Racism is toxic and evident in Malaysia. It is well organised and has become systemic.
Key political parties are race-based, and for nearly six decades this was the accepted formula. We all contributed to this progression as they were elected and re-elected.
Racism is a human condition that we are all called to transcend. The ‘other’ always remains a significant contributor to whom we become.
For over two decades, Dr Mahathir Mohamad was at the helm. Prior to his arrival, we had the Rukun Negara (national philosophy or principles) – a testament of hope and an enabler to the New Economic Policy (NEP).
The NEP was inspired by Rukun Negara and aimed at realising two goals: wiping out poverty irrespective of race and restructuring society by removing the identification of race with vocation or location. Both these prongs were mutually reinforcing.
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Slogan after slogan gave assurances that things hopefully would be different. Malaysians bought into them, only to be disappointed time and time again. At the last election, there were only two survivors: the MCA and the MIC, both just winning their seats by merely a few hundred votes! This literally brought the Barisan Nasional experiment to an end, buried by racism, greed and corruption.
What does this say? There was no post-election evaluation or analysis to see how they could improve. Instead, it was business as usual. No one was worried that the BN formula had crumpled.
When the vision of Rukun Negara and the objective of social justice began to wane, these were replaced by an overemphasis on race and religion.
Why the fear?
Today, we have to ask ourselves what happened to the preamble to the Rukun Negara – the desire to bring about greater unity, maintain a democratic way of life, create a just society where the wealth of the nation would be equitably shared, foster a liberal approach to our rich and diverse cultural traditions, and build a progressive society oriented to modern science and technology.
Why this fear of the non-Malays? The chancellor of the exchequer in the UK is not a white; neither are several members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet. US President Joe Biden has many in his cabinet representing a whole array of Americans of various origins. Singapore respects this diversity.
But here in Malaysia, having a Chinese Malaysian as a finance minister is seen as threatening by radical Malays. Why is this so if he is capable? Is this not a racist response? Is it a question of merit or of race?
We pledged our united efforts to attain these goals by adhering to these principles, namely belief in God, loyalty to king and country, the supremacy of the Constitution, rule of law, and good behaviour and morality.
While we can accept the first and second principles, we have failed in upholding the Constitution, the rule of law and good behaviour and morality.
Our leadership remains short of character, vision and values. They mouth these attributes but do not seem to live by it. Hypocrisy seems evident. This is why we are where we are today as a nation.
There are always perpetrators, as there are victims, and it is thus not surprising that there are different perceptions and narratives of events. Many conscious and unconscious perpetrators within the political parties and in the civil service would never cast themselves as racist, but by their silence they espouse the cause. They from all ethnic groups peddle it when they enter their ethnic ghettos.
Abdul Razak Hussein and a group of politicians exerted pressure, and this led to Tunku Abdul Rahman’s resignation. The NEP and the resulting BN formula secured the people’s support, and hence the broadened coalition formed the government.
The NEP was to be a 20-year experiment aimed at achieving social justice and unity. But after this period, it resurrected itself under a new name.
Now, after six decades, where are we? There was hardly any regular monitoring, review or adjustment. The policy continued, and no one had the guts to acknowledge that the NEP did not achieve its goals of enhancing social justice and unity.
It merged into special Malay rights and became a sensitive issue hence seditious.
With the Official Secrets Act and the Internal Security Act, which allowed detention without trial, and Mahathir’s autocratic regime, the end to fairness and justice was coloured by race and religion.
Society grew more polarised, and we see today the same political warlords, many of whom have enriched themselves economically.
Anwar, stick to the reform agenda
Anwar Ibrahim, the facts now speak for themselves. You have a civil service, the army, the navy, the police and even the judiciary predominantly under the hands of one race.
What has been done for the non-Malay Malaysians who have been discriminated against in promotions within the service and in scholarship opportunities at local universities, just to mention a couple? All this is self-evident, and you know it.
Autocracy breeds a culture of silence and promotes a culture of obedience. You are not to question authority, and if the personality is titled and has privileges even more so. You can say all you want about Tommy Thomas’s book, but you cannot deny his moral courage to state what he has done.
No one needs to agree with all of Thomas’s perspectives. Many can say all that they want regarding the Official Secrets Act and the oath of secrecy and call for the removal of his honorific, yet this will never change his narrative. He says it as he sees it, and that is the author’s prerogative.
The earlier attorney generals perhaps had little to say that may have shown them in good light, nor did they have the courage to air their grievances to make a difference.
Consider all the scandals, including one that afflicted you so personally. They even punched you, and it took several years before the conviction of an inspector general and the admission of the fact. You well remember the role of the then attorney general over this incident.
When exposed, they become a close-knit group. This is their strength, for otherwise, how could we be where we are today, notorious for the high levels of corruption throughout the system?
What has become of our judiciary, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the police and the civil service? Can any of them take credit for all the work done by the NGOs and media like Sarawak Report?
We cried so badly for reform and responded to you and brought about the change, only to be disappointed again.
Let’s admit we do not have the capacity to identify daylight robbery that goes on under the guise of race and corruption. Just consider the salaries of CEOs of many government-linked entities. It is just atrocious. A recently reported study shows how much information is hidden. There is little transparency.
Study the underperforming entities like 1MDB, Felda Global Ventures, Lembaga Tabung Haji and Malaysia Airlines. Despite the nation saddled with debts and contingent liabilities totalling one trillion ringgit, there is little attempt to rationalise the remuneration packages of those heading such organisations.
Greed took over and race rationalised this reality. Look at the developments within Mara. A good leader would have delivered while a crooked one would enriched himself. It is debatable that the remuneration packages of CEOs and directors of government-linked entities were aimed as an incentive towards better performance.
On the contrary, some became convenient platforms for rent-seekers to enjoy guaranteed levels of pay, running into hundreds of thousands of ringgit monthly. There was pubic disquiet, and questions were raised both about competency and character. There was little risk involved, as almost everything is guaranteed by the government. A further factor was that all this was only available to a small coterie of the elite. Race, secrecy and corruption combined, and this enabled them to plunder the nation.
More best sellers, please
On the credibility of the Attorney General’s Chambers, a book each by Gani Patail and Apandi Ali could also be best sellers. They served during interesting times.
The former was removed abruptly and would have interesting insights that would be of value for the Attorney General’s Chambers and for Malaysians. What about the Kevin Morais saga?
The latter and his clearance of Najib Razak on the 1MDB issue would be helpful to understand his mind.
The dismissal of 46 charges brought against Sabah’s Musa Aman, who was acquitted of corruption and money laundering issues, only brought negative perceptions about the Attorney General’s Chambers. Was it because he could not even be indicted on one of these charges? They did the same also with Najib’s stepson. Does this bring confidence and trust to the office of the attorney general?
Whatever you may say to defend the civil service, serious reforms are needed so Malaysians of all races can feel they have an equal opportunity to serve the nation. The selection process and the standards which respect meritocracy need to be encouraged.
It is sad that some Malays have been sold the colonial notion that they are lazy or unproductive. More so, when their own leaders repeatedly utter such statements! They would do well to read Syed Hussein Alatas’s landmark book. I do not buy this notion, as my cardiac specialist and endocrinologists are both Malays.
This myth is used to justify the lowering of standards, which enables many to pass their exams while lecturer hit their “KPIs” (key performance indicators), hence qualifying for their bonus and other benefits.
So, there is a different narrative on Abdul Razak Hussein. Equally, there are different narratives on the Attorney General’s Chambers.
Let the Attorney General’s Chambers look at why such perceptions exist. Could this also have to do with the training and development of prosecutors from within the chambers, a lack of language proficiency and the quality of some of the lawyers inducted?
The Mahathir dilemma
Mahathir must have faced several challenges as he held the reins of the Pakatan Harapan government. People questioned him, and he did not have a free rein to do as he liked.
This was difficult for him, as his two decades of experience was as an autocrat. He is no manager of diversity, no reformer. That he had so many deputy prime ministers during his earlier tenure underlines this reality.
Managing diversity and accepting differing narratives are part of an interdependent globalised world. These could provide insights that may be helpful. To condemn the narrative, to lodge police reports and threaten an author with legal action only shows how little people respect diversity and differing views.
Even the book Breaking the Silence – Voices of Moderation published by G25, a group of 25 prominent Malays, with essays from many of them, was banned.
How intolerant have we become of views that differ from those in the extreme right! Such actions indirectly strengthen the views of the extremist fringe.
Malaysians of all backgrounds and cultures, including the indigenous people, all have an equal role to play in fashioning the Malaysia of tomorrow. We may have differing views, perspectives and narratives. These must be matched with the reality on the ground, the aspirations of the people and a leadership that has character.
This is critical for any reform agenda, and while I agree with much of the reform agenda, I am saddened that this is no more the focus of the present backdoor government. When even a Muslim Malaysian appeals court judge cannot have the right of reply, then we can only reflect on Voltaire’s saying, “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong”.
What then becomes of justice, the oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the fear of the court of public opinion? When authorities exert such pressure, they do so because they fear the exposure, and a cover-up possibly provides an easier and better option than to adjudicate on serious matters.
Inclusion, participation and a sense of being needed are all critical if we want to build a cohesive society. Race will remain the red herring, but what we sorely lack are leaders of character, vision and conviction.
Editor’s note: An abridged version of this article appeared in another news portal under a provocative title even though Haridas’ original title was “Res ipsa loquitur [The thing speaks for itself] – Saudara Anwar Ibrahim”.