a community of singaporeans

TOC’s focus on Malaysia

Posted by theonlinecitizen on March 25, 2008

Rethinking Malaysia’s Multiracialism

Kamal Mamat

It has been a called a seismic shock, a political tsunami and an earthquake of cataclysmic proportions, among others. In short, Malaysia’s 2008 General Election is nothing less than epochal.

The invoked forces of nature notwithstanding, the question is; can Malaysia‘s desire to improve the lives of its rakyat based on the new multiracial ethos succeed?

In Anwar Ibrahim, one could hear the opposition’s exhortation, pledging a new Malaysia that is free of cronyism, nepotism and corruption, evils associated with the present government.

It promises a multiracial Malaysia that disregards one’s colour, religion or race where matters of development are concerned. It rings well, at least with the multiracial policy that Anwar’s own Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is known for.

Cracks in opposition alliance

However, it is less than a month after the General Election and cracks are already visible in the opposition’s alliance.

Penang new Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s immediate dismantling of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in Penang causes a stir and earns him a sharp rebuke from PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Next, his father Lim Kit Siang, Democratic Action Party (DAP) advisor and figurehead, directed DAP elected assemblymen in Perak to boycott the swearing-in ceremony for the new Menteri Besar; in protest of the Regent’s choice, Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin of Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS). He later apologised and retracted his statement.

As a result, Istana Kinta in a statement faxed to Bernama said that the ceremony will be postponed, in view of the lack of strong consensus amongst DAP, PKR and PAS in forming the coalition government.

The mainstream media had a field day capitalising on these decisions, attacking Lim Kit Siang for the insult and warning the Malays on the possible systemic erosion of their rights.

Only last week the alliance, unified by its de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, seemed formidable in their fight against the longstanding government led by BN.

One begins to wonder if this is short-lived.

Ethno-national politics

DAP’s actions revealed the herculean task that awaits Anwar’s in honouring his election’s manifesto; a tall order considering the other members of the alliance are ethnic-based parties sitting in an uneasily tenuous relationship. It reflects Malaysia’s situation as a whole, still governed along ethnic lines and with Malay-based UMNO at the helm.

DAP, in spite of its multiracial aspirations, is essentially a Chinese-based party. Similarly, PAS token non-Muslim candidate during the election could not erase its deeply-entrenched Islamic roots.

Collectively, the opposition’s victory during the recent election could not eradicate the fact that ethno-nationalist politics tenaciously exists and will govern the course of Malaysian politics in the near future.

Therein lies the problem. I suspect Malaysia has not as yet fully acquainted with the idea that it is a multicultural country. True multiculturalism prevails when equal recognition is given to all citizens of the state. For it to succeed, ethno-national politics has little place in the system of government.

Anwar Ibrahim’s ‘equality for all’ drivels are effective only if he did not follow these words with the next sentence assuring the Malays that their rights will be ‘terpelihara’ (maintained).

Likewise, the 60% considered as indigenous people (or bumiputera) could not ignore the rest who demand a system based on meritocracy and desire an end to a polity that favours only one race.

Malay superiority and meritocracy

In Belfast, the mood amongst the sizable Malaysian community here can be described as one of jubilance, most of whom happy of the anticipated changes in a new political landscape. Yet, a recent roundtable discussion on Malaysia and Meritocracy which I attended betrays the reluctance amongst a portion of the majority to end the very policy that perceptibly discriminates the minority groups.

Tellingly, one of the impressions drawn on meritocracy is that it can be achieved through the improvement of the educational infrastructure in rural area (which is invariably predominantly Malay), so that the playing field can be levelled.

If this is symptomatic, it is evidently clear then that the concept of ‘ketuanan Melayu’ (Malay superiority) clouds the true picture of meritocracy. It is a historical baggage cast in stone and it would take years before moss and mildew could superficially cover it.

Consequently, I would argue that multiracialism and meritocracy serve as mere election rhetoric, considering its implementation is arguably highly contentious.

For that I can only conclude that yes, there was a seismic shock. Massive earthquake even. Paradigm shift and post calamities clean-ups? That we have to wait and see.



19 Responses to “TOC’s focus on Malaysia”

  1. Dr Syed Alwi said

    Malaysia is a Muslim country and the 60% Bumiputeras are mostly Malay-Muslim. In a Muslim country – the Muslim community has to be placed ahead of the other communities according to Islam. Whether you and I agree with this or not – is quite another issue !

    Until such time when Islam is reformed or modernised – the status-quo will still hold in Muslim countries.

    And – yes – I do believe that Islam is due for a reform although I do not see it happen for another 100 years !!

  2. Truth said

    Dr. Syed Alwi,

    Islam emphasizes principles and values such as peaceful co-existence, tolerance, respect and brotherhood in humanity. I have not come across any textual evidence that supports your claims that In a Muslim country – the Muslim community has to be placed ahead of the other communities according to Islam

    On the contrary, we are bound by duty to behave towards non-believers with equity and to show them kindness.

    Islam is NOT due for reform, it is the Muslim community that needs reform. Blame it on the Muslim community for failing to understand the essence of the faith.

  3. Gary Teoh said

    Hudud Law only applies to muslims, and for non muslims they need not fear because freedom of religions is guaranteed under the Malaysian constitution.For the rights of Malays, it is also stated in the constitution, but NEP is an economic policy that is not in the constitution.The new state government can dismantle it and come up a new economic plan to benefit all races.The so called NEP only benefited a few cronies of BN,because they have the power to award contracts without transparancy.

  4. Dr Syed Alwi said

    Dear Truth,

    Only a Muslim can lead a Muslim country. And what about the Muslim concept of Dhimmitude ? Yes – Muslims are to show kindness towards Non-Muslims etc. But politically – Islam must be the dominant force in a Muslim country. No two ways about that.

  5. Dr Syed Alwi said

    Another point I wish to add :

    I and many like me – do not quite accept certain aspects of the Syariah Law like Hudud for example.

    Yes Muslims are to show kindness etc but when it comes to politics – Political Islam has definite rules. In Malaysia PEMBELA, ABIM, PAS etc are Malay-Muslim organisations which fight for Muslim supremacy.

    That is why we have Ketuanan Melayu, Islam as the official religion etc. It gives Malaysian Muslims the constitutional right to push an Islamic agenda.

    Witness the controversies in Malaysia like Moorthy and Lina Joy. There is no doubt that in a Muslim country, Islam gives Muslims more rights than the Non-Muslims.

  6. Dr Syed Alwi said

    And yet another point on this topic :

    The nature of Islam is NOT decided by Singaporeans ! Islam is defined by the Muslim world community and – like it or not – some aspects of Islam as defined by the Muslim world – may not be in harmony with what is projected as Islam by the Singapore authorities.

    Examples include – Hudud, Dhimmi, Islamic Political Dominance in Muslim countries and so on.

    You may have your own views – but it is the views of the Muslim world which defines Islam and NOT Singapore’s views.

    I myself have some problems with various aspects of Syariah Law. What to do ? The Muslim world has its own opinions as agreed upon by ulamas world-wide.

    Only a reform of Islam can change this situation and that will take another 100 years since there is so much inertia in the Muslim world. What to do ?

  7. Truth said

    The problem that we are facing with is basic human rights; the right for equality regardless of race or religion. A Muslim MAY lead a country in creating a political environment conducive for multi racialism and meritocracy. So can a non-Muslim.

    For me the issue of the Muslim state is secondary. And I feel the need to separate these two issues.

    I think it’s a ironic that a political group whose main existence lies in belief that they are superior than others can uphold the notion of multi racialism or meritocracy.

    While I applaud Anwar’s ‘equality for all’ rhetoric, he should not be fighting the battle alone. There is no room for mere lip service. At least he is courageous enough to admit that it is a national problem.

  8. patriot said

    A country that mires itself in religion, non stop religious strife, conflict and war will not have peaceful existence. There are so much latent destructive forces within the fervent believers who simply proselytize peaceful co-existence but want religious hegemony over all others, including members of the same faith but of a different sect, faction, tribe and non-conformist etc. Different Castes in Hinduism, different sects in Christianity (Catholic/multitude of Protestants) and Islam(Shiite/Sunni/Turk etc) are divisions within single religion. And since when have their internal religious feuds within themselves settled or ended?

    Religious struggles, are in my opinion, for those who have never understand the meaning of being and the purpose of existence. People who dot understand how to accept others as equals are like lower animals that claim territorial sovereign over fellow species. These territorial species simply cannot co-exist with their other same members. But they are lower animals and man(kind) is a ‘thinking species’, however some men do behave liked lower species.

    Indonesia is a good example to study for religion influences in political developments. Before Bhuddism/Hinduism was introduced, the Indonesians have their own homogeneous animistic beliefs. Later when the Europeans arrived, the Indonesian masses took to Christianity until the Arabs came and Islam overwhelmed all the Faiths before it(Islam). Each time a particular religion got embraced by the masses, seeds of conflicts are planted to tear into the fabric of the society. Though Bhuddism is a peaceful religion since its’ birth, much of its’ teachings are called superstitions and idol worships and had been derogatively and despicably used as reasons to convert Bhuddists to other Faiths. Such is the case for believers who simply cannot see another as fellow human but see him/her as a member of a different faith, what an enlightened believer that is?

    As it stands, any believer who insist on religious rights to rule belong to a lower species, and as such, they should not be in politics but stay in their religious pursuits. Societies must play the vital role of rejecting religious agenda in statecraft and governance of nation.

    Malaysia is part of the Malay Archipelago, the Indigenous Tribes are of Malay Origins and for them to deserve some privileges over immigrants is justifiable. WHAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE IS THAT THE PRIVILEGES TO THE MALAY RACE ARE ABUSED BY A SMALL NUMBER OF MALAY POLITICAL LEADERS TO ENRICH THEMSELVES AND THEIR CRONIES.

  9. aniza said

    The ketuanan melayu concept is not binded by the constituition.NEP is only a scheme that had to be introduced after the racial riot 1969 in M’sia.It was after all reading from M’sia blogs and friends a complete failure.

    In fact,it only divides the nation.And i believe contribute to the fall of BN.An anger by voters of both non-malays and malays about policies that divide the country.

    In fact,I believe the fall of Anwar Ibrahim is the fact that he wanted to make a reformation of the political system.Meaning,introduced meritocracy to all.But,meritocracy is and i do not know now is not acceptable to M’sia political system.Just for the sake of keeping the ‘ketuanan melayu’.

    It seems malays voters in M’sia especially the young want changes as i have read in their blogs that the ‘ketuanan concept’ is no longer relevant.They are tired of being question of their priviliges on and off.

    Question is now do M’sian Malays willing to accept non-malays as equal citizens and called them M’sian?
    For Malaysia to intoduce meritocracy into their system is in fact will not take overnight or months or even years.50 years of polarizing accordingly to race is a long time to bridge the gap.

    It can be done but a slow process especially for the M’sia Malays to accept the new dawn of reality.

  10. Dr Syed Alwi said

    The equality which you people speak of will never happen in Muslim countries. It is Islam itself here that is at work. Muslim citizens of a Muslim country do have more rights than the Non-Muslim citizens of the Muslim country.

    That is NOT to say that I agree with all that stuff – but Islam is NOT defined in Singapore.

    Indeed PAS itself will oppose any attempt at this so-called equality. As it is – we have groups like PEMBELA wanting an end to all this talk of pluralism.

    The way I see it – it will be status quo for Muslim countries for a long time to come…..Don’t hold your breath for equality between Muslims and Non-Muslims in a Muslim country !

  11. Dr Syed Alwi said

    And yet still another point :

    The Islamic world does NOT accept the UN Declaration of Human Rights and in fact – has its own Islamic version of Human Rights. This was the essence of the Lina Joy controversy !

    Once again – this does NOT mean that I agree with it – but the Muslim world has its own ideas and values. Singapore just has no influence beyond its shores. Whether we like it or not – we really are a red dot in a green sea………..

  12. aniza said

    Dr syed alwi,
    I think you ought to ask the Malaysian Malays themselves.
    We do not have the ‘right’ here in this blog to speak on behalf of them.
    You should speak up at Lim Kit Siang Blog (DAP).
    I believe in his blog they are many well-intellectual M’sians to have a debate with you.

  13. Dr Syed Alwi said

    I have debated them at Malaysia Today. Most Malaysian Malays who voted against UMNO, are PAS supporters and they do NOT want Islamic political dominance to be LOST. PEMBELA has issued a press release on these issues. Besides – PAS will never allow Islam to be swept under the carpet as after all – PAS is an Islamic party. Anwar is foolish to allow himself to be used by PAS.

    One Lina Joy incident is all it takes to ruin Anwar’s Barisan Alternatif !

  14. Dr Syed Alwi said

    Oh by the way – the DAP is a predominantly Chinese party. In Malaysia – the Malays are either UMNO or PAS with a few in PKR. But the Malaysian Malays generally do NOT support the Chinese dominated DAP !

  15. aniza said

    The thing is we are not sure of the real sentiment on the ground.
    You cannot simply summarise the whole of the Malays in Malaysia into one concept/idealogy.
    Not everybody blogs!
    If you want to maybe i suggest in their next GE pls change your identity card.
    Be the opposition there and who knows if you a seat in a sultanate state..
    Pls do not oppose the wishes of a sultan who may….
    cos in their terms is ‘menderhaka’ against the king.
    so gd luck!!

  16. Dr Syed Alwi said

    Well Badawi just admitted that BN lost the Cyber-War and they under-estimated the influence and power of the blogs.

    Anwar Ibrahim must be dreaming if he thinks that the Malay-Muslims of Malaysia will agree to allow him to sweep Islam under the carpet. PAS will always fight for Islamic supremacy. It is PAS that is using Anwar to further its Islamic agenda.

    As for the NEP and Article 153 regarding Malay Privileges – there are many Malay-Muslim NGO’s who will support it. PEMBELA has already made its stand known.

  17. mike said

    my 0 cent worth comments:

    Talks with my Malaysian Malay Peers, most of them either still pursuing or already held degrees were mostly SICKed of the s0-called aged-old “Malay Privileges” issue. Particularly that strikes mi is their stance that ketuanan melayu is an insult to Bumiputeras. They are very confident that they could compete with the other races on equal groundings. Even stating that ketuanan melayu was only there to serve the Privileged-UMNO. *Thumbs Up* to the new-age Malaysian Malays.

  18. antz said

    The plain truth is UMNO has a policy (a phobia one ) meaning to be a stranger in own land.
    They do not wish to have changes,to remain the same as it is although the world goes round every day.
    Only the Malays can speak the truth up to stand on their own.And it ain’t easy to shake off the fear from UMNO.
    That’s the truth!!!!!!!

  19. Dr Syed Alwi said

    No my friend – the truth is that the Malays are conservative Muslims. They will not sacrifice Islamic supremacy in their country of birth….Its not nice to accept this reality but there it is….

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