Royal Commission of Inquiry in National Unity

I had listened to the Royal address attentively, hoping to catch a new perception on the part of the government of the basic problems confronting Malaysia and indications of new policy directions. The result has not been too encouraging.

The Third Malaysia Plan would be launched in July this year. The Government said that the objectives of this Plan are to “achieve unity and to develop resilience among the people in facing challenges, particularly challenges to national security.

The aim of national unity has been the stated aim of the Barisan Nasional and previously, the Alliance, Government ever since Independence in 1957, and is also the declared objective of each and every one of the previous Five-Year Plans.

Malaysia will complete her second decade of nationhood next year, and we should pause to find out whether we had become a more united nation since Merdeka or a more disunited and divided nation.

The task of nation building for a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious people is going to be a long process, taking probably a few generations. But while national unity cannot be achieved within a generation, 20 years is a sufficiently long time for us to take stock and measure of the success or failure of the government’s nation building policy.

A whole new generation of Malaysians have grown up since Merdeka. The entire school and university-going population are the complete products of the policies of the government. Their attitudes and consciousness are important determinants of the success or failure of the government’s nation building policy.

One would have expected that after 20 years of nation building under two Prime Ministers and new the beginning of a Third one, we should be able to assert with some degree of confidence that the youths of today are more Malaysian conscious and minded than the youths twenty years ago.

But can we trust say so. The reverse is in fact the case. Twenty years ago, I was still in school. My classmates and I were interested in developments in the country and things that happen around us, but the concept and consciousness of race seldom arise.

Today, the consciousness of race, of being a ‘bumiputra’ and a ‘non-bumiputra’, of being a Malay and non-Malay, is driven home on a child fight from the primary school stage, from his experience whether in school or home. I know of a primary school where some teachers made a big issue on the alleged racial imbalance of school prefects, sharply imprinting on the minds of the school children the distinctions and differences because of race, rather than their commonness as a Malaysian.

This concept and consciousness is further heightened when they enter secondary schools, sit for L.C.E., streamed into science or arts courses, chosen for different classes.

Early this year, one Form Four student was taken away from the best class and separated from his old classmates, and when he protested to the school supervisor that this was unfair as he had to give way to others whose a aggregate were much poorer to his, he as slapped. The physical pain is small matter, but the concept of race is slapped deep into his and his friends’ psyche.

This reminder of the differences and distinction of race is repeated in a more and more acute form stage by stage, in the MCE examination and the subsequent granting of school places for HSC students, the HSC examination and the intake into the universities.

The education, employment and economic policies of the government have caused widespread fears among non-Malays about their and their children’s future.

This is the cause of the unprecedented scale of emigration overseas of professional men, especially doctors, dentists, engineers. Only yesterday, I was told another doctor in Kuala Lumpur who gave up his successful private practice of twenty years and uprooted his whole family to Australia.

While I do not sympathise with Malaysians who do not have the guts to stay and fight for their rights, only the small and petty-minded will take the attitude that this is good riddance.

For the reasons which make professionals emigrate in such large numbers, something few and far between in the first 10 years of Independence, is because of the non-Malay fears about their and their children’s future in Malaysia, on the basis of present Barisan Nasional government record in the fields of education, employment and economics.

The Barisan Nasional policies have driven out the professionals who have tires to identify and belong and contribute, but found that they could not do so.

The failure of the government in working towards national unity can also be seen from the fact that it is not merely middle-aged doctors who are emigrating. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that young doctors, many just passed out from the University of Malaya, are seriously considering and planning to emigrate – for the sake of children and yet unborn.

This is why hundreds of doctors have traveled to Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom in the past year or so to register themselves, to book a ticket for the future, so to speak, when they can in a few years time emigrate over.

One reason for this is the probability that Commonwealth countries like U.K., Australia and Canada, which had hitherto recognised the medical degrees of the Malaysian University, are likely to withdraw this recognition because of the lowering of medical standards, the more compelling reason is fear about the lack of a future for non-Malays in Malaysia.

These young doctors are the complete products of the education policy and system of the government. The fruits of this national government policy is not national unity, surely, but disunity!

I know that there will be ultras in the country who will this as an argument to bolster their case that the non-Malays are disloyal, and should be given even less opportunities in the fields of education, employment and economy.

This is no less than a formula for national disintegration, for the fears and worries which motive the professionals to emigrate or to plan emigration are also the fears and worries which gnaw away at the overwhelming majority of non-Malays.

In this context, Dr. Mahathir’s appointment as Deputy Prime Minister has aggravated the situation, both on the basis of his past record and pronouncements, and on his policy in Education Ministry especially with regard to higher education in the country.

His Majesty in his Royal Address said: “The security of the national constitutes a major problem today. The security of the nation means the security of the people themselves. Therefore the people must realise that the war against communist terrorist is a people’s war.”

What the government must understand is that where the people feel insecure, as the overwhelming majority of non-Malays in Malaysia feel insecure, the people are not the natural allies of the government, and the security battle is not a people’s war.

This is because all that they are being asked to choose is between two insecurities which, in the nature of things is difficult to make the people enthusiastic about.

We can continue to ignore these brutal realities about the grave forces and factors of national disunity stemming directly from the government’s nation building policies and continue to sweep them under the carpet, or slander and character-assassinate those among us who tried to get others see the situation in the true perspective. But we can do so only at our peril, for them, we are literally sitting on a time bomb without doing anything to defuse it.

It is for this reason that on the occasion of our entering into our 20th year of nationhood, the country should take stock of itself and examine how much progress we have made or ground lost in this period to a move towards national unity.

I seriously suggest that a Royal Commission of Inquiry be established to inquire into the whole question of national unity in Malaysia at its 20th year of nationhood, the problems and prospects, so that we can more intelligently chart out national policies which can create greater common interest among Malaysians than distinctions and differences to find out whether we are producing young citizens who are more Malaysian minded, or more race-conscious, the whys and the hows of meeting the challenges ahead.

Speech by Ketua Pembangkang, Member of Parliament for Kota Melaka and DAP Secretary-General, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat in the debate on the royal Address on Wednesday, 31 March, 1976