Racial Politics Still Game Today

Many Malaysians feel threatened by a merits based system simply because they would not be able to compete on a level playing field with others; as even under the present system they have yet to fully realise their potential. 

By Delimma

As we approach yet another year’s end in Malaysia, nothing much has changed in the political landscape. True, there have been inroads made by the opposition since 2008, the states governed by the opposition have shown that they can be independent in managing its own affairs. And yes, the conundrum of the ruling BN kept the nation in tatters and laughter over the last two years. 

But nothing much has changed on the way we play the political game, and this is much the same across the board, no matter whether you are the government or the opposition. The race card is still very much the order of the day, and whether Malaysians like it or not, it is still shaping the future of Malaysian politics – until such time when we can come to terms with the indignities of racial politics and what it would entail for our future generations. 

Even the Prime Minister, being earnest to promote racial harmony through his 1Malaysia ideology, has suddenly softened his stance on the need for racial politics to be uprooted and a more meaningful growth-based and people-oriented type of politics be used as the new paradigm in Malaysian politics. Sadly, Najib had to find this out the hard way; many of the people who at first publicly supported his 1Malaysia (including the current No.2) has suddenly fizzled out into quiet discontent over the threats to their own party’s survival if the idea of a unified party ever comes to bear fruit. 

As we try to unravel the mysteries of corruption, patriarchal or matriarchal patronages in politics and expose their filial repercussions on this great nation of ours, we still haven’t found the right tonic to eradicate racial politics from our mindsets. It might even take two or three future generations to do this, but the beginning must always start now. We know it, the people know it, politicians know it. But to change is something we have found to be quite a tricky path to take, and one many currently see not going to move soon.

The recent public outcry over an alleged principal’s racist remarks in a secondary school in Johor is just one of the many incidents that is blatantly used by political parties to play the racial card. One would have expected UMNO and other BN components to spearhead this game, but now even PKR, PAS and DAP has upped the ante by coming out with their own teacher-bashing statements. No doubt they might look good in their PR exercise, but all the parties (including BN) forgot that at the end of the day, when the dust settles, the only people who will remain angry and dissatisfied would be the teaching fraternity. And if this thing ever boils over to a different tune, imagine the shift in voting patterns in the next elections.  

The same applies to the alleged name substitution by Penang CM Lim Guan Eng from the King’s in one of the Friday prayers’ sermons in Penang. All hell broke loose the minute Utusan carried the news. As it turned out, the report is still unconfirmed as a true source and Utusan is still to back it up with actual footage of the sermon using the CM’s name. To us, unless there is viable evidence proving it, any news report is only allegations mitigating proof. But BN politicians (mostly UMNO) were quick to pull the trigger without verifying the reports in the first place. And when the DAP came out with its video defence of the allegations, another nail could be banged into BN’s coffin unless they can prove otherwise. 

The MCA realised that it was threading on thin ice when its President called for a gradual rescind of the pro-Bumiputera affirmative policies practiced since the birth of this country. But it had no choice, the Chinese community is already up in arms over what it alleged to be unfair practices that is denying it further prospects of prosperity. What the President failed to put into his words is that although affirmative policies can be changed to a needs-based policy, the outcome would in the end, negate the very nature of what the political parties represented to its members and the people. 

It is true that as Malaysia evolves into a matured nation, more and more people would be inclined to utilise a merits-based system based on the objectivity and rationale for the betterment of the country. Mind you, this notion is shared not only by the Chinese, but by all Malaysians, irrespective of race. Many Malays who have made it in life also feel that a merits based system would suit everyone better. But unfortunately, the present system that is in place would have to go. Although we all know it would be a good move, there are still lingering fears that a merits based system could still benefit only a certain segment of the community, and not Malaysians in general. 

A merits based system would award contracts, scholarships and others to the most worthy; and in political terms, deny the parties concerned their chance at becoming instant heroes for seemingly fighting to better the state of certain groups of people. This is the myopia that has stopped this idea in its tracks. Instead of listening to the reasoning, everyone seems more concerned with what would be lost if this system replaces the present race-based merits system.  

We forget that in the present system, race is not only the basis of consideration. If it is, we would be wondering why after more than 30 years of the NEP as we knew it the policy is still to achieve its aims and objectives. That so far, only 19% of the targeted 30% equity for Bumiputeras have been acquired, and to top that off, almost two thirds out of the 19% belonged to conglomerates and GLCs instead of individual Malays. Many Malaysians feel threatened by a merits based system simply because they would not be able to compete on a level playing field with others; as even under the present system they have yet to fully realise their potential. 

This can be easily attributed to wastages and unfortunately corruption and abuse, attributes that exist on both sides of the political divide. To coin one former politician’s words – I trust my friends better to do the job successfully than to another Joe whom I have no idea of having the capacity to do it. This was the practice of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir and any other politician in power. Whether his thinking reflected the poor state of development at the time remains a question still debated today; but at that time there were so few people who actually had the capacity to complete jobs and development that were necessary for the nation. Then again, who better to trust to complete the job than your friends, especially those that have been there to support you in times of need? 

Providing opportunities to these so called friends also had a purpose; the idea was for them to start a new network, a net of sorts to groom new entrepreneurs, new corporate giants and nurture a new generation of people able to move with the times. But unfortunately, true friends can be counted only with one hand. Some of these friends became bandits who not only rob from the government, but also dished out cathartic development at costs that are still being reflected in our everyday lives.  

The North-South highway is just one of them. First conceived as a breakthrough in development, the designers and planners failed to see even 10 years ahead of its needs and development. Instead we only thought about constructing a highway for the sake of it. So today, the highway is still being enlarged to accommodate more vehicles at a cost the people will have to bear through tolls and others. The American freeways were developed in the 60s and 70s, and yet; they are still capable to ferrying millions of vehicles everyday up to today.  

If costs were a factor then, isn’t it also a factor today? The Penang Bridge was our moment in history; and yet when we built it, we forgot even to put a simple lay off lane for accidents or stalled vehicles to park; and to top that off, we only have two lanes on each side. Now, the government will have to spend billions more to build a new bridge, money that could have  been saved during the earlier construction if we had seen it coming. 

Proton is another malady which was a good idea but poorly thought through. Sure, we wanted to build a new Detroit of the East, but we forgot that for any manufacturer in the automobile industry to be competitive, the answer has got to be continuous demand. We once had an idea of having a 70 million population to ensure domestic demand remains a strong factor, but that idea has long been forgotten. Where we failed to consider is also the notion that most successful producers are key exporters of vehicles. Proton is saddled with high costs as it has failed to generate volumes in sales. Makes like Honda and Toyota are selling an average of 1 million vehicles worldwide every year and still they report losses; so where is Proton in all of this? Coupled that with ridiculous pricing for its parts by again – abuse and corruption by its vendors and connected people within the organisation, and there you have it; a company who still has to depend on government policies to stay afloat. 

On the education front, despite a lot being done for the Bumis over the last 30 years, school drop outs and failure rates still remain a pertinent issue. Every new minister taking control of the Education Ministry has some boisterous plan to inject new blood and haul the system up, but we always ended up the poorer and much worse due to its inconsistencies and sudden changes in management. To top that of, our present system is only interested in producing good grades and not good students. Hence the rising unemployment rate once these students find out that government jobs are getting harder to come by and that they have very little to offer the private sector, let alone possessing adequate entrepreneurial skills to be competitive in business. 

And the fiefdom of the business world exacerbate further the notion that merits based policies might not be a good idea today. Job and contracts are given to those with close connections to whoever is in power in politics, government or business. Where is the logic of merit in that? And decisions made are sometimes hurried for a certain benefit that only gets to a few people instead of the company, its shareholders or the people.  

So we are forced to mitigate these factors as we plod on the path to a fairer and just system called merits based, which unfortunately, judging by present conditions, will again be abused for the sake of some individuals who “merit” the award. And political parties will never agree to it, this is the leverage that they have been using all this while to churn loyalty and support to its leaders and causes. Sadly, the politicians fail to realise that among the 27 million odd population, less than 40% actually belong to any political party. And this is the main reason for the widening gap between politicians and the general public which we are seeing today. 

At the end of the day, it boils down to a simple question, do we really want to change? Change can be a battle cry for politicians, but when the time comes, can they change it? Although much is talked about a united Malaysia where the people all treat themselves equally as Malaysians, no single party in Malaysia can claim that they have been passive when the race card is issued. So in the end, race based politics is still much the same, and despite claims to the contrary, every political party is still harping on it. Maybe it is because we have discovered that race based politics is not just an issue for politicians, but also an issue for Malaysians in general. 

Only when Malaysians accept that race based politics have to go can a change be made. Politicians and political parties irrespective of sides need to be told that whoever plays the racial card would get a lesson in Malaysian national integration by the people. If this cannot be done now, then changes for the betterment of our political system will take another step backward, and may take eons to come full circle again.