On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Speak the language of peace and unity

For average Malaysians who are mostly wage earners, the decision to abolish examination fees for the UPSR, PMR, SPM and STPM in government schools effective next year is surely helpful. 

So is the decision to provide scholarships for tertiary education to students with 10A1s in the SPM from families with an income of RM1,500 and below, regardless of race, although a slightly higher figure would be more realistic. It is also equally important that they get admitted into universities.  

For many middle-class Malaysians, we are grateful to Pak Lah for his move to increase the tax relief for the purchase of books from RM700 to RM1,000 a year. So too the decision to change the tax rebate of RM500 once in five years for the purchase of computers to a RM3,000 relief once in three years. 

Certainly the two months' bonus for civil servants earning up to RM750 a month is well deserved. This extra money will help them cope with the daily difficulties of inflation. The coming Hari Raya celebrations will be a lot happier. 

More than ever, Malaysia needs policies which emphasise on needs rather than race, if we are to make this country a truly united one. We must never forget that just as there are many rich Malays and non-Malays, there are also many poor Malays and non-Malays. 

The abolishment of examination fees and tax rebates for essential items will help the majority of us Malaysians who depend on our monthly salaries to pay our bills. Certainly, the vast majority of us do not control the economy but merely struggle to cope with the shrinking ringgit and the increasing cost of living. 

That is the real Malaysia. We wish there are more politicians like Pak Lah who speak the language of peace and unity at a time when many of us view with concern the deteriorating spirit of tolerance from an ethnic and religious perspective.  

This is not helped by minorities – whether as individuals or groups – who seem to be able to push their agendas. These are the people who only see the superior aspect of their race and religious concerns, not realising that such an approach would not help to cement peace and unity but only widen unnecessary gaps in the long run for a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation like ours.  

It is not good enough for politicians to make speeches calling on Malaysians to be united, to stop making racially offensive remarks or to stay away from religious debates. We have heard all these before, each time a politician made a silly racist remark that upset the other communities. 

Such advice, particularly from the Prime Minister, may have some impact on reducing rising political tension but the reality is that we all have to work on national unity.  

Malaysia won't be a united society if we just talk about it. National unity cannot be achieved by putting up flags, reciting poems, spending millions in National Service camps and riding big bikes nationwide. 

If Malaysia is to have a future, we must succeed in making Malaysia truly united because there is no other way for all of us. Sweeping our problems, which we have acknowledged, under the carpet can reduce rising political tension but the root cause of the problems will remain.  

Many brave and lofty words have been made about national unity but, unfortunately, performance does not seem to match promises. National unity, it seems, is merely a slogan to be used once a year during National Day. 

Not many of us would publicly admit that the National Day spirit has been dampened. But for many, the racial remarks made by certain politicians in the run-up to this year's Merdeka celebrations have made the event somewhat sombre. 

Still, we have to rise above this hiccup. Malaysians must continue to espouse on our common values rather than to harp on our differences and to be wary of selfish politicians who attempt to instil racial fears, often imagined ones, on us. 

Through policies and actions, our leaders need to make all of us feel as one country and one people. Our founding fathers, realising that independence could only be achieved through the cooperation of the main races, toiled over the Constitution. 

There are at least 20 articles in our Constitution spelling out the fundamental liberties guaranteed to every citizen. No one should be made to feel insecure in any manner. 

They worked hard to ensure that every Malaysian would have a rightful place in this country. No matter whether our ancestors came from Indonesia, China, India or West Asia, Tunku Abdul Rahman made everyone comfortable and wanted here. 

Negotiations over policies were conducted with honesty, sensitivity and respect for one another. Certainly, no threat, whether subtle or otherwise, was necessary. It was easier then, perhaps, because the Alliance was much smaller and the leaders spent much time socially together. 

But 49 years later, race relations has become an issue. Some of us are pessimistic because we sense a lack of commitment, particularly among some powerful figures, on the need to cultivate and reaffirm our common values. 

While many seem ready to condemn others of communalism, not many of us are willing to express the same sentiments with the same vigour, if it involves politicians of our ethnic group.  

The question to be asked, especially to our political and religious elite, is when will we be ready to stop using race or religion as an issue to further narrow ends. When will orang kita really mean Rakyat Malaysia?  

When will our elites, some with economic and political interests, stop using race to justify economic or education policies, which have kept Malaysians apart?  

When will we be politically brave enough to abolish the need for Malaysians to state their race and religion when they fill up forms without the flimsy excuse that this information is for statistical reasons? 

Much more than ever, Malaysia needs the voices of people with a truly non-communal and universal outlook who advocate the importance of common values and virtues. Sadly, some young upstarts prefer the jaded formula of using race to climb the hierarchy. 

A simple decision by Pak Lah in his Budget, such as the introduction of Chinese and Tamil languages in some national schools, is certainly a big step towards national unity.  

But it should not be merely to attract more Chinese and Indian students to national schools; it is about allowing young Malaysians to learn our languages and make them more marketable and competitive. It should be looked at that way.