Launch New CPI

"Malaysia Truly Asia". We've had a good run with this tag line which has paid handsomely in the number of tourists that visit us.

Every so often we come up with variations of this theme to keep the myth alive. Malaysia a melting pot of indigenous cultures and the ancient civilisations of India and China. A country where different peoples live together in peace and harmony. That's the face we show the world. Why change a winning formula?

The truth is something else.

In the 1970s and 80s, the Umno Baru/BN government banned anything that did not reflect the indigenous cultures of which is, according to them, principally Malay culture. For a time the Lion Dance was banned, Chinese billboards were not allowed even when they conformed to the rules set by the local authorities and pressure was put on vernacular schools with the mind to shut them down and only to have a single language stream – Malay.

In short, the government did everything in its power to Malay-ise the country. It did not succeed – for cultures do not die so easily just as it is not possible to legislate culture – but not for want of trying.

Some peace but little harmony

While we live in peace with each other, there is little harmony. The Malays are constantly reminded by certain leaders that they must defend Islam, the Malay race and with the royalty thrown in for good measure.

Defend from who?

The implication is, of course, from the non-Malays. The Malay masses accept this without question primarily because it justifies the privileged position they have. Has any of them asked how a government that is controlled by Malays together with a civil and uniformed service that is overwhelmingly Malay can be threatened by the minority non-Malays?

Even economically the Malays hold the bulk of the nation's wealth and far beyond the 30% target they set themselves. They control the banks, the insurance industry, hold the monopoly on rice and sugar, run the ports and airports and in reality own Petronas (in the way the corporation is used).

Yet they issue constant reminders of May 13 and calls of “pendatang balik Tongsan” (even when the pendatangs have been here longer than the newly minted Bumiputras) whenever the non-Malays dare to demand their rights.

Then there is the projection of Malaysia as a liberal, moderate Muslim state on the world stage. Prime Minister Najib Razak's efforts earned him a pat on the back by Obama.

The truth is something else.

Is Malaysia really, truly moderate?

Malaysia is the only country where non-Muslims are not allowed to use certain Arabic words and phrases ascribed to the Koran. Never mind that other Muslim countries laugh at us for this foolishness but that's how the religious bigots want it and the government obliges.

What about illegal conversions, body-snatching and discrimination against other religions by the different authorities? How can Malaysia be ever described as a moderate, liberal Muslim state?

Malaysia is a democracy, just as Britain, France and the USA are democracies.

The truth is something else.

The fact that we hold elections every few years does not make us a democracy. A democracy requires that one man's vote is of equal value to another man's. This is not so in Malaysia.

It also means that political parties are afforded the same access to public facilities (government media as one example) in getting their message out. It means that the mainstream media is not controlled so that all citizens can be properly informed.

It also requires that the rules are applied fairly to all parties by the police and election agencies. And when a party (or coalition) is voted into power, it is not subjected to the veto of the sultans in deciding who should administer the state.

The latest case in Selangor makes a mockery of the system. Why have elections if in the end the sultan decides who can or cannot be the mentri besar! What happened to government by the people for the people?

If we are a democracy then Russia, Zimbabwe and Myanmar are also democracies.

Citizenship - the one consistent inconsistency

Malaysia is a bundle of inconsistencies, the biggest of which concerns our citizenship. By all conventional definitions of citizenship, once acquired either by birth or naturalisation, then citizens have the same rights and obligations. Malaysia is openly inconsistent with this accepted definition.

Under the guise of affirmative action, the government has created a "bumiputra" category by which Bumiputras (mainly Malays) are accorded privileges which non-Bumiputras do not get.

The fact that this is an openly racist definition, which has little to do with creating a level playing field, has not occurred to the powers-that-be. How else do you account for the fact that a wealthy Malay is entitled to a discount in house purchases or get scholarships for his children while a poor non-Malay is not? Probably it has (occurred to them) but then who cares?

And then the government claims it wants to create a united Malaysia – 1Malaysia – satu bangsa.

How does it propose to do this by dividing citizens into Bumiputras and non- Bumiputras or what is essentially a First and Second Class citizenship?

The truth is the government does not want satu bangsa and satu Malaysia. What will happen to its 'divide-and-rule' policy then without this racial division?

Barriers and glass ceiling for non-Bumiputra

The reality of all this is that a non-Malay cannot be a mentri besar (as opposed to chief minister) much less the prime minister. In the United States, a country made up largely of whites, an American of African descent has become the president. The US has moved from the segregation of the 1950s and 60s to what it is now – free of racial discrimination.

On the other hand, we have moved from a liberal, multicultural society to what we are today, a society racked by racial and religious tensions.

Change is possible only if the Malays allow it. But first it needs a change in the Malay mindset. This will not happen as long as the Umno Baru/BN government keeps feeding the Malay insecurity by blaming the non-Malays for their own shortcomings.

It doesn't help when dependency on government handouts continue. And this is made worse when the young Malays are brainwashed by government agencies like the Biro Tata Negara (BTN) to believe that they are the Tuans and everyone else pendatangs.

I don't however see the Malays changing their mindset for a long time.

Even the most enlightened Malay is not willing to give up this fabricated notion that they are first among equals - the very term is contradictory; people are either equal or they are not.

Malays like Dato’ Onn Jaafar and Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, or even a non politician like Usman Awang, who foresaw the problems of categorising the population are gone and I see no replacements among the present generation of Malay politicians.

Unfortunately the politician most loved by Malaysians Tunku Abdul Rahman was the person who coined "bumiputra". He must be turning in his grave to see what a monster he has created.

Mediocrity prevails when meritocracy is stifled

Bumiputraism is the common thread that weaves through our nation's ills. It has created a rentier class of Malays who trade on their connections and political influence. This has in turn led to corruption.

Because of it, Malays grow up with the attitude that handouts are their due (just by being Bumiputras) and that there is no need to strive like the non-Malays.

Incompetence and inefficiency are a result of Bumiputraism. When one does not have to compete the best we can expect is mediocrity. Following this is the brain drain that we suffer with the primary beneficiary being Singapore as recipient country.

How do we compete globally if we lose our talents?

And if we continue with this two-tier citizenship, the money spent on attracting those talents who have left will pay scant dividends. Who would come back to be second class when it is the reason they left.

But unfortunately there are many Malays who would rather cut off their nose to spite their face than see a non-Bumiputra rise, especially in government service.

And what about the commercial class of Malays? How much money has been lost in bailing out failed enterprises when in the first place they should not have been handed the business. How much more money does it cost every Malaysian when monopolies like sugar and rice are given to one person?

Bumiputraism touches every aspect of our lives, every day. Malaysia will not suddenly be a better country if there is no bumiputraism but it will be the start of the healing process. It will be the beginning of the 1Malaysia we nearly were and can be.