM WHOLE-HEARTEDLY in his peniltimate Comments herein. What for ? No, its just that i support his truthfull views….

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