On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

View each other as partners, not rivals

The few who continue to play the race card have been sidelined by their party bosses because they have become an embarrassment, while one or two have survived narrowly in the general election after their opponents reminded voters of their past actions.

But even moderate leaders have found it difficult to ride against the sentiments of their respective communities as they fight against their opponents who stoked the racial fire.

Umno founder Datuk Onn Jaafar wanted to open the membership of the party to all races and ended up leaving the party instead. He was certainly a visionary but he was ahead of his time.

Then, there is our first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman who was prepared to share power with the Chinese and Indians. A true patriot, we will remember him for his moderation and open-mindedness.

No Malaysian leader, many of us would agree, can measure up to him. He had his flaws, as with all human beings, but our Bapa Malaysia will be fondly remembered by us.

Then there are existing leaders, like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who are prepared to point out the weaknesses of their community. It is not easy but they have done so, not once but many times.

Another leader whom many of my journalist friends agree deserves mention is Tun Ghafar Baba.

Throughout his long involvement in politics, he has never been known to have uttered any hurtful remarks against the other races.

The same can surely be said about Pak Lah, whose moderation is also exemplary. Young Malaysian politicians should learn from him if they wish to be respected by all Malaysians.

MCA leaders such as Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee were branded as running dogs in the past by Labour Party leaders because they worked with Umno. In present times, PAS and DAP have continued to criticise such relations, dismissing the MCA and Gerakan as weak.

But the coalition of political parties representing the interest of various races has also been emulated by the opposition in the form of Barisan Alternatif as it has been proven to be effective.

The politics of consensus and moderation is the only way forward for Malaysia. Extremism, whether in the form of religion or communalism, by politicians, religious leaders or journalists, must never be tolerated.

The older ones among us have seen the success of the affirmative actions through the New Economic Policy, even if there were flaws in its implementation. But generally, the policy has produced a large successful Malay middle class.

No Malaysian in his right mind should question efforts to eradicate poverty and to restructure society but it should not be abused to help the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, especially those in rural areas.

In the past, residential areas were identified by racial groupings such as Malays in Kampung Baru, Chinese in Kepong and Indians in Sentul, but today there are many examples of racially-mixed housing estates.

The demographic changes and economic strength of the Malays have led many Chinese restaurant owners to switch to non-pork food to cater to a larger customer base. It is simple practical economics.

Many Chinese companies now hire Malay staff because they realise they cannot ignore the many Malay customers with their strong purchasing power. Even international corporations have begun advertising in the Bahasa Malaysia newspapers.

Likewise, Malay businessmen who have to do business in China have no choice but to hire staff who speak Mandarin. Even a Malaysian Chinese who can't speak Mandarin or write Chinese will be disqualified.

The changes of the past three decades, since the implementation of the NEP in 1970, have been tremendous. It may not have totally achieved its desired results but its overall impact has been positive.

It is impossible to make every race in Malaysia happy but that is precisely the point as no one race should be totally happy at the expense of others.

As Abdullah clearly assured all Malaysians, the Government will be fair to all Malaysians. I am sure the non-Malays who followed the proceedings of the Umno general assembly welcome that assurance.

The leadership has been a practical one and most Malaysians have faith in Abdullah's promise. He is fully aware that Malaysia needs to be competitive and, in private discussions, he has raised this matter many times.

Malaysians should see each other as partners and not as rivals. Globalisation has made protectionist rules irrelevant and, unless we combine our resources and talents, we will be left behind. There is little point arguing about the size of our slice of cake if there is no cake.

We should also not go overboard in dismissing any joint venture between a Malay and Chinese as Ali Baba with its negative connotation.

I have heard complaints that some Malay businessmen had to pick a Singaporean or even a Hong Kong partner because they feared being regarded as an Ali Baba concern. The losers, unfortunately, happen to be their fellow Malaysian Chinese.

Moderation, in the way we approach things, is important and many of us hope that the strong remarks made at political events by younger leaders are merely rhetoric. But sending the wrong signals can be just as confusing.

It is good to see the Barisan leaders, at national and youth level, listen to each other's viewpoints and concerns in our musyawarah style. More important, we have proven we can sit down and try to appreciate the perspective of every race, and not just our own.

As in all democracies, it is all right to disagree but we must also find ways to reach an agreement finally.