Thursday, February 4, 2010
ASSIGMENT LAMA.....tapi bermakna....
“Form and function are a unity, two sides of one coin. In order to enhance function, appropriate form must exist or be created.”
Ida P. Rolf
Every Malaysian has the image or at the very least knows the narrative of Tunku Abdul Rahman leading the nation and shouting ‘Merdeka’ seven times on the 31st of August in the newly built Merdeka Stadium as a symbol of Malaya’s independence. However, Malaysia as we know it today did not exist until Monday the 16th of September 1963 when the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, British North Borneo and Sarawak joined together to form a 14-state federation.
The formation of Malaysia created a unique nation of diverse races -- Malay, Indian, Eurasian, Chinese, Nyonya, and the indigenous people from Borneo. With such a diverse population, now numbering almost 25 million, it is no surprise that unity and diversity are two sides of a coin of immense importance to all. The 6th Prime Minister, Dato' Sri Mohd Najib Bin Tun Hj Abd Razak himself has said that his lifelong dream is of a united, peaceful and prosperous Malaysia, with abundant opportunities for all citizens. After becoming Prime Minister he proposed his concept of 1Malaysia which has already been introduced on his website on September 17th 2008. According to Dato' Sri Mohd Najib:
“Kita berdiri, kita berfikir dan bertindak sebagai bangsa Malaysia. One People. Dan kita mengambil tindakan-tindakan berdasarkan kehendak semua kumpulan etnik dalam negara kita;Ini bukan bererti kita mengetepikan dasar afirmatif, dasar untuk menolong kaum Bumiputera asalkan dasar itu dilaksanakan dengan cara yang adil dan memberi pertimbangan kepada golongan Bumiputera yang layak mendapat sesuatu pertimbangan daripada kerajaan.Kita keluar daripada cara bertindak dalam tembok etnik yang kita amalkan sejak sekian lama”.
“We stand together; we think and act as a unified race of Malaysia. One People. And the actions we take will be based on the desires of all ethnic groups in our country; in doing so this does not mean we will put aside affirmative policies, policies created to help Bumiputera for as long as these policies are implemented fairly and give due consideration to those Bumiputera who rightfully warrant consideration from the government. We will move away from past practice of basing our actions on an ethnic-based framework”.
Five decades of hegemonic rule by UMNO was broken when the opposition coalition DAP, PKR and PAS took over the state governments of Penang, Kedah, Kelantan, Perak and Selangor in the March 2008 election. The blow of losing their two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time in history was not as shocking as was the realisation that voters were breaking away from ethnic-based politics, reflecting the people’s concern over the ruling government’s racially-based policies. What followed was a drawn out period of what proved to be quite controversial political rethinking within UMNO. This eventually resulted in the present Prime Minister, Dato' Sri Mohd Najib Bin Tun Razak succeeding Tun Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi. The birth of 1Malaysia in the aftermath of the BN defeat could be seen as a reaction to the rejection of BN by the people.
1Malaysia claims to aspire to preserve and enhance the unity in a diverse Malaysia. Conceptually it still accepts the basic principles of the National Economic Policy (NEP) posited on the eradication of poverty irrespective of race and economic restructuring ironically launched by the Prime Minister’s late father as a consequence of the May 13 race riots.
The Prime Minister, hoping to regain the confidence of the Malaysian public has now added “People First, Performance Now” to his 1Malaysia concept. Fundamentally, 1Malaysia is meant to signal that not a single person in Malaysia would be sidelined because of race or religion but at the same time the policies related to affirmative action will be continued.
The selection of candidates for the interview consisted of five upper middle class Malay Malaysians between the ages of thirty to sixty five. The age bracket was selected in order to obtain candidates with above average economic status and education level. The selection of Malay Malaysians was a conscious choice in order to present the view of the dominant majority in Malaysia’s demographic mix and within this group the socio-economic group with most impact on public thought at least in the urban areas. As there were only five persons interviewed it was not possible to get a sample representing all the ethnic and socio-economic groups in the country. This survey then assess the perception of Malaysian’s Malay upper middle class on 1Malaysia and how it affects them as a majority as well as the perceived consequences for the different racial minorities.
The interview can be classified as an open-ended Information Giving type of interview used to obtain information on the beliefs, opinions, attitudes and feelings of those interviewed as well as their knowledge of the facts behind these issues.
The goal of this project is to determine the extent a group of Malaysians understand the 1Malaysia concept. This project is significant because 1Malaysia is directed towards the inculcation of the value of universal citizenship and civic commitment in Malaysia. Following a major change in the political landscape, it would seem that Malaysia’s Prime minister felt that 1Malaysia would be the solution to earn the trust and confidence of the people, particularly the non-Malays who seem to have rejected UMNO. The ambitious goal of 1Malaysia is perhaps more of a symbol than a practical programme as, according to recent surveys Malaysians see themselves as members of either their ethnic group -- Malay, Chinese or Indian -- and many Malays in particular, place their religious identity before citizenship. Thus, the interview would be a moderately good source of information regarding the understanding of 1Malaysia by Malay Malaysians.
Each interview, lasting approximately thirty minutes, was carried out in an informal manner; unstructured answers and a free discussion of the issues was encouraged. Each interview was based on a series of questions.
1. Where did you first see or hear the one Malaysia slogan/concept?
Every respondent was aware of 1Malaysia and who created the concept. Respondents obtained information regarding 1Malaysia from the mainstream media particularly in the television and newspapers. One respondent illustrated how extensive the plugging of 1Malaysia was when she noted: “I even see it on Facebook”.
2. Are you aware of the fact that 1Malaysia has 8 principles it seeks to address?
1. Budaya Kecemerlangan Culture of Excellence
2. Ketabahan Perseverance
3. Rendah hati Humility
4. Penerimaan Acceptance
5. Kesetiaan Loyalty
6. Meritokrasi Meritocracy
7. Pendidikan Education
8. Integriti Integrity
Yes or No?
Out of five, only one respondent was aware and able to describe in detail the 8 principles of 1Malaysia. Others were not aware of all the 8 principles but deduced that there would evidently be values put forward to represent the concept of 1Malaysia. A particularly interesting observation was on the order of the 8 principles and it was highlighted by one respondent who pointed out that the first principle should be the last for the reason it would not be possible to achieve a culture of excellence without adhering to and comprehensively implementing the other seven principles.
3. Do you feel Malaysians understand this concept?
Yes or No? Why ?
To this question, every one of the respondents answered a resounding No. None of the respondent felt that the 1Malaysia concept had been explained adequately. This particular question offered an interesting perspective into the perception of the respondents. It indicated that they were cynical about the aims of the government and pessimistic about its implementation.
4. Do Malaysians understand, accept and tolerate other races/religions?
Yes or No? Why ?
No respondent could answer a definite Yes or No and opted to explain their stand on the issue of tolerance and acceptance. One interesting response likened it to the relationship between a father, mother and the child, “each one has its place yet each one has to give in to the position of the other”.
Another respondent offered some valuable insight. He stated:
“Since independence among certain sections of society there seems to be less and less acceptance and toleration and understanding of other races and religions, particularly among certain groups of Muslims and some evangelical Christians but on the other hand there is a growing number of all races who are becoming more tolerant”.
“We need to remember that are more than 60,000 non-Chinese in Chinese primary schools. There is no racial discrimination in these schools but the UMNO Minister of Higher Education told the UMNO general assembly a few years back that as long as he was the minister, he would not allow a single non-bumiputera to be admitted to UiTM. The government school system is dominated by one racial group. Is 1Malaysia going to change this?”
It seems that interracial issues of acceptance and understanding only become a concern or interest so long as it does not personally affect them. If it touches on areas which are sensitive, tolerance and understanding no longer have a place.
5. What do you understand about the Chinese, Indians, Kadazandusuns and Ibans in terms of religion, culture and such? Please elaborate.
Almost all respondent understood the diversity of Malaysia which they saw as encompassing the Chinese, Indians, Kadazandusuns and Ibans. A few respondents through personal experience and encounters understood the cultural practices, values and beliefs of other races. The other respondents on the other hand offered no insight and had only a superficial idea of the other races limited to holidays, celebrations and what they saw as the superstitious beliefs of the other races.
A particular comment from one of the respondent was alarming. When asked about the Kadazandusun and Ibans he responded: “They are a minority, even more so than the Chinese and Indian so their cultural practices are not as significant.”
Ironically another respondent highlighted the fact that “the Kadazandusuns' biggest problem now is the fact that their percentage within the enlarged population of Sabah (now 3 million) has been seriously reduced, and the fact that they have actually become a minority. This is causing tension”
Perhaps it is the lack of sensitivity and the comfort of being within a confined race group that hinders the inter relations between Malaysians. One other respondent highlighted in a similar context that Malay Malaysians hold strongly onto the ideals of Raja Melayu. This ideal equates the supremacy of the King or ruler to the Malay race and nation thus reflecting on the position of Malays within Malaysia and the concept of Ketuanan Melayu.
6. How can this 1Malaysia concept become a reality when many Malaysians don’t even understand or seek to understand each other? What should be done?
One respondent answered: “If the Prime Minister is serious to sell his People Come First, One Malaysia Concept, then UMNO and all the constituent parties of BN should be dissolved and a new party formed so that all races can join and policies will not be race-based but provide equality, fairness and justice for all”
Another respondent tried to approach it from a non-political perspective: “Look at what unites them…. Malaysians love food, so perhaps food could be the way or at least a start.”
An obvious problem with the understanding on inter-racial and cultural relationship presented in this interview is the lack of understanding on Malaysian history. This was evident in all except two respondents who were older and evidently had some knowledge and interest in history. The other respondents knew nothing or at the very least little and held unsubstantiated historical facts. This was reflected in the suggestion of what should be done.
“We are all fine and happy together, there is no need to get technical about it”
On the contrary another respondent stated: “Until and unless more Malaysians wake up to the reality that this nation cannot progress on sweet talk and nice sounding slogans alone, this country will continue to fall behind other competitors in the region.”
“How can there be One Malaysia when UMNO still holds on to race politics where policies implemented have racial overtones and marginalization of other Malaysian races and also the marginalization of many Malays and native people of Sabah and Sarawak?”
One respondent quoted Gomez "Malaysians have failed to integrate in any meaningful fashion, even after almost forty years of independence.” – Edmund Terrence Gomez in the book “Ethnic Futures – The state and identity politics in Asia”
7. In your opinion are Malaysian policies 'fair' to all their citizens in line with the 1Malaysia slogan? Such as the NEP, the government bonds, the quotas awards of scholarships and etc?
There was only one respondent out of the five who felt that the policies are fair. He stated
“We have to respect the special privileges – who founded the place... the country?” He believes that 1Malaysia would foster understanding and with that understanding, the maintaining of current and future affirmative action policies would be accepted by all.
“It will be difficult to have 1 Malaysia when there are discriminative policies in areas like education (scholarships, entry quotas), bank loans, NEP, AP, contract distributions. 1Malaysia will only show if equal rights are practiced and not the illusion called “special” rights. The excuse of hypocritical BN that non-Malays are threatening the “special” rights of Malays is rubbish. What’s the basis? The only threat is globalisation. Nothing else.”
“Where is 1 Malaysia when you have a newspaper like Utusan Malaysia? A newspaper that is so racist, so pro-UMNO, & consistently publishes articles to incite racial hatred among Malaysians. Newspapers like Utusan that are hindering unity.”
A particularly cynical statement was: “It should be; ‘May the best man win’, and not ‘your best friend wins.’ Unfortunately this is how it is in Malaysia. I believe rights and policies should be awarded based solely on merit.”
“Power and responsibility should be given to those who are the most all-round capable and trustworthy and who can perform. Malaysia must not consider meritocracy a bad word. We must not sweep failures, big and small, under the carpet to protect those of a certain race as this actually rewards fiascos and penalises successes. Performance must be objectively and tangibly assessed and well-rewarded regardless of race or religion. Decisions need to be made and implemented in a timely, informed and considered manner, not based on political considerations.”
8. Is 1Malaysia simply a political ploy or slogan?
There was a unanimous “Yes.” to this question.
“Yes, every national day we have a slogan… well it doesn’t mean if the slogan is gone … no longer being recited the impact of the slogan goes away with it… I suppose if it is a good cause perhaps a little change from the slogan would be better than nothing”
“Yes!!...Slogans are just so Malaysian... What would we do without slogans? How would we get attention?”
“Yes, I remember when Mahathir became PM, he came in with the slogan Bersih, Cekap, dan Amanah but his administration was neither bersih nor cekap nor amanah. Similarly, when Badawi became PM, he introduced the slogan Cemerlang, Gemilang dan Terbilang but under him, BN suffered its biggest loss ever and he was the most underperforming PM yet.”
It is evidently clear that for the respondents, 1Malaysia is purely a political slogan; be that as it may, none of the respondents rejected the concept. They felt that if a slogan was consistently and sincerely implemented there it would be good but, based on past performance; they were pessimistic of it having any lasting and significant impact.
The interview went well, respondents were comfortable and responsive. Each respondent expressed personal views, suggestions and concerns. In accordance to the subject of the interview; the 1Malaysia concept, most respondents were aware of it on a superficial level mainly due to the massive endorsement and the barrage advertising pushing the concept in all the media, be it television, radio or the press. Out of the five, only two respondents really understood the details of 1Malaysia.
It was apparent throughout the interview that their socio-economic status made most of the respondents indifferent to the 1Malaysia concept and what it entails as it did not affect them on a personal level and therefore most of the respondents were not actively involved or concerned about it.
There was not a strong conviction of being able to form a united Malaysia despite the belief in the value of tolerance. Perceptions regarding other races by the Malays are still based on stereotypes and have not changed. However, towards the end of the interview sensitivity towards the minority races began to surface when hypothetical situations were briefly discussed.1Malaysia perhaps is an attempt to build a bridge where there is no river
“We can never solve our significant problems from the same level of thinking we were at when we created the problems.”
The subject of 1Malaysia is no doubt thought-provoking; it seeks to address unity and equality. The fact of the matter is that 1Malaysia is not a new concept, it has existed since or even before the formation of Principles of the Nation ‘Rukun Negara’ in 1969. It is unfortunate that up to this day this concept has yet to be achieved.
1Malaysia though noble in its aims, is an ambiguous method of reaching the public. It draws a fine line between equality and the rights of the Malays and Malaysians. In a country where inequality of race is reflected in income level, health care, education, land ownership and employment, it is almost absurd to present the notion of 1Malaysia.
A united nation is a confident nation and Malaysia has yet to achieve confidence or trust in each other. One ethnic group or race would evidently cling to its particular set of beliefs, detaching from other ethnic group or race in its values, beliefs and practices. Perhaps it is the lack of sense of belonging and loyalty in a country where finding trustworthy and uncorrupted leaders is difficult.
1Malaysia cannot become a reality unless there a radical rethink of the things which stand in its way; if there is no confidence in a government and the marginalization of minority races is used merely as political leverage without real solution or improvements. There is a need to listen and create dialogue in order to understand and appreciate the plight by listening to the voices of the other races by the Malay-dominated government. When race no longer becomes the criterion, only then will those who are deserving gain. Thus for those who are not up to the standard, would have no choice but to improve themselves. I would like to end with the wise words of Sir Winston Churchill, "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."