According to Wikipedia, the 1Malaysia concept aimed to re-kindle 'ethnic harmony' but the opposite seems to be in place now.
PETALING JAYA: In 1957, when we gained independence, there was no “talk” of race relations. There were no complications. There was just acceptance of a rich and culturally diverse social fabric that made up Malaysia.
But as the country “grew” over the years, politics filtered through the layers of society influencing the racial mix – and acceptance slowly eroded to be replaced by conditional tolerance.
Race relations, simply defined, are “ties” between different races in a country. In Malaysia, these days, “race relations” is often described as a “complicated” issue.
But it’s a “complication” that 67-year-old Mohd Fikri Slamat can’t understand. More unacceptable to him is Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s “ridiculous” 1Malaysia concept conceived last year in a bid to “re-educate” mixed Malaysia about “ethnic harmony”.
“I thought we were doing quite nicely… I don’t see the need for something as ridiculous as the 1Malaysia concept. How does Najib think we gained our Independence?
“Through the work of just one race? Maybe he should go back and re-read authentic Malaysian history to realise that there were other races involved in our Merdeka,” scoffs Fikri.
Forty-four-year-old Wong Chui Seng, a mechanic, believes the 1Malaysia concept has worsened race relations and has served to drive a wedge between the communities.
“While every Malaysian knows that there is a racial lopsidedness where rights to education and ownership of property are concerned, I was never as conscious of how little rights I had as a Chinese person until the 1Malaysia concept came along.
“It seems to be an Umno unity tool… All this talk about racial unity is great, but what is the outcome? I don’t see any additional fair game for all,” he said.
Launched on Sept 16, 2010, in conjunction with Malaysia Day, Najib’s 1Malaysia has its own Wikipedia page which calls on the Cabinet, government agencies, and civil servants to strongly emphasise ethnic harmony, national unity, and efficient governance.
Even before the average Malaysian could grasp the 1Malaysia concept, the brand was franchised out and today, in their face, are the 1Malaysia clinics, 1Malaysia e-mail, 1Malaysia grocery stores, 1Malaysia Foundation and the1Malaysia Youth Fund, among others.
The 1Malaysia Youth Fund was allocated RM20 million in the 2010 national budget. Expectedly, it was a government-linked entity – the Barisan Nasional Youth Lab – which had proposed the fund.
1Malaysia, at what price?
Decrying 1Malaysia as merely a slogan, June Sivapillai, a 38-year-old consultant attorney, said the whole idea was just another “scheme”.
In his speech during the ground-breaking ceremony of the Federation of Chinese Association Malaysia’s (Hua Zong) new building in Seri Kembangan recently, Najib said the 1Malaysia philosophy could “transform” the mindset of Malaysians towards turning the country into a highly developed nation by 2020.
He said that if Malaysians understood what was needed to hold the country together, they would realise the importance of giving continuous support to the government which had a long and proven experience in building the nation.
“I believe we can achieve prosperity and become a strong country if all Malaysians embrace the notion of the 1Malaysia philosophy,” he said.
Delving into his speech, Sivapillai wryly said: “What he’s (Najib) essentially saying is that we were never, all this while, a strong country and that it’s his concept of 1Malaysia that will get us there.”
“Personally speaking, any effort to unite the people is commendable – but at what price? By this, I mean ringgit and sen.
“You read about this obscene amount of money being spent on the 1Malaysia projects and you don’t see the results.
“You want to do something to unite the people? Stop these campaigns and concepts; make sure that there is an equal share of the pie for everyone.
“If Najib is so hot for the 1Malaysia concept, what is he doing about the racial fiasco created by Ibrahim Ali and the Perkasa gang?
“Since when was it constitutional to let one race denigrate another’s faith and race?”
‘Equality and rule of law’
According to former law minister Zaid Ibrahim, Malaysia was once “a shining example of a working democracy founded on the principles of democracy and egalitarianism but has since degenerated into an authoritarian racist state that is now characterised by incessant racial and religious dissension and economic malaise”.
Quoting his speech “Malaysia – a lost democracy” in an article published in the Asia Sentinel, writer Kim Quek wrote: “In one of the most important political speeches delivered in Malaysia in recent years, Zaid Ibrahim touched on the heart of race relations when he gave a rendition on the evolving racial politics in Malaysia that has so bedevilled the nation for the past few decades.”
He quoted Zaid as saying: “When the country achieved independence in 1957, then Malaya was a model of parliamentary democracy, governed under a written constitution ‘that accorded full respect and dignity for each and every Malayan’.”
“If at all there was a social contract – which should mean the pre-independence consensus reached among the founding fathers representing the various communities – it must be one ‘that guaranteed equality and the rule of law,’ as subsequently reflected in the Federal Constitution.”
But Syed Halim Don, 51, disagrees with such “equality” and Najib’s 1Malaysia because it puts the other races on par with the Bumiputeras.
“When you start including other people in what has been previously allocated for one race, then smaller helpings will have to be served. I don’t like this idea very much because I strongly feel that as the majority race, we (the Bumiputeras) should be given a larger share,” he said.
Eighteen-year-old Taufik Shamsuddin, for instance, thinks that 1Malaysia “concept” should be given a chance.
“I think we should look at the 1Malaysia concept as an opportunity to strengthen our ties with each other. I don’t think it’s about who gets more or less of something but instead about how well we can work with each other to become better as a nation.”
While race will always be something of a prickly issue to both write and speak about, it seems that there are many who have no problems expressing their thoughts and opinions about the 1Malaysia concept.
Gayathry Venkiteswaran, executive director of the Southeast Asean Press Alliance (SEAPA), aptly sums it up when she said: “I am proud to have my own brand of unity that has grown out of sharing and caring for friends and neighbours.
“The 1Malaysia concept is a hypocrisy, coming from a coalition of political parties whose survival depends on the ethnic divisions in the country.
“I am fully aware of the politicisation of identities that only serves the interests of the few, but I will not let it jeopardise the real relationships I and many of us have with our fellow Malaysians.”