On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

One for all, all for one

Malaysia is what it is today because of the contributions of all races.

IT’S a mammoth task, really. Six months after the general election, the National Unity Consultative Council has finally been formed.

The council has been given six months to organise programmes that transcend race and religion aimed at bringing the nation together.

As the Prime Minister himself cautioned during the launch of the council last week, Malaysia is a “complex country”.

Like it or not, there are already plenty of cynics and sceptics out there who have predicted that the recommendations and findings of the council will end up gathering dust on the shelves, just like the work of other grand-sounding committees.

The fact is there is a huge distrust over the sincerity of our politicians, regardless of their affiliations, even as the country continues to be torn by contentious issues.

Rightly or wrongly, many of these divisive issues are caused by selfish politicians and narrow-minded religious personalities.

We cannot deny that the destructive ethnic and religious issues in Malaysia are linked to partisan politics. It is not incorrect to say that a lot of things continue to be seen through racial and religious lenses.

In the aftermath of the 2013 polls that saw a huge majority of non-Malays voting against the Barisan Nasional, there has been a strong resentment against the Chinese voters.

From calls to cut Chinese businessmen off government contracts to promoting bumiputeras first in government-linked companies, such perceived moves to punish the community will certainly not forge unity.

It will only encourage the communal-minded politicians to push their stance harder, resulting in the minority feeling alienated and with a sense that they do not have much of a future in this country.

PAS, which saw its strength eroded in the elections, has also stepped up the religious and racial game to win back the Malay voters. The Islamist party has made no secret of the direction it intends to take in its quest to win back lost ground.

The Chinese, on the other hand, have to learn and accept the reality that they will just be able to win about 45 Chinese-majority parliamentary seats out of the total 222. It doesn’t help that their own numbers, as a percentage of the overall population, continues to shrink.

They can fly back from overseas by the planeloads, thinking they can change history, but they can never change the government – unless the Malay majority wants it to happen.

Choosing to ignore the historical foundations and racial realities of this country isn’t going to help the majority Malays feel comfortable. Trying to build up any form of consensus, whether religious or political, is now much more difficult.

The 2013 polls revealed that the majority of Malays stuck with the Barisan. Ibrahim Suffian of the Merdeka Centre was quoted as saying that the majority of first-time Malay and young Malay voters gave their support to Barisan, suggesting that the Opposition has not done enough to convince young Malays that their future was secure with the Pakatan Rakyat coalition of PAS, PKR and DAP.

Ibrahim also noted that this segment is going to get larger in coming elections due to the higher birth rate among Malays.

Given the changing population profile, Malays will be an even larger chunk of new voters in future polls than the nearly two-thirds, or 64.17%, of new voters registered this year.

Race and religion, unfortunately, will play a major part in our lives and you can be sure that the politicians will continue to play up these issues.

It is sad that pluralism has become a politically-incorrect word in Malaysia today while the celebration of multi-culturalism is shunned.

The trend towards mono-ethnicity and mono-religion appears to become more entrenched as the country’s demography changes.

When race and religion are given priority over talent and qualifications, with meritocracy dismissed as another dirty word, then we are for sure heading in the wrong direction.

How do we then instil confidence on our young, idealistic and hopeful Malaysians that everyone has a place in this country? How do we tell them that they are denied places and positions because they are not the preferred race? The fact is that whether we are a majority or a minority, we are all citizens of this country.

For the unity council to be more authoritative, it should be given executive powers which will make it independent.

Politicians and bureaucrats must be seen to stay away from the council, which must prove itself credible to be able to win the trust of all segments of society. Prove the cynics wrong.

We wish the 27-member NUCC headed by Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) chairman Tan Sri Samsudin Osman and his deputy, prominent social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, all the best. We want to see the council succeed.

It is good to see credible and moderate personalities like Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, Tan Sri Dr Michael Yeoh and Anas Zubedy being appointed into the committee.

A notable name that has been left out is Dr Chandra Muzaffar who had proposed the setting-up of such a council in 1984 and had outlined in detail this panel in 1987.

Let us not forget that Malaysia is what it is today because of the contributions of all the races.

The future of Malaysia will also be decided by all Malaysians.