Saturday, April 27

Disturbing signals from the West

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TO get a balanced picture of any situation and form one’s impartial opinion on it, one has to get hold of all sorts of written materials including reading the blogs. But they are so full of conflicting, confusing and disturbing signals that one has to devise a system to sieve the chaff from the grain.

For the past few months, no news was good news and that has caused concern to the vast majority of Malaysians, including us Easterners across the South China Sea.

Politicians are afraid losing power

I’m talking mainly about the spat between Umno and MCA, partnership in power since 1955, over what each should get out of the country’s wealth and how to continue wielding political power in order to protect the interests of their respective members and supporters, and thus retain their loyalty.

While MCA wants to regain the support and confidence of the Chinese community in order to stay relevant, Umno insists on being the number one for the rest of time. However, when in power and as leader of a coalition of parties, Umno’s top leaders must appear to be non-partisan. While this is a perfect stance to take as a ruling elite, its rank and file, including many Malay intellectuals are concerned that this apparent neutrality may have compromised the Malay political hold on national politics and is being taken advantage of by MCA.

The footwork to rattle Umno leaders is left to the Malay non-governmental organisations, which have sprung up like mushrooms since March 2008, using the perceived loss of Malay rights as an emotive platform, and using preservation of the constitution as legitimacy for extreme rhetoric. For MCA, with its vast resources, money will do the job of regaining for the party the confidence of the community.

Meanwhile, MIC, another pre-Merdeka partner, representing the Indian community, is undergoing self-renewal and would be back on its feet as soon as their internal problems are sorted out. It will be an important partner still, don’t rule it out.

Are Malays really losing power?

Looking at the situation realistically, the Malays will not lose political power, which is extensive; if it is not Umno, it will be PAS or PKR or a combination of these or even three. Similarly, the Chinese will not lose economic power, which is invasive; it wants the best of both worlds — money and politics. For politics, they need not worry; if it is not MCA, it will be DAP or a combination of another party or parties.

Who can tell whether Gerakan will join forces with DAP? Who can tell the scenario after the next general election?

Politics, they say, is the art of the possible where marriages of convenience or between strange bedfellows are not uncommon. The ends justify the means. Remember Machiavelli?

In the process, however, little thought is spared for us in the East; our importance lies in the fact that we are a fixed deposit for the major players. Are we not being used by somebody?

Roadmap to disaster

However, if this struggle for the confidence and trust of the Malays in the case of Umno and of the Chinese in the case of MCA continues without restraint, it will spill over here and will surely be a roadmap to disaster for not only the two political elephants themselves but also for smaller ants caught in between.

Race or ethnicity has been used as the object of dispute when it should not; it is the political interests that form the crux of the matter. It is this racial thread, which rears its ugly head again, that we want to snip soonest otherwise we will all be caught up in the contagion, unnecessarily.

Goodwill council

Therefore, it’s high time for real statesmen, if there are any still around, to emerge and save the situation for us all, Eastern and Western wings of the federation.

There are so many measures we can take to reduce the tension. One I can think of, is the revival of the Goodwill Council formed after the May 16, 1969 debacle, not only at the KL-level but also in each district. Its membership should comprise people of all sections of society, not just supporters of political parties. At the grassroots-level people tend to be more amicable and have less inhibition than at formal surroundings. There is more genuine goodwill and therefore it is much more effective in terms of race relations.

Bring on board leaders of opposition parties and NGOs representing various interest groups, including religious ones. Let them speak their minds freely within the four walls of a conference hall.

Don’t keep the press out; they will soon find out anyway what is going on inside any room. Let the police listen to all deliberations but give advice on the law of sedition or libel, but don’t take action there and then. Just caution the speakers not to repeat the seditious or libellous words outside.

You would be surprised to find that the real troublemakers will not attend such a meeting and by this very process of elimination you can tell who amongst the community are the real culprits or sources of racial slurs and religious bigots. Then the committee will keep an eye on them and most importantly help them through various programmes of rehabilitation.

This is where you need the services of apolitical psychologists, apolitical priests (of all kinds), ustaz and the imam. In case of any trouble, then you would know where to look for its source.

You will find that the majority of Malaysians are sensible, good and decent people, who want to carry on with their lives without having to be surrounded by all these racial and religious problems. They want to bring up their families and give proper education to their children, saving money to buy houses, enough food for the family and save a bit for rainy days.

The Goodwill Council formed after the debacle of May 13, 1969 worked; so did the National Unity Department. However, we hear very little about the activities of this department nowadays — signalling there is no problem with race relations any more?

Like an old sickness there is obviously a relapse and it’s time to see the doctor again.

Try this prescription: the Rukun Negara.

Starting today, belief in God; loyalty to King and country; next day, supremacy of the constitution; next, the sovereignty of the rule of law and the observation of good social behaviour.

As I could only remember the first tenet and the last, I had to scour for the words of the Rukun Negara and found them written on the back cover of an old exercise book.

That’s how we treat our National Ideology.

There is something good there. It took a couple of years to hammer it out.   The venerable Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie, one of the architects of the Rukun Negara, will tell you how vital it was to have a National Ideology for a plural society par excellence like Malaysia.