Permatang Pasir: a milestone in the long march against racism

By Sim Kwang Yang

The Malaysian government is thinking of doing away with the category of “race” in all official forms.  I have been filling those forms all my life and I have always hated that particular category.  When the forms do not really matter, I just fill in “human” for my race.

But removing the category “race” from forms will not begin to eradicate racism that is so entrenched and institutionalised in Malaysian national life.  It has its deepest roots in party politics.  As long as political parties find that racist sentiments are the most effective tool in mass mobilisation of populist support, racism will continue to colour all our daily judgements.

In short, race based political parties and their race-based nation-building policies are the real cause of racism in Malaysia.

The March 8 GE last year did allow room for a different kind of political narrative that is not based on race to rear its young head onto the political landscape.  That young narrative is now struggling to develop and evolve into a new but mature political conversation about Ketuanan Rakyat rather than the Ketuanan Melayu of the old political order.

That political tsunami swept away the non-Malay race-based political parties in the Barisan Nasional, like the MCA, Gerakan and MIC.  Only UMNO is relatively unscathed, to entrench their hegemony of this supposedly multiracial coalition.

Overnight, the power-sharing basis of the different races within the BN structure is on the brink of total collapse.

The newly minted PM Najib Tun Razak’s response to this new scenario was to tailor the 1Malaysia slogan coupled with a few superficially liberalisation policies in the hope of winning back the middle ground.

Fortunately, we have the Manik Urai by-election, in which PAS squeaked past UMNO by a razor-thin margin.  This must have given the UMNO strategists upstairs the basis for the hope that UMNO is enjoying a renaissance among the Malay heartland.