Speech by DAP Organising Secretary, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, at the Great Economic Debates, 1968 series on “What are the obstacles that impede the growth of greater national cohesion among Malaysians” organised by the University of Malaya Economics Society on Tuesday, 26th November 1968 at 8 p.m.

The subject tonight is on “What are the obstacles that impede the growth of greater national cohesion among Malaysians.” But I feel the forum should more appropriately be on “What are the causes of growing national division among Malaysians.” because I do not see any greater national cohesion over the years since Merdeka.

When you come into the University from the E. P. F. way, you will be greeted by a huge hoarding board advertising the national flag and national anthem, urging the people to respect them.

If we are achieving greater national cohesion over the years, it would not have been necessary for the Alliance government to put up such hoarding, ten years after Merdeka, degrading our national symbols to the same status as advertised goods like groundnuts, beer, shoes, cigarettes, shampoo, etc.

Nor would it have been necessary ten years after Merdeka to pass a law to compel respect to the National Anthem.

In my view, the causes of growing national division among Malaysians are three. They are communalism, economic inequality and a short-sighted, incompetent and bumbling government.

1. Communalism

Malaysia is a multi-racial nation. It is also a nation of minorities, where no race is in a majority.

So long as us the various races continue to think strictly in racial terms, so long will national cohesion be impeded.

You cannot have national cohesion when Malays think more and more as Malays, Chinese as Chinese, Indians as Indians, and very few of them as Malaysians.

The task of nation-builders, whether the government, public leaders or intellectuals is to encourage the Malays, to think less in Malay terms, the Chinese less in Chinese terms, the Indians less in Indian terms, and all of them in Malaysian terms.

But what has been happening for the last eleven years since Merdeka?

The ruling Alliance party, with all its massive propaganda machinery, deliberately and unrelentlessly exhorted the various racial communities to think, feel and act exclusively in racial terms.

The UMNO leaders like Inche Khir Johari, Tun Razak, and even Tunku Abdul Rahman, and of course, Inche Musa Hitam, keep on telling the Malays that unless they unite as Malays, their race will be wiped out.

Tun Tan Siew Sin tells the Chinese that unless they similarly unite racially, they will not survive and will receive a even worse fate than the Chinese in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. The MIC, which some unkind Malaysians have called it the Malaysian Idiots Congress, naturally parroted the same line among the Malaysians.

When the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians are systematically reminded by the government party to think exclusively in racial terms, how is national cohesion served?

Not satisfied in permanently dividing the Malaysians into separate categories, the Alliance injected the poison of bumiputraism into the body of Malaysian life.

A new division was created, further classifying Malaysians, now into ‘bumiputras’ and ‘non-bumiputras’, not on the basis of birthplace, loyalty, citizenship, but only purely racial grounds.

‘Bumiputra’ means son of the soil. But many of you are born in Malaysia, bred and educated in this country, citizen of Malaysia and owes loyalty to no other country. But you are not ‘sons of the soil’, while Celebes-born Jaffar Albar, former UMNO Secretary-General, is a ‘son of the soil’?

Is this just and right?

In schools, students know that they are classified into ‘bumiputra’ and ‘non-bumiputra’, and they resent it, because it denotes inequality, injustice, and discrimination.

In other words, a new generation of Malaysians are growing up feeling aggrieved at being classified as ‘second class’ citizens, denied as ‘sons of the soil’ although they are born, bred and educated here.

I asked Inche Musa Hitam during the Segamat Utara Parliamentary by-election whether he supported such a decision. He said yes, but quoted Tunku Abdul Rahman to say that ‘bumiputra’ has no legal definition – and that anyone can call himself a ‘bumiputra’.

How clever! Was there a non-Malay Malaysian at the recent Bumiputra Economic Congress?

Inche Khir Johari, the UMNO Secretary-General said in Sungei Patani in August that Thais in Kedah have been accepted as bumiputra. I would want Inche Musa Hitam to let us know who decide who is qualified to be a bumiputra. Is it the UMNO?

When Malaysians are divided into categories after categories, it is no surprise that instead of national cohesion, we are getting national division.

Fundamentally, this state of affairs arise from the racial character of UMNO, which is the master in the Alliance company.

The UMNO rejects Malaysia as a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-cultural society.

Hence its racialist intolerance on questions of other language and culture – its commitment to work towards a Malaysia where there is only one language and one culture – namely Malay language and Malay culture.

There are of course other people outside UMNO who are dedicated to the same objective, like Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas of Gerakan, who declared that Malaysian literature can only be written in the Malay language, and that Malaysian culture must be based on Malay.

What pained me, and countless Malaysians, is that veteran politicians who had in the past fought for a multi-racial Malaysia, should now desert the cause of multi-racialism, and defect to the side of communalism.

It came as a shock to me when Dr. Tan Chee Khoon and Dr. Lim Chong Eu endorsed the cultural stand of Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas, who declared that Malaysian literature can only be written in Malay, and that Malaysian culture must be based on Malay.

I urge Dr. Tan Chee Khoon and Dr. Lim Chong Eu to give more thought to the fundamental issue as to whether Malaysia is to be a multi-racial or a communal Malaysia, and to reconsider and repudiate the narrow, communal and dangerous stand on culture which they supported last Sunday.

All humans make mistakes, but if they have the courage to admit it, they will earn the respect and regard of decent Malaysians.

2. Economic Inequality

A country which is economically half slave and half free is not a united country. When this economic inequality seemed to coincide with racial divisions, then the ingredients for racial misunderstanding, jealousy and conflict are inflammable.

The UMNO government has failed to significantly uplift the economic lot of the Malay rural poor. To cover up its failings, it looks for a scapegoat, in kampongs, they tell the Malays that their poverty is because of the grasping city Chinese, who own big cars, big houses, big banks – ignoring the fact that the majority of Chinese are have-nots as well. This is why the UMNO’s slogan in the villages that unless the Malays unite solidly as a race, their race will be wiped out is so successful.

In fact, however, the Alliance government has no genuine desire to uplift the economic lot of the Malay masses. All that they are interested is to create a class of new Malay rich.

Its policy of ‘bumiputraism’, which has caused so much resentment among the non-Malays, is none other than policy to rake in directorships and shares for a small number of Malays.

For instance, the recent Bumiputra Economic Congress was largely a congress of Malay haves. The Malay have-nots are nowhere to be seen.

If the Alliance was serious in wanting to remove economic inequality in the rural areas, it would have embarked on radical land reforms and educational programmes.

For instance, the abolition of landlordism in the padi sector would free over two million padi peasants, over 90 per cent of whom are Malays, from the clutches of exploitation.

But the Alliance would not do this, because the padi landlords are the backbone of UMNO.

In education, for instance, one of the first steps that should have been taken after independence would have been to introduce compulsory primary education. This measure would benefit the rural children, who will acquire skills which will increase their earning power in adult life.

Of course, such a measure must be accompanied by overall programme of rural upliftment and even subsidy to parents, who had depended on their children to help them in the farms.

All that the Alliance leaders did was to build national schools, without paying much interest to the content of education, the standard of teaching, the facilities, or whether large number of children fail because they have worms or go to school with empty stomachs.

Of course, Alliance Ministers have so little confidence in their own educational handcraft that none of them send his children to these national schools. In fact, we know of Alliance leaders who even send their children abroad for primary education.

A short-sighted and incompetent government

Apart from being a racialist one, the Alliance government is short-sighted and incompetent, completely unable to measure up to the demands and challenges of multi racial Malaysia.

After the Penang racial riots and disturbances last November, debunking Alliance boasts that they have brought racial peace and harmony, the Alliance leadership was completely at a loss what to do. Finally, they decided not to do anything, and just sit tight and wait for whatever is in the offing.

Of course, there was a inane suggestion as to how to forestall a recurrence of racial riots. It came from Tun Tan Siew Sin, who suggested forming more multi-racial clubs, like Selangor Club, Royal Golf Club, etc. it was only then that the Malaysian public realised what a small brain our Finance Minister had.

A serious suggestion by Professor Ungku Aziz for a full-scale commission of inquiry into the racial problem was rejected.

The Alliance does not understand the social forces at work, and are blind to them.

They do not seem to have learnt from the tragedy of Nigeria, which was until recently grouped with Malaysia as two shining examples of successful nationhood in Africa and Asia, with multi-ethnic populations.

The biggest problem and the main obstacle to Malaysian national cohesion is communalism, which is growing day by day, as a result of the policy of the Alliance government.

If this trend is not checked, there will not only be no national cohesion, there will be no nation.

It is the task of university students, to give intelligent thought to this problem, because they have a stake in whether Malaysia ticks on as a nation, or disintegrates the way Nigeria did, a theatre of massacre, carnage, genocide.

I am glad therefore that this was the subject of tonight’s forum, for it shows that the students are aware of the existence of the problem. This is half the battle won.

In conclusion, I will make the following suggestions as immediate first steps which could be taken to remove the virus of communalism, and lay the basis for greater national cohesion among Malaysians:

(1) Dissolution of MCA, UMNO and MIC and communal parties;
(2) Abolition of the distinction of ‘bumiputras’ and ‘non-bumiputras’;
(3) Genuine efforts to abolish rural poverty; through radical land-reforms and educational reforms;
(4) Institution of a commission of inquiry to study the entire problem of race in Malaysia, in order to make recommendations for the defusing of racial conflicts.

Audited on 2021-03-04