Universiti Malaya: Nip Racism in the bud and clear your name


February 26, 2017

Universiti Malaya: Nip Racism in the bud and clear your name

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

In deciding to investigate an allegation of racism against one of its associate professors, Universiti Malaya gives itself an opportunity to prove to the Malaysian public that it upholds a high standard of decency.

We await the findings of the five-member investigation panel and the university’s follow-up action. However, one wonders whether Universiti Malaya would have bothered to look into the matter if it hadn’t received a directive from the Education Ministry. Indeed, it did not have to wait for the directive. It should have maintained an alertness to issues that might affect its reputation and it should act speedily.

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The allegation came in a Facebook posting by a student. The article, titled “Voice of an Indian student”, has gone viral.

The student said the lecturer, in reprimanding her and another student, dispensed with the courtesy of calling them by their names and instead called them “India”.

Here, in brief, is the story according to the Facebook posting:

The lecturer said, “India, I don’t like Indians sitting together.” After making a disparaging remark about a private university, she added: “When Indians sit together, they will plagiarise and copy one another’s assignments. I recognise Indian traits.”

The abuse continued. She pointed to the student and her friend and told them to sit separately, saying, “I will ensure that the two of you will not be in the same group for your assignment. I know what Indians are like.”

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This Ikan Bakar Man–Jamal Yunus– is a racist. Najib and UMNO support him and so Najib is a racist and UMNO is a racist political party. Q.E.D.

Then she insulted the other Indian students in the class. She made no excuses for her behaviour and said she did not mind if no one promoted Universiti Malaya because she preferred to teach smaller classes.

So, is this what you learn in a top Malaysian university – racism, intolerance, rudeness, insensitivity? When asked for his reaction, one postgraduate student said, “Academicians in Malaysian public universities should uphold a high standard of ethics. Making stereotypical racist comments against students is very unbecoming and reflects badly on the university and the degrees it confers.”

The student who wrote the complaint has demanded an apology from the lecturer.

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The Fun Loving but Insecure Malays

An apology to the direct victims of the insult is not enough, if the lecturer is indeed guilty. She should apologise to the public and the apology should be published in all the mainstream papers. And Universiti Malaya must sack her.

Malaysia: China, Malaysian Chinese and GE-14


February 15, 2017

Malaysia: China, Malaysian Chinese and GE-14

by Dato Dennis Ignatius@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak (pictured with de facto PM Rosmah Mansor) recently offered three reasons why Barisan Nasional (BN) can expect a significant increase in support from the Chinese community at the next general elections – “the opposition’s shortcomings despite being given the opportunity; Malaysia’s good relations with China; and, the good moral politics practiced by the BN.” (Bernama, 5th February 2017)

It is an astonishing assertion to say the least. In the first place, by any reckoning, the Opposition in both Selangor and Penang has, in fact, performed far better than previous UMNO-BN governments. In a few short years, corruption and waste are significantly down; there is greater accountability and transparency and people are better off than before. And this despite the unrelenting hostility and lack of cooperation from the federal government.

The Opposition may have their shortcomings but there’s little doubt that if they ever came to power at the federal level, Malaysia would be the better for it.

As for the claim that BN practices “good moral politics,” it is so risible that it isn’t even worth a second thought.

The China card

The reference to China, on the other hand, is significant if only for the mindset it reveals. It suggests that the Minister  who is notorious when he was a Sabah state minister  considers Malaysian Chinese more parochial than patriotic, that the Chinese community will overlook the bigotry and racial prejudice perpetrated against them as well as the injustice, corruption and scandal that have blighted our nation simply because they prize good relations with China.

Acting on this belief, UMNO-BN ministers have assiduously sought to co-opt China into their elections strategy in the expectation that China’s ringing endorsement of the current Malaysian leadership will play out well with Malaysian Chinese.

At the ground level, a senior UMNO minister even went so far as to accompany the Chinese Ambassador around as the ambassador distributed Chinese government assistance to Malaysian Chinese schools, something that was always frowned upon in the past.

The MCA too appears to be counting on China’s endorsement to restore its fortunes as the party of choice for Malaysian Chinese. By setting up a PRC affairs committee and an OBOR (One Belt One Road) centre, the MCA is clearly hoping to convince Malaysian Chinese that its close relationship with China will bring huge dividends to the Malaysian Chinese community through lucrative deals, projects and other businesses.

But is relations with China a key election issue for Malaysian Chinese? Even a cursory survey of Malaysian Chinese attitudes suggests otherwise. In fact, their key concerns – security, education, tolerance and good governance – are not even on Salleh’s radar.

Security and safety

There is no doubt that Malaysian Chinese have been quite traumatized by the rising level of anti-Chinese sentiment in the country as well as the threat of racial violence.

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The Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur (2015)

For many, the 2015 Petaling Street affair – when senior UMNO leaders shamefully stood by and did nothing even as the Red Shirts threatened a bloodbath – was a turning point; it indicated that Malaysian Chinese could no longer count on UMNO-BN for their safety and survival.

Frustrated at the lack of government action and fearful for their safety, many Malaysian Chinese, and others as well, applauded when the Chinese Ambassador finally intervened to stop things from getting out of hand.

Those who believe that China might provide some protection for Malaysian Chinese might, therefore, welcome closer relations with China; not because of any loyalty per se to their ancestral homeland but simply in the hope that it would bring a measure of stability.

Some also harbour the hope that closer relations with China might somehow forestall the growing drift towards Islamic extremism in Malaysia, another area of great concern to Malaysian Chinese as well as to other Malaysians. They reason that the more indispensable China is to Malaysia’s economic well-being and to UMNO-BN’s survival, the less UMNO would want to scare them away with any dramatic Islamisation initiatives.

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The Anti-Chinese Malays

Whether China can or will provide such a security blanket is, however, an open question. Observers have argued, for example, that the Chinese Ambassador’s intervention in the Petaling Street affair was aimed more at avoiding the kind of internal instability that could jeopardize China’s economic and political gains in the country rather than out of any particular concern for Malaysian Chinese.

Education

It is no secret that Malaysian Chinese also place a very high premium on education and the opportunities that a good education provides. It is, after all, education that transformed a ragtag bunch of largely indentured labourers into an economic powerhouse that Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi recently described as “the group that will carry the nation forward.”

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The Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi with UMNO Racists, Noh Omar and Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos

In this context, the Chinese school system occupies a special place in the Malaysian Chinese psyche. It is more than just education; it is about inculcating traditional values, culture and language. Its very existence is a psychological beacon of hope and comfort, an assurance that their language, culture and identity will endure.

When the Chinese school system is condemned as unconstitutional, detrimental to national integration and threatened with closure, when the Unified Examination Certificate is refused recognition, when funds are withheld, it is, rightly or wrongly, perceived as a thinly veiled attack on the Malaysian Chinese community itself.

After all, how is it justified to demand the closure of Chinese schools on the grounds of national unity when Chinese schools today are more integrated than national schools, when foreign English-medium private schools proliferate, when monoracial educational and religious institutions continue to flourish with government support?

To be sure, we have a serious national unity issue in this country that needs urgent attention. However, the way to build unity must surely be through consultation, cooperation and accommodation rather than further marginalising besieged minorities or demonising them for political expediency.

Tolerance

As well, Malaysian Chinese are deeply concerned, even grieved, over the way they have been racially harassed and taunted by many from within UMNO and PAS itself.

It hurts that even after more than a century of living in Malaysia and contributing to its development as much as anyone else, they are still considered interlopers, intruders and “pendatangs.” It hurts when they are taunted as unpatriotic, as disloyal, as ungrateful. It hurts when decades of blood, sweat and tears in the service of their nation are dismissed as irrelevant or deliberately downplayed. Or that their votes are not solicited with promises of wise policies but demanded with threats of punishment and retribution.

And it hurts when those who come from countries like Indonesia are permitted to be proud of their heritage while Malaysian Chinese must always be watchful lest they be accused of chauvinism and disloyalty.

Sure, no community is without their faults but the constant racist polemics is discouraging, discomforting and disquieting.

Good governance

Finally, there is the issue of good governance.Like other Malaysians, Malaysian Chinese are sick and tired of the corruption and abuse of power that has become commonplace in our nation today.

It was this concern that compelled thousands of them to join their fellow citizens in participating in the BERSIH rallies, despite the threats and intimidation, to press for political change, for respect for the constitution and for good and clean governance.

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Malaysian Chinese, in fact, feel insulted that politicians think they can be won over simply on the promise of good relations with China. They are, first and foremost, Malaysians and it is national issues like good governance, justice and respect for diversity that matter far more to them than relations with China.

Malaysian Chinese want what other Malaysians want

If UMNO-BN wants to win the support of Malaysian Chinese, it does not need to look to China; it simply needs to treat them with respect and dignity as fellow citizens of this nation we all call home.

In the final analysis, Malaysian Chinese want what everybody else in Malaysia so desperately wants – good governance, security, respect for our constitution and for the rights of all citizens irrespective of race or religion, and the opportunity to pursue their dreams and live in peace with their fellow citizens. And the answer to that is not found in Beijing but in Putrajaya.

 

 

 

UMNO after GE-14


January 17, 2017

Thanks to the fractious Opposition, UMNO after GE-14

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

“Justice can sleep for years and awaken when it is least expected. A miracle is nothing more than dormant justice from another time arriving to compensate those it has cruelly abandoned. Whoever knows this is willing to suffer, for he knows that nothing is in vain.”

– Mark Helprin (Winter’s Tale)

Image result for Mahathir Vs NajibThe Master Vs Pupil–Advantage Pupil

While I have always been sceptical of anything that comes out of the Penang Institute, I thought Ooi Kok Hin’s article in the Diplomat hit the target but missed the bullseye. I have argued in various pieces that ultimately what would bring down the UMNO house of cards is an economic calamity brought upon by “ketuanan economics” and not any stratagems that the fractious opposition comes up with.

I began the year by saying – “No matter how the government spins it, the economy is in bad shape. And when it gets bad enough, when the money runs out and when political bromides from either side isn’t enough to fill empty bellies, people on their own accord will take to the streets.”

Ooi ends his piece with – “If political change is not sufficient, will it take an economic downturn to bring change in Malaysia, like Indonesia?”

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However, implying the rapid democratisation of Indonesia after despotic rule brought upon by economic instability exacerbated by policy malfeasances as something of a miracle and the only option opposition-voting Malaysians could hope for is intellectually dodgy especially after presenting a fairly cogent argument as to why Chairman Najib will most probably win the next general election.

Ooi made his first three factors as to why Najib Abdul Razak will win the centre-piece of his argument:

(1) Electoral malpractices: Keeping the incumbent in their seats.

(2) Political fragmentation: Weaker and disunited opposition.

(3) Institutional failures: Culture of unaccountability, graft, and state repression,

It is ironic that it is these three points that the opposition keeps harping about that has not gained them any traction with the demographic they claim is keeping the UMNO hegemon in power. Indeed, there is very little the opposition can do against the rigged system (that are those institutional failures) and a frontal assault is akin to attacking a tank with a spear.

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Sarawak-Sabah–The Deciders

Counting on Sabah and Sarawak to deliver us from UMNO is exactly the same kind of bankrupt ideology that UMNO peddles and this meme that West Malaysians are ignorant and less sophisticated displays the hubris of Peninsular oppositional types and the reason why they want us to stay the hell out of their states.

And strategically speaking as long as UMNO has to rely on Sabah and Sarawak to maintain hegemony, the easier it should be to destabilise UMNO in the Peninsula. The fact that this has not happened says more about the opposition then so-called ignorant voters.

What is needed is to derail the tank’s track and this is where Ooi’s fourth factor – Societal fault Lines: One cleavage too many – is worth exploring because it provides the key to bringing down the UMNO hegemon but it is also a record of the opposition’s failure to present a cohesive alternative to not only UMNO but also policies that have no place in an egalitarian Malaysia.

While Ooi rightly argues that everything in Malaysia, is seen through the lens of race and religion, and correctly points out UMNO’s part in this mess, he fails to acknowledge that the opposition has also contributed to the narrative.

While the ‘PAS for All’ fiasco was predicated on the pragmatism of the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the systemic oppositional policy of chasing the ‘Malay’ vote by the same means as UMNO has resulted in religion playing an even greater role in mainstream oppositional politics.

By neglecting the secular approach and instead embroiling itself with Islamic, Christian and of late Hindu political and social agitations, the opposition has turned out to be just another Barisan National clone peddling the same kind of manure. People outside the echo chambers are wondering why vote for the clone when the original can get things done not by rule of law but by fiat.

Here is a hint. If you want to stop religious and racial extremism, stop funding – on a state level – institutions that enable such impulses in the guise of reaching out to the Malay-Muslim community. As long as you are held ransom to the idea that in order to defeat UMNO you must use the same tactics to secure the Malay vote, there is always going to be that Malay tilt to UMNO.

Parties dance to UMNO’s tune

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The demonisation of the Chinese community is part of the larger narrative of the reactionary nature of Chinese communal politics. The MCA and DAP have positioned themselves as loudspeakers for the Chinese community hence there is no room for by bipartisanship on any issue, leaving important social, political and economic issues unresolved because these two parties dance to the UMNO tune.

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Hudud? These guys don’t care as long as they can get BR1M and other opiates via “ketuanan economics”

These contradictions of course are not lost on the voting public. While I argued that the MCA for instance “has by far had a more accessible position on this subject (hudud) instead of the conflicting messages coming out of the Muslim wing of the opposition front and their non-Muslim supporters; they stand idly by while the UMNO hegemon sponsors state-sanctioned racial provocations against the Chinese community using the DAP as a proxy.”

Not to mention that now former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is the de facto opposition leader, he continues reviving the narrative that the “Malays” will lose their land to “Chinese” interlopers, while Chinese opposition types warn against China’s investments because it is bailing out the UMNO hegemon.

So on the one hand we have the narrative of Malays losing their land to Chinese pendatangs and on the other we have Chinese oppositional types confirming that the narrative that the country is being sold to the PRC. So this lens of race and religion is opaque and it is a grave mistake – although it plays well in echo chambers – to simply describe it as something wrong with Umno policy as opposed to describing it as the reality of Establishment – BN and Pakatan Harapan – politics.

Which brings me to Ooi’s most important point and one which is most often overlooked in favor of his other three factors. And this point to me is the one where the opposition could do serious damage to the regime but unfortunately will continue being overlooked.

“There is a visible gap between the politicians, the city folks, the demonstrators who so urgently and desperately want reforms, and the voters outside the cities, who voted for candidates affiliated to Najib’s party” writes Ooi, which is axiomatic but for various reasons goes unnoticed by the power brokers of the opposition.

When Ooi writes, “people don’t mind the status quo as long as they are not affected at the most immediate and personal level,” he is not only speaking plainly but also truthfully and this of course is the reason why this country has endured the long UMNO watch.

 The opposition has a long history of being unable to organise an orgy in a brothel. Speaking plainly, ever since the opposition broke the magical two-thirds barrier, they have been coasting on their success, thinking that UMNO has been playing defence while the reality is that UMNO has only ever played offence.

All politics is local and the opposition has yet to figure out what affects voters ‘outside the cities’ beyond pushing the narrative that they are ignorant and living off UMNO handouts. There really is no excuse for this type of political laziness.

Opposition politicians operating in the rural heartlands tell me that this obsession with urban issues has absolutely no traction in their communities and makes UMNO’s job easier because it makes it seem that the urban elite – meaning us – have no idea what is going on where they live except to think of them as lazy and ignorant.

There are people in the opposition who know exactly what affects these people on an immediate and personal level but these issues do not get the attention that the latest stupid thing a BN potentate says or the latest corruption scandal that is part of the news cycle that plays well in the echo chambers.

Issues facing the folks outside the cities are exactly the kind of issues that UMNO wishes to avoid and the latest outrage that captures the attention of city folks is manna from heaven for an ailing financially-strapped hegemon.

Waiting for miracles to happen absolves the opposition from actually doing the hard work of capturing the hearts and minds of people and allows job security for career opposition politicians.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

BERSIH is all we got for Change


November 21, 2016

Given  a dysfunctional Political Opposition, BERSIH is all we got for Change

by TK Chua

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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What we need is a sincere identification and assessment of the issues before us. BERSIH is merely a sounding board, a messenger, and a barometer of the nation. Choose to ignore it at our own peril.–TK Chua

BERSIH has been criticised for moving away from its original objectives, manipulating the people, breaking the law, and for being ineffective. The criticism has come not just from Barisan Nasional politicians but also some writers, commentators and citizens.

BERSIH’s original objectives have been widened to include other pertinent issues. What is wrong with that? Surely free and fair elections are not the end. We want free and fair elections because we want a government able to represent the interests of the majority.

Can a government represent the people when there is unexplained malfeasance going on in our midst?

Surely free and fair elections must include striving for a competent, clean and scandal free government. Those who have constantly harped on BÉRSIH’s deviation from its original objectives must have suffered from some form of mental deficiency.

The opposition does not have a monopoly in declaring support of free and fair elections or a clean and competent government. Why then must we accuse the opposition of hijacking BERSIH? Why can’t BN also support BERSIH and its objectives, the original as well as the extended ones?

BERSIH has been constantly criticised for achieving nothing but causing inconvenience to the public. Maybe there is some truth in this, but in any society, it is never easy to achieve fair play and democratic ideals.

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Adam Adli–Young Champion of Free and Fair Elections

If BERSIH has failed as claimed, what has Parliament achieved thus far? What has our Judiciary achieved? What have our other institutions of government achieved?

BERSIH has also been accused of manipulating the people. Are the people really that gullible? What power and mechanism does BERSIH have other than ideas and ideals? If manipulation is easy, why not say the government does the same? Why the need to provide BR1M and other goodies? Similarly, there is no need for the Red Shirts to stop or harass Bersih. They should just manipulate the people into supporting them.

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The Real Reason behind the BERSIH Movement

It is easy to blame BERSIH for eroding confidence in the country, but confidence is rarely dependent on a single factor. It is too late to blame BERSIH’s actions. We should have looked at why there was BERSIH at all? Why have BERSIH’s demands gained traction?

It is poor governance and malfeasance that will adversely affect confidence, not street protests demanding a resolution.

We can all blame each other but that will not solve an iota of our problems. What we need is a sincere identification and assessment of the issues before us. BERSIH is merely a sounding board, a messenger, and a barometer of the nation. Choose to ignore it at our own peril.

Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis


November 17, 2016

The Edge logo

Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis

by Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

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Malay Nationalism or Tribalism ala Ku Kluk Klan

One thing that shocked me when I first went to Sweden for my studies 35 years ago was how dirty a word “Nationalism” was in Western Europe. This reaction, I realized, was very much a reflection of how the concept was positively implanted in my mind while a schoolboy in Malaysia; but it also demonstrated how greatly human experiences can differ in different parts of the world.

More importantly, it revealed to me how strongly we are intellectually captured by the language use of our times and our location.

But the Swedes are very proud of their country, so how come nationalism is frowned upon so badly? The same thing applied throughout Europe, at least until recently. Excessive immigration over the last two decades, coupled with declining economic fortunes and waning self-confidence has buoyed the ascendance of ultra-rightists groups in all countries throughout the continent.

So why was Nationalism so despised? Europe is after all the home continent of the Nation State.

For starters, Europe was always a place of endless wars often fought ostensibly for religious reasons between feudal powers. The arrival of the Nation state ideology helped to lower the frequencies of these tragedies, but only to replace it soon after with non-religious types of rationale for conflict. The American Revolution and French Republicanism added the new phenomenon of “government by the people”. The French case also brought into the equation the Left-Right Dimension that would define politics and political thinking for the next two centuries.

This conceptual division between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule expressed sharply the rights of common people on the one hand, and the role of the state on the other. Once this gap was articulated, conflating the two poles anew became a necessary task.

The three major articulations in Europe of this mammoth mission to bridge the divide and achieve a functional modern system were Liberal Democracy, Communism and Fascism. While the Anglo-Saxon world championed the first, Stalin’s Soviet Union perfected the second and Adolf Hitler developed the third to its insane conclusion. In Europe, it was basically these three actors who fought the Second World War.

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Malay Tribalism in Action

In Asia, Japan’s brand of state fascism ran riot throughout the region, rhetorically championing nationalism in the lands it took from the European colonialists.

While the National Socialism of the Third Reich died with Hitler, Fascism lived on in Franco’s Spain until 1975 and Nationalist Communism of Stalin continued in Eastern Europe until the early 1990s.

Nationalism in the rest of Europe after 1945 came to be understood with disdain as the longing of the Nation State for purity and autonomy taken to pathological lengths. It is after all always a defensive posture, as is evidenced today in its return in the form of right-wing anti-immigrant groups.

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Maruah Melayu dijual ka-Cina untuk membela masa depan politik Najib Razak–Jualan Aset 1MDB

In Malaysia, nationalism was—and for many, still is—the most highly rated attitude for a citizen to adopt.There are obvious reasons for this, given the historical and socio-political context in which Malaysia came into being. Constructing a new country out of nine sultanates, the three parts of the Straits Settlements, with Sabah and Sarawak on top of that, was a more daunting task than we can imagine today. Furthermore, the contest was also against other powerful “-isms”, especially Communism and Pan-Indonesianism. These threatened to posit what are Malaysia’s states today in a larger framework, and would have diminished these territories’ importance and uniqueness.

Putting a new regime in place of the retreating British required a rallying idea; and what better than the very fashionable image of a new nation to whom all should swear allegiance. Malayan nationalism was thus born.

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For Inclusive, Liberal and Progressive Malaysia–Escaping the Nationalism Trap

It is no coincidence that the path to independence became much easier after Malaysia’s major political party, UMNO, decided under Tunku Abdul Rahman to change its slogan from the provincial “Hidup Melayu” [Long Live the Malays] to the inclusive “Merdeka” [Independence].

But already in that transition, one can see the problem that Malaysia still lives with today. Is Malaysia the political expression of the prescriptive majority called “Melayu” [later stretched to become “Bumiputera”], or is it the arena in which the multi-ethnic nation of “Malaysians” is to evolve?

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Nationalism in essence, and most evidently so in its narrow ethno-centric sense, is defensive and fearful, and understood simplistically and applied arrogantly very quickly show strong fascist tendencies. The issue is therefore a philosophical one.

What Malaysia needs today, is to accept the regional and global context that sustains it, and work out as best it can a suitable balance between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule which is clearly less belaboured and less painful than the cul-de-sac alleyway it has backed itself into.

OOI KEE BENG is the Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute) and the Editor of the Penang Monthly (Penang Institute). He is the author of the prizewinning The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (ISEAS 2006).

Nazir Razak and Promoters of National Consultative Council 2 (NCC 2)–Don’t be Naive


October 19, 2016

Message for Nazir Razak and Promoters of  National Consultative Council 2 (NCC 2)–Don’t be Naive

by Dr. Kua Kia Soong

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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My Advice to Nazir Razak and G-25–Remove this Toxicity First–Din Merican

…as long as pro-Bumiputera policies remain useful in winning Bumiputera votes, it is unlikely that the ruling class in UMNO will want to dispense with this method of rule. Racism has been thoroughly infused in all the national institutions, including racist indoctrination of Bumiputeras in state institutions such as the BTN that recently came to light.

Since Najib introduced the slogan “1Malaysia” to try to woo the disaffected non-Bumiputera voters after the 2008 fiasco, strident racism often associated with UMNO Youth has now been outsourced to the far-right Malay supremacist groups. They continue to play the role of storm troopers and disrupt activities organised by civil society to promote social justice, democracy and human rights. UMNO’s competition with PAS has also heightened Islamic populism in the country, with dire consequences for ethnic relations. Above all, racial discrimination facilitates crony capitalism that is essential to UMNO’s monopoly of power. This has not changed since the Mahathir era.–Dr Kua Kia Soong

I understand the sentiments of “moderates” who are rightly alarmed at the increasing racism, religious bigotry and corruption in Malaysia and are proposing the establishment of a new ‘National Consultative Council’ (NCC2) like the one set up after May 13, 1969. But are they harbouring naïve views about how an NCC type approach can meaningfully address such concerns?

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The presupposition behind those who call for unity and good sense and a rational way ahead for the nation is that “racial” discord in our society and the present slide into a banana republic can be solved through a council of eminent persons who will plot the path forward for the nation. But was that what was actually achieved by the NCC after the May 13 riots in 1969?

Who were behind the May 13 incident?

The official version of Malaysian history places the cause of May 13 on an inevitable clash between the “races” because of intractable inequalities between the ethnic communities. ‘Tanda Putera’, the official film goes even further by imputing blame on “provocation of the Malays” by the Opposition after the 1969 general election.

What did the NCC actually achieve?

The National Consultative Council was headed by Tun Abdul Razak who became the new Prime Minister after Tunku stepped down. It formulated the Rukun Negara that was intended to create harmony and unity among the various races in Malaysia. Although the Rukun Negara has often been touted as the panacea for our current problems in the country, I demur on two grounds: First, this so-called “national philosophy” was crafted and promulgated under a state of emergency and not passed through the democratic processes afforded by the Federal Parliament; second, the ‘eminent persons’ responsible for it were not inclusive enough for they left out groups such as our indigenous peoples and Buddhists among others when they insisted on “belief in God” as one of the pillars of this state ideology.

The NEP was the game changer

Thereafter, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was launched in 1971. The NEP was aimed at “creating unity among the various races in Malaysia through reducing the economic gap between the Malays and Bumiputera on the one hand, and the non-Malays on the other”. It was a social re-engineering action programme formulated by the National Operation Council (NOC) formed in the aftermath of May 13, 1969 riots. This policy was intended to be implemented for a period of 20 years but it has since, under different guises, become a Never Ending Policy.

It is important to note that the New Economic Policy that has transformed Malaysian society and also institutionalised racial discrimination all these years was the prerogative of the National Operation Council (NOC) and not the NCC. The NOC was the preserve of the Minister of Home Affairs, the leaders of UMNO, MCA & MIC, Chief of Armed Forces Staff and Inspector-General of Police. The council of eminent persons in the NCC only dealt with the formulation of the Rukun Negara. The National Cultural Policy was announced also in 1971 after a conference at which a token number of non-Malay academics were invited.

So let us be clear about what the NCC actually achieved after May 13. The NCC certainly failed to prevent the numerous amendments to the Constitution which have entrenched inequality since 1971, the most serious of which has been Amendment 8A to Article 153 in 1971, allowing more racial discrimination through the “quota system”. Nor did it prevent the amendment to Article 121 in 1988 that made provisions for the recognition of Islamic shariah courts/laws – since then, the Judiciary has tended to defer its powers to the shariah courts whenever there are disputes in conversion cases.

A fine mess you’ve got us into

So how did we end up in the mess we find ourselves in at present that is troubling the “moderates” and corporate players?

First, we have to thank Dr Mahathir Mohamad for privatising most of our state assets when he came to office in 1981 right up to 2003. These were assets that we all owned that were sold for a song to private capitalists. By 1989, the contribution of the private sector to economic growth exceeded that of the public sector and Mahathir’s mission to transfer state capital to private Malay capitalist hands was well on target. During Mahathir’s tenure as Prime Minister, three main UMNO officials focused their attention on building “Bumiputera capitalists”. This was facilitated after Umno was declared illegal in 1988 and its assets were required to be sold off. The three were Mahathir himself, crafty Daim Zainuddin who was his finance minister during two phases in Mahathir’s term and thirdly, Anwar Ibrahim who, before his downfall in September 1998, was second in power to Mahathir. All three had their respective corporate connections.

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During the financial crisis of 1997, the state provided support for favoured firms linked to “Bumiputera capitalists” after the imposition of capital controls, such as reflationary measures that included cutting interest rates and making credit more readily available to these fledgling firms. Banks were also encouraged to lend more, and to bail out troubled firms – including that of Mahathir’s son – and a new expansionary budget was introduced in October 1998.

Apart from his historic creation of Malay private capital through privatisation of state assets and his grandiose projects, Mahathir left a racist legacy that was the result of his populist intention to win over the Bumiputera votes. The racial discrimination implicit in the NEP was continued without any public debate; poverty was racialised as mainly a Bumiputera phenomenon; “Bumiputeras only” institutions were expanded, and racial discrimination was extended to discounts and quotas for housing, access to investment funds, loans and scholarships. This racist legacy included a chauvinistic National Cultural Policy that tried to pander to Malay-centrism with dire consequences for ethnic relations, especially in 1987.

Mahathir’s term in office was marked by sensational financial scandals that were not unexpected of an authoritarian populist who did not pay much heed to accountability and good governance. No one knows about all these scandals better than the leader of the Opposition who must declare if Mahathir can get away with impunity.

Mahathir’s racist paradigm was translated across the board to incorporate political, economic, educational, social and cultural policies and he left a racist legacy that has today been latched upon by a far-right Malay supremacist group of which he is the patron. This Malay-centric ideology they purvey has become increasingly infused with extreme Islamic populism, leaving even “moderate” Malays worried for the future.

Najib has merely extended Mahathir’s methods of rule

At the 13th general election (GE13) held on May 5, 2013, the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition won 133 of the 222 seats in Parliament, preserving its majority, despite the fact that it only received 47.38 per cent of the popular vote against 50.87 for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition. Soon after GE13, UMNO decided to punish the non-Malays for their support of the opposition PR by giving only 19 per cent of places in public universities to Chinese students and 4 per cent to Indian students even though the two ethnic groups together make up about 30 per cent of the student population. Mahathir castigated Prime Minister Najib Razak for wasting election funds on Chinese voters.

Image result for Najib and Rosmah Mansor

The GE13 results signalled a return to Mahathir’s strident racial politics and a U-turn on Najib’s pre-election attempt to reach out to the other races through his slogan “1Malaysia”. As noted above, Umno’s erstwhile Malay chauvinist credentials have since been farmed out to Malay far-right organisations like Perkasa and other groups. The latter will seek to prolong pro-Malay discriminatory policies and Najib’s pre-election attempts to cut back on ethnic Malay privileges in the NEP now seem politically futile.

While it is the growing trend of many countries to reduce their civil service, Malaysia’s Prime Minister’s Department in particular, has done the opposite. It has more than doubled its number of civil servants from 21,000 to 43,554. In stark contrast, the White House employs only 1,888 staff! To date, there are ten “Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department” alone, on top of other important agencies or governmental bodies that fall within the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department. These include, among others, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Election Commission of Malaysia, Department of Islamic Development, Public Service Department, Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, the Judicial Appointments Commission, Economic Planning Unit and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

Image result for The Malaysian civil service

Image result for The Malaysian civil service

The oversized bureaucracy and the Bumiputera-ist populism have, in turn, created massive leakages in the economy. In 2010, Cuepacs President Omar Osman revealed that a total of 418,200 or 41 per cent of the 1.2 million civil servants in the country were suspected to be involved in corruption. The 2009 Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) report revealed that Malaysians generally consider political parties and civil service to be the most corrupt groups, and the government’s anti-corruption drive to be ineffective.

Thus, instead of focussing on remedying the particular needs of the various poor classes in Malaysian society, the state has chosen to blame the plight of the Malay peasantry on “Chinese dominance of the economy”. At the same time, the state’s populist Bumiputera policy is intended to win over the allegiance of the whole Malay community while mainly benefiting the wealthier strata most of all.

The NEP and the state’s authoritarian populism

The state has subverted the democratic process through the proscription of so-called “sensitive” issues that include questioning the special position of the Malays, the national language and the rulers’ privileges. These proscriptions have been implemented through the use of detention without trial laws as well as the Sedition Act. Thus, the demands of workers and peasants, educational, religious and cultural organisations, indigenous peoples and regional minorities have been summarily dealt with through the cynical use of such repressive laws.

Image result for new economic policy malaysia

The NEP has served to institutionalise racial discrimination and its continuation is crucial to the authoritarian populism of the Malaysian state. This is blatantly practiced in the armed and civil services, education and economic sectors. Communalism, which is an intrinsic part of the state’s ideology, continues to produce tension in Malaysian society today and even more so after the challenge to the status quo at the 2008 general election. Even while Malaysia has been experiencing healthy economic growth rates since the seventies, the Malaysian state has had to rely on continued repression and communalist policies to divide the people.

The movement for genuine reforms

To conclude, as long as pro-Bumiputera policies remain useful in winning Bumiputera votes, it is unlikely that the ruling class in Umno will want to dispense with this method of rule. Racism has been thoroughly infused in all the national institutions, including racist indoctrination of Bumiputeras in state institutions such as the BTN that recently came to light. Since Najib introduced the slogan “1Malaysia” to try to woo the disaffected non-Bumiputera voters after the 2008 fiasco, strident racism often associated with Umno Youth has now been outsourced to the far-right Malay supremacist groups. They continue to play the role of storm troopers and disrupt activities organised by civil society to promote social justice, democracy and human rights. UMNO’s competition with PAS has also heightened Islamic populism in the country, with dire consequences for ethnic relations. Above all, racial discrimination facilitates crony capitalism that is essential to UMNO’s monopoly of power. This has not changed since the Mahathir era.

The ethnic Indian working class and the indigenous peoples in both East and West Malaysia are the poorest communities in Malaysia; the former and the Orang Asli cannot rely on “Bumiputera” privileges, while the indigenous peoples of East Malaysia do not enjoy the same amount of state largesse as the Malays in West Malaysia even though they are categorised as Bumiputeras.

So, if there is going to be an NCC2, will the new council of “eminent persons” be prepared to face this reality and join the movement for genuine reforms in order to progress into the future. The road toward uniting the Malaysian peoples is through a concerted effort for greater democracy not only in the political realm but also in economic, educational, social and cultural policies. The state’s ideological view of “national unity” through one language and one culture and the dissolution of Chinese and Tamil schools are intended to fuel Malay chauvinism. The basis of unity rests fundamentally on the recognition of the equality of all nationalities. The imposition of one language and one culture on all the communities will produce only a hollow unity.

The basis for unity among the people has also to embody a commitment to democracy and policies that will improve the living standards of workers and farmers of all communities and at the same time unite them. These components involve the lifting of restrictions on legitimate political organisation and activity, as well as the encouragement of social and political institutions that ensure genuine popular control.

Thus, the task for all Malaysians is to build a solidarity movement for democracy, fully cognisant of the need to improve the livelihood of the masses and build a society that is progressive, inclusive and truly equal.

Kua Kia Soong is the advisor of Suaram (Suara Rakyat Malaysia).