Race politics all over again
SINGAPORE, May 12 — A week after Malaysians voted in their 13th General Election, the political fires are still raging, reports the Straits Times.
“Was it a Chinese or a wider Malaysian tsunami that caused the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition to lose its share of the popular vote to the opposition?” asks ST managing editor Han Fook Kwang.
“Is Malaysia more polarised along racial lines or is there a sharper urban-rural divide?
These questions and the ill-effects of a bitterly fought election that has divided the country said the report. Cut through the political fog and rabble-rousing though and it is clear the underlying issue facing Malaysia hasn’t changed in the last 50 years.
Speaking at a rally in Selangor, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad attacked the DAP for wanting to sow discord between Malays and Chinese, and referred to Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP).
“DAP uses the PAP way. When PAP was in Malaysia, it used the slogan ‘Malaysian Malaysia’. It said Malays took everything, others nothing. Is that true?” Mahathir asked.
Mahathir, writing later in his blog, went on to say: “The meritocracy promoted by the DAP will mean diminishing opportunities for the Malays in education and in business. This will result in Malays becoming less and less qualified and poorer.”
If any nerves were jangled in Singapore, you wouldn’t have noticed as there was hardly a whimper, save for a reader’s letter in the Straits Times Forum Page from a Malay Singaporean who wrote that the community was doing rather well.
Perhaps, it was just as well, noted the report, adding that there was no need to add oil to a raging fire, not when it’s no longer Singapore’s fight.
What, then, is the issue about?
For older Singaporeans, it is an all too familiar story. When the two countries separated in 1965, it was their differences in race policy that led to the break-up, said the report.
Thereafter, Singapore took a merit-based approach, while Malaysia continued its policy of promoting affirmative action and special rights for Malays, with incentives in business, education and housing, under its bumiputera policy.
For readers too young to know those tumultuous days, here’s an exchange from one
Almost 50 years later, these same issues are being replayed in Malaysia, this time between contending political parties and their supporters.
The report noted that at issue is whether affirmative action has benefited the majority of Malays and the country as a whole, or enriched only a select few, as the opposition contends.
But the more fundamental question is the one Dr Mahathir so starkly raised, which is the permanence of Malay rule in Malaysia.
Singapore did not accept this, its leaders arguing that that was not their understanding when they agreed to the merger.
For non-Malays in Malaysia, however, separation was not an option, and many left the country to start afresh, including to Singapore, said the Straits Times.
It now looks like those who stayed have decided to throw in their lot with the opposition.
The Straits Times also wondered whether Malaysia accept a multiracial approach to governance and not one based on permanent Malay rule.
Singapore’s multiracial approach is ingrained, but there is clearly much that can be improved.
Preserving and nurturing multiracialism is hence an essential part of strengthening the country’s cultural resilience.
The Straits Times noted that barely a month after being kicked out of Malaysia, Lee threw this challenge for the future:
“Here we make the model multiracial society. This is not a country that belongs to any single community: it belongs to all of us. Over 100 years ago this was a mudflat swamp.
“Today, this is a modern city. Ten years from now this will be a metropolis. Never fear!”
It was a fitting response then to Dr Mahathir. Forty-eight years on, it still is, said the report.
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