Declaration of Independence by Tunku Abdul Rahman, 1957
Malaysia celebrated its 50th year of independence from British colonial rule today. I remembered years past when I’d excitedly wait for this public holiday because I like being reminded that I lived in a country of so many wonderful cultures and the benefits that that entails. I liked the idea of being tri-lingual in English, Malay and Mandarin. I loved watching TV and movies in English, Chinese, Malay and Hindi with or without subtitles. And I loved eating the foods and celebrating each other’s religious and cultural holidays.
Essentially, I loved being awashed in a rainbow of colours and influences.
But as a kid, I did not understand that that was merely a facade hiding decades-old policies based on race and religion. Malaysia is the only country in the world with an affirmative-action policy for the majority of the population (Malays) called the “Malaysian New Economic Policy“, implemented in 1971. Ostensibly this was to address the economic imbalance, which at the time was dominated by the ethnic Chinese, so that the racial riots of 1969 between the Chinese and the Malays would not happen again, even though special rights for Malays have existed since colonial rule.
It remains in policy today because the Malay-dominated government insists that Malays have not reach an equitable status yet. That it is still needed after 36 years of being implemented begs the question: who failed whom?
The rich Malays get richer due to their special privileges and access to government funding and projects, the rich Chinese do not care because they accept the unfair policies as a necessity to do business, while the middle-class of all races grumble in one form or another. Meanwhile, the poor remains poor no matter what race they are.
So on my wishlist of things to see happen in Malaysia …
- Have an affirmative-action policy which helps the poor and disadvantaged, and the rural population of Malaysia without racial bias.
- Universities with no racial quotas.
- That Malaysian politics are less dominated by race-based parties like UMNO (United Malays National Organisation), MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association), and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress).
- That Malay politicians cannot get away with racist statements.
- That discussion of race and religion, and of the special Malay rights can be done peacefully and openly without threats, or be threatened by the misuse of anti-sedition laws.
- That people will vote for the right person for their communities, and not because they are of the same race.
- Malaysians identify themselves as “Malaysian” instead of by their race.
To indeed be “Truly Asia” Malaysia needs to be an inclusive society for all races. Can it happen?
- Singapore’s merger into the Malaysian federation in 1963, and its subsequent separation two years later. What would Malaysia and Singapore be like today if they were still part of the one country?
- BBC NEWS | Asia’s melting pot marks 50 years
- Sydney Morning Herald – Malaysia celebrates 50
- Lim Kit Siang » 50th Merdeka anniversary – “Feel good” euphoria absent; instead a stifling “feel worse” sentiment among Malaysians
- Economist.com – Malaysia at 50 | Tall buildings, narrow minds