On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Kicked by foot-in-mouth remark

The Primary Industries Minister  found himself in hot soup last week  when he allegedly made a derogatory remark at
the Dewan Negara  about rubber

He had purportedly said that “in  the
estate, (it is) very difficult to  see
whether the worker is working  or not …
behind the tree what he is  doing, I do
not know.''

Dr Lim's remarks came in a reply to a question from a senator in  relation to estate workers' claim  for monthly wages, a long-standing  issue.

The Gerakan president subsequently apologised “for any offence felt which was
never intended.''

His Dewan Negara remark,  which was first
brought up by  Tamil daily Malaysia
Nanban,  caused an uproar among the
Indian  community.

On first impression, one might  think
that Dr Lim was racially insensitive but those who know him  well will realise it isn't so.

A few years ago, Dr Lim earned  the wrath
of the Hainanese community when he purportedly remarked that one should not
trust  Hainanese and ghosts. It was a
figure of speech when talking about  an
opposition party at a gathering  in

Not too long ago, while campaigning for the Teluk Intan parliamentary
by-election, he was again  in trouble
when he allegedly said  that Gerakan did
not need Chinese  votes. He denied having
said it, but  the DAP went on to win the

So, it's not a case of ethnicity, but 
past events indicate the importance of being racially sensitive in  a multi-religious and multi-communal country
like Malaysia.

For politicians, this should be  their
priority. A decade ago, a Barisan Nasional MP from the east  coast was censured for saying that  “if one sees an Indian and a snake,  kill the Indian first.'' Many reacted  angrily, quite rightly so, to his
unthoughtful words.

Recently, former Information  Minister
Datuk Mohamed Rahmat  spoke of Datin Seri
Dr Wan Azizah  Wan Ismail's purported
Chinese  ancestry, allegedly implying
that  she was not fit to lead the

Her husband, Datuk Seri Anwar  Ibrahim,
then refuted Mohamed's  claim of Azizah's
cap naga or descendants of the dragon.

The Chinese dailies later quoted  Mohamed
as saying that it was not  his intention
to hurt the feelings of  the

Again, those who know Mohamed  will
accept his explanation. His  wife is,
after all, a Chinese and he  has many
close Chinese friends.

But it's not just government leaders who have put their foot in their  mouths. Those linked to the reformasi
movement have continuously  brought up
the Prime Minister's  ethnic ancestry in

His Indian background has been  used by
speakers and demonstrators to mock him and his leadership.

Yet, these are the same politicians who speak of multi-racialism  and racial unity in the same breath.

After 42 years of independence,  it is
time for Malaysians, irrespective of their status, to de-emphasise their
ethnicity. There is no  room for
communalism as Malaysians move into the next millennium.

Over the past decade, Datuk Seri  Dr
Mahathir Mohamad, more than  anyone else,
has instilled a sense of  confidence
among Malaysians.

Selangor Gerakan Youth chief  Pritpal
Singh Sidhu has initiated  the boycott of
Malaysian Nanban,  saying it was a
retaliation for what  the movement saw as
unfair reporting of Dr Lim's Dewan Negara 

The movement is understandably  upset
with the incident but it  should not look
for scapegoats.

The Hansard is there for everyone to read and Malaysians are  able to judge whether the newspaper took Dr
Lim's statement out of  context.

In the interest of Malaysia, Dr  Lim has
sportingly apologised.  There is no need
to prolong the issue as there are bigger challenges  ahead for the nation and the people.