A Malaysian dilemma: The more things change...

SO MUCH has happened in the past couple of weeks that there is only one certainty in Malaysian politics – nothing is certain.

I find myself grappling with a myriad of feelings about the direction of our country and the efficacy of Malaysia Baru.

So much is happening in the world and it affects us directly. Trade wars to actual wars, the drop of prices of commodities and a probable palm oil war with our largest buyer, i.e. India.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of a global economic slowdown.

Despite the government trumpeting steady economic growth figures, no one feels the 4% economic growth. I can say this with certainty because everyone I speak to feels blasé about the government's economic management.

The disconnect between the actual and perceived reality felled the previous government. That same problem seems to have engulfed this government. It would be wise for the economic masters of Malaysia Baru to remember their advice to the leaders of Malaysia Lama.

Recently, we had four eminent public universities organise a gathering or congress (as they call it) to discuss the future of the Malays in Malaysia. Now, it is perfectly fine for any community or ethnic group to assemble to debate their problems and plan their future.

However, when such a gathering becomes a factory of incendiary racial rhetoric with the leader of all Malaysians, i.e. the Prime Minister gracing the gathering – then we have a problem.

The speakers at the event, including vice-chancellors of the participating universities, decided to purvey rabid racial euphemisms to "remind" the non-Malays to be "grateful" and adhere to the so-called social contract.

After 62 years of independence, we still have eminent public personalities belying their intelligence, as well as ours, and pandering to petty racist boasting to make a point that, frankly, does not need to be made.

First of all, what is this social contract?

The social contract is our Federal Constitution. The rights, duties and powers of every Malaysian, from the Ruler to the man on the street, is codified and crystal clear.

Second, the term "social contract" is an artificial construct. You do not find it in the Federal Constitution; neither is it in the Reid or Cobbold Commission reports. It was a term coined by the late politician-cum-journalist Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad in 1986, almost 30 years after Independence.

Abdullah had in a speech in Singapore said that the “political system of Malay dominance was born out of the sacrosanct social contract which preceded national independence”.

And after that, politicians seeking to prosper in the fault lines of Malaysian politics have used this term of a social contract rather liberally to achieve illiberal ends.

I believe I speak for the majority of non-Malays or non-Bumiputeras in this country that we never have and never will question the special position of Islam, the Malays and Bumiputeras in the country.

Not because we are afraid to do so but because as good and loyal citizens of Malaysia, it is incumbent upon us to respect and uphold the Federal Constitution. It has nothing to do with a social contract, but it is about fidelity to the founding principles and the laws of the land.

So, with that in mind, the constant use of terms like “gratefulness” or “budi" in Malay to remind non-Malays that their citizenship is due to the benevolence of Malay political leadership is malarkey.

The fact remains – and it cannot be denied – that almost every non-Malay in Malaysia, my family included, obtained their citizenship by operation of the law and because we were born in Malaysia.

This brings me to my point about Malaysia Baru. In the weeks after the change of government, NGOs that were critical of Barisan Nasional began to trumpet the renaissance of Malaysia’s socio-political landscape. Activists said they no longer needed to be active as the mission had been accomplished as Barisan had been desposed.

Pakatan Harapan was expected to usher a kinder, gentler and progressive approach to governance.

Racist tendencies and ethnic demarcation were supposed to be a thing of the past. Malaysia would be governed based on the rule of law and in the interest of the many and not the few.

Repressive laws and oppressive policies were to be replaced with new laws that will elevate Malaysia's legal standing with a firm respect for human rights.

The pain I felt because of my party’s complete obliteration was assuaged by my belief that our best days, as a nation, were ahead of us.

However, fast forward 18 months, and Pakatan’s many promises have become great fables and fairy tales.

Leaving aside the broken promises and lacklustre budget – Pakatan seems to be completely disjunctive. The transition of power from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has caused so much uncertainty, and it is debilitating.

For a nation used to certainty and stability, Malaysia is in uncharted waters, and it is not a good thing.

The constant racial baiting, even amongst Pakatan component parties, is a pity. It is nothing short of a modern-day Greek tragedy. The deteriorating state of race relations is affecting the confidence of investors, and Malaysia's economy is taking a hit.

DAP and PKR, with 92 seats amongst them, seem unable or unwilling to steer the country towards the path of consensus and unity.

The discomfiture of the Malay community, either real or imagined, is being amplified by those who seek to capitalise on it at the expense of the nation’s well-being.

For many Malaysians, this is our Malaysian dilemma because the more things change, the more they remain the same.

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Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal is an Advocate & Solicitor. He was formerly Political Secretary to the Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities.


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