Race-based politics is one of the last colonial relics. The British insisted the government negotiate with representatives of all major ethnic groups to facilitate Malayan independence in the early 1950s. That’s nearly seventy years ago.
Race-based politics has now become a domain that is shackling the nation into retrospective existence.
The politics of today reflects images of the past, while the rest of the world is delivering new challenges.
Race-based politics is not solving the deep-seated issues facing Malaysia today. The stewardship by the current leadership has not solved the issues of poverty, full employment, stable prices, lifelong financial security, education and social stability of the nation today.
Religious narratives are pushing the nation back toward reformation, while the rest of the world is passing Malaysia economically.
The focus on race-based politics has only led to a class-based society, exhibiting ignorance toward sustainability, rent-seeking economics rather than innovation-based development, with the absence of meritocracy.
Malaysia has gone from being a formidable Asian Tiger to a homeless alley cat. More people are searching for better opportunities abroad. This is a multicultural phenomenon.
The NEP has become the Old Economic Policy (OEP)
The NEP has long fulfilled its purpose. It’s now abused and used as a cover to feed a selfish elite with few benevolent characteristics toward their own.
The NEP must be reformed from one based upon race, to one based upon needs. The focus upon equity needs to be reframed toward a focus on needs. This will best help the Malays and other bumiputeras who are truly in need of a safety net.
Poverty is a national problem where advancement of the individual regardless of ethnic group is our national concern.
Many have imagined a united and cohesive force that is issue- rather than race-based, to fight for them and solve their problems.
We need issue-based politics
Malaysia now faces many issues that must be tackled head-on. These must be solved with new policies and strategies.
How is Malaysia going to grow economically in a sustainable manner without selling out to foreign suitors? How is the Malaysian economy going to transform from rent-seeking to an innovation based-one? How is Malaysia going to create full employment with a second-tier foreign labor pool that is keeping wages low? How is Malaysia going to turn GLCs into assets that directly benefit the rakyat?
Malaysia needs diversity so that it can develop a society based upon meritocracy and innovation to compete against the rest of the world.
Malaysia needs to dismantle restrictive market regulations so that there is equal economic opportunities for all.
As long as the Malaysian government and policy-making is anchored within religion, the rest of the world will leave Malaysia behind.
We need a multiracial-based political system
As we are heading into GE15, both sides of the political spectrum are jockeying for position.
This is being done on the Malay-centric side in the name of “Malay unity.” while on the other side, there is yet to be any clear message.
The issues of inflation, poverty, cost of living, food security and employment are rarely mentioned within the current narratives. This needs to change if Malaysia is going to be saved from future socioeconomic catastrophe.
The rakyat want political parties to solve their daily problems. Many imagine a united and cohesive force to fight for and solve their problems that has nothing to do with race.
This immediately requires a united opposition coalition that will be issue- rather than race-based.
Fully developed multiracial politics can be achieved in two stages.
The first step will be approaching GE15 as a united coalition Reformasi-style. There must be passion and desperation by the opposition to restore Malaysia toward a progressive path, leaving no sections of Malaysia behind.
This can be done. It has been done. The politicians must realize this is what their voters really want.
If they truly want to serve their constituents, they must listen to the electorate.
The second step must be an amalgamation into a single multiracial- and issue-based political party. This must transcend the egos of individual leaders who fear the loss of position within any amalgamation.
There is an urgency for this. Failure to act before GE15 will allow the current Malay-centric parties to consolidate their power once again well into the next decade.
If this becomes the case, government will be more of the same with lots of power struggles interfering with policy focus.
A multiracial coalition/party will place a clear alternative vision of Malaysia into the public eye. Then it’s finally up to the rakyat to decide what they want for Malaysia.
One hopes that whichever group is the opposition after the coming general election will be able to scrutinize the sitting government and restore real checks and balances into the government process.
Multiculturalism is a Malaysian dream. It’s now up to the politicians to deliver.
(Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 40 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic and researcher. He was an associate professor at Universiti Malaysia Perlis.)