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The Price of Malaysia’s Racism

by  JOHN R. MALOTT
Slower  growth and a drain of talented citizens are only the beginning.

 

Malaysia’s national tourism agency promotes the country as “a bubbling, bustling melting pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony.” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak echoed this view when he announced his government’s theme, One Malaysia. “What makes Malaysia unique,” Mr. Najib said, “is the diversity of our peoples. One Malaysia’s goal is to preserve and enhance this unity in diversity, which has always been our strength and remains our best hope for the future.If Mr. Najib is serious about achieving that goal, a long look in the mirror might be in order first. Despite the government’s new catchphrase, racial and religious tensions are higher today than when Mr. Najib took office in 2009. Indeed, they are worse than at any time since 1969, when at least 200 people died in racial clashes between the majority Malay and minority Chinese communities. The recent deterioration is due to the troubling fact that the country’s leadership is tolerating, and in some cases provoking, ethnic factionalism through words and actions.

For instance, when the Catholic archbishop of Kuala Lumpur invited the prime minister for a Christmas Day open house last December, Hardev Kaur, an aide to Mr. Najib, said Christian crosses would have to be removed. There could be no carols or prayers, so as not to offend the prime minister, who is Muslim. Ms. Kaur later insisted that she “had made it clear that it was a request and not an instruction,” as if any Malaysian could say no to a request from the prime minister’s office.

Similar examples of insensitivity abound. In September 2009, Minister of Home Affairs Hishammuddin Onn met with protesters who had carried the decapitated head of a cow, a sacred animal in the Hindu religion, to an Indian temple. Mr. Hishammuddin then held a press conference defending their actions. Two months later, Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told Parliament that one reason Malaysia’s armed forces are overwhelmingly Malay is that other ethnic groups have a “low spirit of patriotism.” Under public pressure, he later apologized.

The leading Malay language newspaper, Utusan Melayu, prints what opposition leader Lim Kit Siang calls a daily staple of falsehoods that stoke racial hatred. Utusan, which is owned by Mr. Najib’s political party, has claimed that the opposition would make Malaysia a colony of China and abolish the Malay monarchy. It regularly attacks Chinese Malaysian politicians, and even suggested that one of them, parliamentarian Teresa Kok, should be killed.

This steady erosion of tolerance is more than a political challenge. It’s an economic problem as well.

Once one of the developing world’s stars, Malaysia’s economy has underperformed for the past decade. To meet its much-vaunted goal of becoming a developed nation by 2020, Malaysia needs to grow by 8% per year during this decade. That level of growth will require major private investment from both domestic and foreign sources, upgraded human skills, and significant economic reform. Worsening racial and religious tensions stand in the way.

Almost 500,000 Malaysians left the country between 2007 and 2009, more than doubling the number of Malaysian professionals who live overseas. It appears that most were skilled ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians, tired of being treated as second-class citizens in their own country and denied the opportunity to compete on a level playing field, whether in education, business, or government. Many of these emigrants, as well as the many Malaysian students who study overseas and never return (again, most of whom are ethnic Chinese and Indian), have the business, engineering, and scientific skills that Malaysia needs for its future. They also have the cultural and linguistic savvy to enhance Malaysia’s economic ties with Asia’s two biggest growing markets, China and India.

Of course, one could argue that discrimination isn’t new for these Chinese and Indians. Malaysia’s affirmative action policies for its Malay majority—which give them preference in everything from stock allocation to housing discounts—have been in place for decades. So what is driving the ethnic minorities away now?

First, these minorities increasingly feel that they have lost a voice in their own government. The Chinese and Indian political parties in the ruling coalition are supposed to protect the interests of their communities, but over the past few years, they have been neutered. They stand largely silent in the face of the growing racial insults hurled by their Malay political partners. Today over 90% of the civil service, police, military, university lecturers, and overseas diplomatic staff are Malay. Even TalentCorp, the government agency created in 2010 that is supposed to encourage overseas Malaysians to return home, is headed by a Malay, with an all-Malay Board of Trustees.

Second, economic reform and adjustments to the government’s affirmative action policies are on hold. Although Mr. Najib held out the hope of change a year ago with his New Economic Model, which promised an “inclusive” affirmative action policy that would be, in Mr. Najib’s words, “market friendly, merit-based, transparent and needs-based,” he has failed to follow through. This is because of opposition from right-wing militant Malay groups such as Perkasa, which believe that a move towards meritocracy and transparency threatens what they call “Malay rights.”

But stalling reform will mean a further loss in competitiveness and slower growth. It also means that the cronyism and no-bid contracts that favor the well-connected will continue. All this sends a discouraging signal to many young Malaysians that no matter how hard they study or work, they will have a hard time getting ahead.

Mr. Najib may not actually believe much of the rhetoric emanating from his party and his government’s officers, but he tolerates it because he needs to shore up his Malay base. It’s politically convenient at a time when his party faces its most serious opposition challenge in recent memory—and especially when the opposition is challenging the government on ethnic policy and its economic consequences. One young opposition leader, parliamentarian Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, has proposed a national debate on what she called the alternative visions of Malaysia’s future—whether it should be a Malay nation or a Malaysian nation. For that, she earned the wrath of Perkasa; the government suggested her remark was “seditious.”

Malaysia’s government might find it politically expedient to stir the racial and religious pot, but its opportunism comes with an economic price tag. Its citizens will continue to vote with their feet and take their money and talents with them. And foreign investors, concerned about racial instability and the absence of meaningful economic reform, will continue to look elsewhere to do business.

Mr. Malott was the U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia, 1995-1998.

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.sourced:    THE WALL STREET JOURNAL  

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It’s Not only about the Chinese in this country

Its not only about the Chinese , Syed Ali.!

By  | Bull Bashing – By Kee Thuan Chye

If Umno Cheras division chief Syed Ali Alhabshee thinks he’s reaching out to the Chinese by asking them to tell Umno why they did not support the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) at the 13th general election (GE13) and what they are unhappy about, he’s still missing the point. The rejection of BN at GE13 is not about the Chinese. It’s about governance.

Good governance and an end to corruption are among the things every caring and intelligent Malaysian wants. Why does he single out the Chinese?

True, many Chinese care about the country and therefore want it to do well, and they don’t think that under BN rule, it will, so they voted for a change of government. But then so did a few million others comprising Malays, Indians, Kadazans and Ibans who also care about the country and want a better government.

If Syed Ali can grasp this basic idea, he should instead be telling his own party’s leaders that they need to do much, much better to deserve being in government – in fact, to change. And change drastically. He should be telling them to stop playing the same old politics they are still playing, like exploiting the issues of race and religion to divide the people.

He should tell Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to take back what he said on July 31 and even apologise for it: “Muslims do not insult the religion of non-Muslims such as Christianity and Hinduism. But non-Muslims are insulting our religion.” That’s the kind of inflammatory remark we can expect from an extremist, not from a deputy prime minister.

Yes, bloggers Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee did upset Muslims with their Ramadhan greeting over a bowl of Bak Kut Teh, but how could Muhyiddin discount Perkasa Vice-President Zulkifli Noordin’s belittling of Hinduism when he expressed scorn at Hindu gods, or Johor school principal Siti Inshah Mansor’s alleged remark in 2010 that the Indians looked like “dogs” when they wore their prayer strings?

It is distorted statements like Muhyiddin’s that polarise the people even more. And as the nation’s number two leader, Muhyiddin should have known better to keep his mouth shut instead of creating further tension on the issue. After all, what purpose does his statement serve? It only serves to revive anti-non-Muslim sentiments at a time when conciliatory measures are greatly needed.

But then we have seen many times before that this is how Umno leaders operate. It is also part and parcel of their desire to assert their supremacy over the populace, especially over those who don’t bend to them. Now, because Umno has won nine parliamentary seats more at GE13 compared to GE12, it is asserting itself even more. It is pandering to right-wing Malay-Muslim sentiments to consolidate the support from its ‘safe deposits’.

This is precisely the sort of thing that those who reject Umno-BN don’t want any more of. So whatever Syed Ali may say about Umno-BN wanting “the Chinese to be with us”, it is mere wishful thinking. If Umno-BN remains as it is and continues to behave the way it does, the Chinese and the others who voted against it will never trust it.

Syed Ali also says Prime Minister Najib Razak has done a lot for the Chinese and he therefore cannot understand why the community didn’t support Najib at GE13. But that’s not the point either.

It’s not about providing for a community – ANY community – but about providing what’s good and right for the country. It’s not about protecting the interests of Muslims or non-Muslims but about maintaining the rule of law and upholding fairness.

The prime minister must see to the needs of all citizens, regardless of race. So it is his duty to cater for the Chinese as much as he caters for the Malays, Indians, Kadazans, Ibans, etc.

The point is, has Najib done much, if anything, to bring about inclusiveness? Is the Government no longer discriminating against non-Malays in the civil service, the police, the armed forces, the universities, etc?

Has he been serious in addressing corruption? (Let’s not mention the “window dressing” he performed in co-opting former Transparency International Malaysia president Paul Low into his Cabinet.) What is the latest on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s investigations into the alleged corruption of Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud?

Has Najib stopped the practice of cronyism? Are big projects still being handed out through negotiated contracts rather than open tenders? Will he institute reform as of now or will everything have to wait till after the Umno party elections in October so he can try to safeguard his position as Umno president and prime minister?

Syed Ali says Najib is a good prime minister. Does a good prime minister do things by halves? If we look at Najib’s four-year track record, we can see he has characteristically taken only half-measures to address needs and issues. He has not shown the courage to go all the way.

He repealed the Internal Security Act (ISA) – which, incidentally, Syed Ali disagrees with – but then he replaced it with the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act.

He announced last year that he would repeal the Sedition Act, but he also said he would replace it with the National Harmony Act. But now, a year later, no whiff of a draft has appeared. Lately, some of his Umno colleagues have been making noise about retaining the Sedition Act and Najib has been prompted to say that the replacement will retain the spirit and three main principles of the former act. This sounds like any change is going to be an illusion.

As for the other restrictive laws, Najib has not repealed the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) to free the mass media, or the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) to liberate academia. He has only made a few amendments to them and therefore offered only half-appeasement.

He promised to reform Section 27 of the Police Act, which required police permits for public gatherings, but he brought in the Peaceful Assembly Act which still requires organisers of gatherings to notify the police 10 days ahead. That’s still like asking for a permit. What’s more, he sneaked in prohibitive measures like forbidding street protests and also forbidding gatherings from taking place near a long list of designated places, making the new law even more restrictive than the old one.

After GE13, when the people called for the Election Commission (EC) chairman and his deputy to be sacked and the body to be reconstituted to make it truly independent because it had shown bias towards the ruling party at the elections, he again met them only halfway. He announced that a special committee comprising members of Parliament from BN and the Opposition would be set up to oversee the EC to allay concerns about its partiality.

In view of all these things, if Syed Ali still says Najib is a good prime minister, then he is only a half-good one. And that is not good enough for the Chinese, Malays, Indians, Kadazans and Ibans who voted against his party and coalition.

This message should be quite clear now, and one hopes Syed Ali gets the point. If he still doesn’t and continues to ask the same dumb question, it will only confirm the belief that only a change of government will do. Anything other than that will only be a half-measure.

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