Wednesday 24 October 2012

Ending race-based politics ― Ooi Kok Hin

OCT 24 ― We often hear these lines: “PAS is being used by DAP”, “Malays interests in danger”, or “Islam under threat”.
Which is exactly why race-based politics must be discarded.
Any danger to the establishment is perceived as danger to the race. When Umno is weak, Dr Mahathir Mohamad says the Malays are weak and vulnerable. Then Umno supporters rant as if Umno must hold political monopoly and blame PAS and Anwar Ibrahim for splitting the votes.
Now let us talk about the Chinese. The Chinese are in such a predicament, aren’t they? MCA pledged that they would not offer themselves as members of the Cabinet if they were to lose in the GE. Gerakan might be the substitute but it is highly unlikely that Gerakan will win anything significant. This means that if the Chinese do not vote for MCA, and BN wins, then the Chinese would have no representative in the next Cabinet.
I think I need not talk about the Indians, right? Given what has happened (and is still happening) to them, it is understood. Which is why Hindraf was formed. But Hindraf in 2008 was so much stronger than Hindraf in 2012. The Chinese risk losing their political power in the government’s highest decision-making body. Indians, alongside most minorities, do not even have it.
Held at ransom
“Vote for us, or you are in danger.” Is this the best system we could have? In 1957, it may be so. 55 years after independence, we have gone through changes and development. Can we move beyond racial boundaries which our predecessors failed to do? Must we continue to follow their footsteps? Are we not capable of looking at each other as Malaysians? Maybe we think we can’t because we are told that we can’t.
People unite as groups in the presence of threats. It is such a fundamental concept that politicians keep utilising it. The “bogeyman” and “under-siege” strategies are the easiest trick to divert attention from criticism and to get the people to rally behind you.
In 1963, the United States almost came to a nuclear war with the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The anti-Communist sentiment was at its peak and the Americans really felt threatened, to the point that school kids were taught to hide under the table in case of a nuclear attack.
People looked to and relied on the government for reassurance and what to do. Just a year ago, the people were marching in the streets condemning the government’s decision to commit in Vietnam.
A bogeyman was invented to create the “under-siege” mentality so that people would fear the Communist threat and support the government.
This technique was utilized again in 2001. How do you convince a nation to support the invasion of two sovereign countries and the killings of civilians through drones? Terror, extremism and “We are under attack”. That is to get domestic support. To get international support, Bush said “You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Heck, even Hitler utilised this trick.
This bogeyman and under-siege strategy are nothing new. People must be aware of that. Politicians always try to beat us to tight corners and force us to choose between two dreadful options.
Does a vote for PAS means a vote for DAP? Yes. Does a vote for DAP means Malays/Islam is under threat? Let me tell you that no sane non-Malay, especially those with political ambition, dares to threaten Islam. Don’t even mention about a Christian state. Non-Malays would be thankful enough if they are not threatened, let alone be the aggressors.
Another direct consequence is the “zero-sum game” mindset. Race-based politics make people think that if one race gains an advantage, it means the other groups are disadvantaged. It makes us compete against each other, for our share in the Malaysian economic pie. Everything is viewed through the racial lens. This racial lens distorts the reality and prevents us from moving forward. Yet, we believe that what we are seeing through this lens is the reality.
But as long as we define our politics by race and religion, we cannot escape from this cycle of “race/religion under siege”. Even though it is not the truth, once repeated many times, it will be one.
All the worries about our race can be lessened if we have different politics. We can either stick with the status quo or change the way we define politics. Starting by rejecting those who play the race cards and encouraging those who play according to ideas and policies.
We need not define our politics by race. Let us fight on the basis of ideas. We may severely disagree with each other on the basis of ideas, say Capitalism vs. Socialism, Liberalism vs. Conservatism, Welfare distribution vs. Spending Cuts, etc.
Indeed, a significant number of us is moving in that direction. We are arguing over PTPTN, EPF, minimum wage, defence spending, education, corruption, BR1M, affirmative-action based on needs. But some people want to drag us back into the “under siege” mentality.
If we are sincere in moving forward as Malaysians, we know what we must do. The change will not come from top to bottom. It will be from the bottom up. Politicians need to see that the rakyat no longer eat the race bait.
Once the politicians feel that the rakyat demand Malaysian politicians discuss policy issues and ideas, they will tune to harmonise with us.
Now, let us argue how to expand Malaysia’s economic pie.
* Ooi Kok Hin is an undergraduate Political Science student at The Ohio State University. He’s definitely not a Chinese here.

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