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Breaking through the false ceiling

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Let us therefore visualise a Malaysia where everyone has a fair chance and opportunity based on his or her capability and capacity, writes K Haridas.

Pakatan Harapan’s (PH’s) manifesto of ‘Rebuilding our Nation, Fulfilling our Hopes’ is an inspiring document. It has evolved following discussions with many stakeholders and reflects the aspirations of the people.

The document stresses the call by our founding father, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, who when reading out the proclamation of Independence stressed that the nation “shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations”.

Sixty-one years after Independence from colonial rule, we can proudly claim that we have once again secured our independence this time from a kleptocratic government. This is a singular achievement by the Malaysian people. Although we will honour all the safeguards and protection provided under the Constitution, we need to look afresh at some ‘sacred policies’ that have come to roost and polarise our society.

Dismantling the perspective of race and religion

The one singular focus that needs to shift is to stop looking at all things from the perspective of race and religion. In doing so, we not only hurt ourselves but also demean religion. Look at where ‘ketuanan Melayu’ has led us and the same goes for the prolonged affirmative policies.

Is ketuanan Melayu a concept in keeping with Islam or is it an example of conforming Islam to accommodate the fears of Umno Malays? Islam is all about Justice, and Umno Malays would do well to reflect on this paradox. The human being is a khalifah or vicegerent of God, made in the fullness of his physical, mental and spiritual dimensions, and this enables him or her to reflect and represent attributes of God on earth.

This statement refers to humankind and is not exclusive to Muslims. “Oh Man, behold we have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes so that you may come to know one another. Verily the noblest amongst you in the sight of God is the one who is deeply conscious of him” (49:13).

Is this expression about fear or about transcending our limitations be it race, religion, colour and issues of identity? It is the tragedy of religions through time when believers try to shape them to the here and now to justify their motives, and this distorts their magnificence.

How we treat the other thus becomes an integral essence of our faith. If we do so out of fear and denigrate the other than we will pay the price. Greed is universal and all of us have to manage and understand this in our lives.

Unbridled greed like we witness now with so much money, gold, handbags and watches is human nature gone beserk. Imelda Marcos was in the same mould, and you will find others the world over.

Religiosity only provides a cover, and when the truth is known, where does one turn one’s face and hide one’s excesses. Religion must lead to an inner realisation for otherwise it remains a mere decoration.

The New Economic Policy (NEP) was a 20-year programme aimed at achieving social justice. When the period ended it was extended and continued under different nomenclature for the last 48 years. Umno-Barisan Nasional (BN) was unable to dismount the tiger of the NEP for fear of being mauled. So they continued with their narrative of the poor, stupid, neglected and disadvantaged Malays who were constantly exploited by others. Statistics were manipulated to justify extension.

Ethnic politics further polarised the situation. The unsheathing of the keris, the name-calling, the “kafirs” and “pendatangs”, the issue relating to the word Allah, and body-snatching only added much hurt and injury to other Malaysians. Some muftis and their divisive statements and silence from the leadership added to a loss of confidence.

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The political victims of this were the BN component parties, namely the MCA and the MIC. Their representation within the BN coalition has now dwindled to three seats. There is a message here that Umno in its arrogance has refused to acknowledge: by belittling others they are now paying for their karma.

Ending ethnic politics

We have hopefully come to the end of ethnic politics. The last 48 years – despite all the well-meaning slogans ranging from Rukun Negara, “Clean, Efficient and Trustworthy”, Vision 2020, Islam Hadhari, 1 Malaysia to Transformasi Nasional 50 – has been enough to teach us that ethnic politics and the ghetto mindset pulls us in different directions. But any hope of realising the inclusive ideas behind these slogans was a mere pipe dream. The lesson from the above is that an exclusive mindset can never implement inclusive ideas.

We were not ready to face the paradox that inclusiveness requires us to look at one another first as human beings and then to respond to the humanity in one another. This was not politically expedient because these ethnic-based parties needed to hold onto their ghetto mentality by providing handouts.

BN’s collective failure lies in its inability to articulate of vision of Malaysians sharing a common humanity and a shared future. It lacked the leadership and the commitment to pull together.

Race has both polarised and divided the nation. To continue down this road would be sheer foolishness. In an email received by me, which is attributed to a former Umno politician, he raised some issues in 2014 that need serious reflection. While I cannot vouch for its authenticity, the substance of what is raised needs serious consideration.

He said, “Umno has ruled Malaysia for 57 years and is still crying about safeguarding Malay special rights; Malays under threat; Malays living in poverty etc. Over all this period, Umno ruled the country, Islam remained the national religion, and what has UMNO been doing if Malaysia and Islam are under threat”.

He listed some information: “Malaysia has nine sultans and a king and they are Malays. The prime minister and his deputy holding powerful positions are Malays. Since 1974, the minister of finance has always been a Malay. Other than Penang, all chief ministers and menteri besars are Malays. The majority of federal ministers are Malays. Influential and crucial ministries are headed by Malays. Out of the 222 MPs, the majority are Malays. More than 93% of all government departments are staffed by Malays”.

“The NEP was designed and implemented for the Malays. [A large percentage] of the university quotas are reserved for Malays. Special discounts for the purchase of luxury apartments or condominium units as well as stock purchases are extended to Malays. Top positions in the army, navy, air force and the police are held by Malays. The GLCs, GLICs and the GOCs are all controlled by the Malays.”

He then states that the Malays are already in absolute control of crucial institutions and the pillars of political, economic and societal life. “How can they be threatened and face the danger of being harmed by the minority races? It is actually Umno leaders and their cronies with their never-ending greed who continue to bully and lie by blaming the minority races and making them the scapegoats.” He urged the Malays to wake up and see the evil intentions of Umno warlords.

Today, we have a former deputy prime minister who was suddenly reincarnated in Bagan Datuk helming the leadership of Umno. What a paradox when people who subscribe to ketuanan Melayu are blind to this fact but concerned when Lim Guan Eng, a born and bred Malaysian with an excellent command of Bahasa Malaysia, does a press release in Mandarin.

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Zahid Hamidi needs to be investigated relating to the police cases against him. Only God can now help Umno! With Zahid Hamidi’s poor command of English and his lack of inclusiveness, he will not be in any position to reform Umno. This is good news for Pakatan Harapan.

Today, government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies manage over a trillion ringgit and have about 44% of the shareholdings in the stock exchange. The inability to give due recognition to the achievements of the Malays perhaps is not the narrative that Umno prefers. There are many excellent and highly educated Malays out there, and they too feel disappointed like other Malaysians at what has happened to their beloved nation.

Time for a new National Justice Policy

Malaysians as a whole are concerned and understand the need to protect the Malay special position as outlined in the Constitution. But issues relating to the NEP need a fresh look. It was the late Sopee Sheikh Ibrahim who once wrote that, if we continue to do what we are doing, we will reduce the Malays to become like domesticated chicken, unable to fend for themselves.

The other minority communities have no alternative but to strive for their living without handouts and are today in some ways more resilient though feeling very much like second-class citizens.

But the glass ceiling has to be broken, and we are seeing the evidence of this with the appointment of Lim Guan Eng as Finance Minister and Tommy Thomas as Attorney General. There are many Malaysians who are brilliant and can serve the nation but race-based policies have placed a false ceiling that has frustrated many and denied them promotions and career development. This has to end.

Any prolongation of the NEP has to be needs-based, not-race based. The rural poor and the urban poor as well as marginalised communities in Malaysia need to be identified, assisted and lifted.

Over 48 years have passed since the NEP was supposed to end, and we see today the negative aspects that have evolved around the rent-seeking culture epitomised by the NEP. The elite Malays have exploited poor Malays and blamed minority groups using them as a shield to distract the people from the real truth.

We cannot continue to see issues through the lens of race despite race being a reality. What we get is a distorted reality. We then treat the other with disgust never to realise that we will be paying a price for such attitudes. Such negativity bounces back on the perpetrators.

A focus on the part can never improve the whole – whereas an emphasis on the whole will always address the needs of the part. This is a basic principle. We must challenge the denial syndrome that is evident.

Umno, the MCA and the MIC would have to stand together and apologise to Malaysians at large if they want any redemption for the future. This is what the Japanese would expect of their leaders, and it is a good practice to emulate.

You cannot paint your own cabin while the ship is sinking. Malaysians will not begrudge any effort aimed at addressing the needs of all who are poor and marginalised. The NEP, if it is to remain, has to evolve and become more inclusive.

The death of BN is testimony that the race-based approach has no long-term future in the creation of a progressive Malaysia. It only breeds corruption, cronyism and nepotism. The very people whom we expect to serve the larger cause ended up serving themselves and exploiting their position to enrich themselves. What goes around comes around and the crown jewel of such rent-seeking is none other than Najib Razak.

We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect different results. We have this window of opportunity to make a difference. We need to move away from pitting Malaysians against one another. This fosters prejudices and contaminates our society. We are all interested in contributing towards creating a just, free and fair Malaysia.

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Dr Mahathir Mohamad needs to realign his call for extending affirmative action policies to avoid as he says conflict between “poor Malays” and “rich Chinese”. This is indicative of his old race-based mindset of not taking responsibility for the failures in justly implementing NEP. He is looking through his ethnic lens. This is not the emphasis stated in Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto.

Finally, such an approach is unIslamic, and any race that does injustice to another over a long period suffers in the long run. When the majority were disadvantaged, the NEP accorded them the needed social justice. But having attained a good measure, they ignored the minorities and accorded to themselves exclusive notions.

We now need a National Justice Policy based on the creation of a multicultural and inclusive Malaysia. There is so much religiosity, which fundamentally is mere exhibition with little substance. Faith is an inner expression and experience that brings people together.

Pas’ Islam, meanwhile, is all about compliance with dress codes, hudud and how others should live. If their faith were values-centred, they would have represented Islam as an internal experience. Umno’s expressions of Islam are spelt out through Jakim and Jais and such other religious bodies often as a response to the positions taken by Pas. Pas has survived largely because of Umno and Najib’s largesse. So what does this say about Pas’ credibility and their Islamic credentials?

What has happened to many of the leaders in government-linked companies? Yes, they were competent but got so intoxicated with their salaries, perks and loyalty to Najib, which then dimmed their sense of values and character. They compromised and many of them in their silent moments would do well to look at themselves in the mirror. They have to atone for their shortcomings and reflect on how they failed their fellow citizens. Competence without character leads to arrogance. They were Malaysians in name but not in their commitment to a multicultural Malaysia.

Let us therefore visualise a Malaysia where everyone has a fair chance and opportunity based on his or her capability and capacity. Let every Malaysian contribute their best to the nation. Who would choose to be treated by a mediocre doctor, defended by a mediocre lawyer or have a house built by a mediocre engineer? Meritocracy is needed and what we have in our civil service presently is largely a combination of mediocrity without character. The chief secretary today embodies this reality.

Let us therefore break through this false ceiling and do for our nation what we can so that we move forward together in creating a diverse multicultural Malaysia that all of us can be proud off. I dream of PNB and Petronas being led by inclusive Malaysians, of great judges selected based on their intelligence and capability. The same goes for leaders in the civil service, the police, army and the displomatic corps. So too in all walks of life, including NGOs and civil society – that they feel that they can also contribute to the wellbeing of the nation.

We must remain always vigilant and track the progress of Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto in ensuring that they deliver on all their promises. The new Malaysia is there for us to participate and create.

We must challenge and ensure acceptance and break through these false ceilings. Nothing will be given to us on a platter as was the case in the people’s struggle and their achievements during the last general election. Yet it remains a right that cannot and must not be denied on the basis of race. We will demand inclusion and challenge racism.

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