Political Trends – Problems and Prospects

Speech by Ketua Pembangkang and DAP Secretary-General, Lim Kit Siang, in the Great Economic Debates organised by the Economics Society of the University of Malays on Saturday, 9th Oct. 1976, at the Dewan Tunku Cansellor at 8.00 p.m.

Political Trends – Problems and Prospects

At the close of our second decade of nationhood, Malaysia is beset with as many complex problems and challenges coming from as many directions that it would be quite foolhardy for anyone to attempt to forecast that Malaysia would be like on the third decade of Independence in 1987, let alone what Malaysia would like be in the year 2001.

The main problems confronting Malaysia are the problem of the double polarisation in the country – the polarisation of classes and the polarisation of races – the erosion of democratic rights and fundamental liberties of the people and the decline in the moral authority of government.

Class Polarisation:

The New Economic Policy, and especially the Second Malaysia Plan, 1971-1975, were very damaging years for Malaysia, for it set only aggravated racial polarisation, but at the same time, deepened class cleavages.

In the implementation of the Second Malaysian Plan, poverty was given a racial conotation, and the first prong objective to eliminate poverty regardless of race was repeated in public places for sound effect only, but ignored in practice. As a result, the non-Malay poor, whether in towns or villages, perceived and found themselves ignored and neglected.

The second objective, to restructure Malaysian society to eliminate the identification of race with economic function, took wings, but tragically, resulting in even greater class conflicts, not only in the Malaysian society, but even among the Malays themselves.

The Malay poor found that the fruits of development are enjoyed by the owners of privilege, property and instruments of production. In a typical case in Malacca, recently, the Malay poor and landless cannot get one inch of land, but six well-connected Malays could get 4,000 areas of land virtually free to make them into millionaires. One of the six is now Acting Chief Minister of Malacca, Ghani Ishak, who broke his oath of office and violated the State Constitution in taking part in a State Executive Council decision to give land to a company, Syarikat Sri Lingga, of which he was and is one of the six directors.

The government provides statistics about the distribution of income among various racial groups over the years. But it does not provide statistics about the distribution of income among the Malays over the Malays over the years to show whether it has increased or lessened the disparity in the distribution of income and wealth among the Malays.

However, from the government’s 195 Census and the 1970 Post enumeration Survey, a Malaysian economist has charted a growing disparity in the distribution of incomes among the Malays themselves; that from 1957 to 1970, the top 20 per cent of the bumiputra households have increased their dominance of the total bumiputra household incomes from 42.4% to 52.9% while the share of the poorest 40% of the bumiputra households have shrunk from 19.5% to 12.7%.

When we consider that for the same period, from 1957 to 1970, the top 20 per cent of Peninsular Malaysian households have creased their dominance of the total Peninsular Malaysian households incomes from 49.3% to 55% while the share of the poorest 40% of the Malaysian households have shrunk from 15.9% to 11.9% this mean that the rate of growing disparity in the distribution of incomes among the Malays is proceeding at a faster rate than the national rate.

A study rate the use of government funds and the manner the government is going about restructuring society shows that the Malay rich, well-to-do and privileged have become richer while the genuinely Malay poor become poorer.

Under the Second Malaysia Plan, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to restrictive society. But how much of it waylaid by the well-to-do, who do not have credit problems, but who use the opportunity opened up by the second prong objective to make themselves into half-a-millionaires and then into millionaires.

I have received many complaints from fisherman and farmers that they could not get loans from either Bank Bumiputra, Bank Rakyate or Bank Pertanian, as they are regarded as uncreditworthy, the former because they lack a collateral, the latter because they do not have viable holdings of sufficient economic size.

These are the poor who genuinely need credit, either to purchase fishing equipments or to buy agricultural inputs like fertilizers, who need help by government or quasi-government agencies. The country is the case. Bank Bumiputra and Bank Rakyat turn them away. Bank Bumiputra give loans running into millions of dollars to top UMNO leaders and Ministers to buy stocks and shares, while Bank Rakyat merrily go round over companies and absorb their colossal liabilities.

The new Economic Policy is breeding a parasitic Malay rich exploiting the Malay poor. MARA build shop-houses throughout the country to help Malays to stand on their own feet in business in urban centres. Most of these shop-houses are given to UMNO leaders in the States and Divisions, who do not themselves to business, but rent them out to other bumiputra at a profit to themselves. This is the new parasitism camouflaged as restructuring of society and the upliftment of Malay poor.

Racial Polarisation:

Malaysia is entering her twentieth year of nationhood. This means that the first generation of Malaysians have grown up since Merdeka. The entire school and university-going population are the complete products of the national education policy of the government.

National building, by which I mean the creation by government of a cohesive political community characterised by an abiding sense of identity and common consciousness, is not a task which comes within the life span of any one generation of political leaders.

The task of nation building for a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual multi-religious people like Malaysia 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 of the success or failure of our nation building policies. For if we do not constantly take stock of our nation building policies, Malaysia may go down in history as one of the political entities created in this century which never completed the nation building process.

One would have expected that after 20 years of nation building and national education policy, 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 of twenty years ago.

But can we truly say so? The reverse is in fact the case. Unlike the generation before, students today are more conscious of race, of being a ‘bumiputra’ or ‘non-bumiputra’, of being a Malay or non-Malay, for he is constantly reminded of this from primary school upwards. This consciousness is further heightened when they enter secondary schools, sit for L.C.E./SRP and MCE/SPM examinations, stressed into science or arts course, chosen for different classes, and not least of all, in the scramble for very limited places in government HSC/STP classes, and later in universities.

If evidence is needed that the seeds of nations building has borne bitter fruit, we need only refer to the increased process of emigration or intended emigration of professionals, especially doctors and dentists, including the young doctors who had just graduated from the University of Malaya – who are full of forebodings about the future, not so much for themselves, but for their children born and those still unborn.

Erosion of democratic rights and fundamental liberties:

One of the reasons for the failure to make appreciable headway in nation building is because of the progressive erosion of democratic rights and the undermining of the democratic structure of our society.

The Malaysian Constitution has cince Merdeka in 1957 been amended in over 1,000 places, the latest batch being made only in July.

The history of Constitutional amendments in Malaysia is the history of the progressive dimunition of rights and liberties and not their enlargement.

A major assault on the Constitution and democracy was made in 1971, where freedom of speech was seriously curtailed even to the extent of taking away the parliamentary immunity of Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen is specified subjects which were classified as “sensitive”.

At that time, the country was assured that this was not an “absolute restriction” as the government would establish a National Unity Council in which problems of national unity may be discussed behind closed doors, and where the ban on the discussion of sensitive issues would not apply.

It is well known that any organ withers away if it is not used, and in the same way, the National Unity Council has withered away, and is now relegated to the limbo of forgotten government departments.

Since Merdeka, Malaysia has been taking the path of authoritarian government, through preserving the outward forms of Parliamentary democracy. There has been and more repressive laws like the International Security Act the most recent amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act, which turned universities into High Schools.

The common means of introducing authorities system of government is by the use of reserve constitutional powers and the introduction of a permanent state of emergency. In Malaysia, we have since 1963 lived in a permanent state of emergency, and since 1969, is a double state of permanent emergency.

The permanent state of emergency provides a legal basis for introducing a parallel system of government, where through Ordinances and Emergency Regulations, new institution and new legal principles drawing their sole authority from the State of Emergency, are created. The Essential (Security Cases) Regulations and Essential (Community Self-Reliance) Regulations are good examples; the latter for instance, introduced the questionable principle of group liability in criminal law on punishing a man by inflicting penalties on members of his family.

Meanwhile, the State of Emergency allowed the normal state machinery to co-exist where it could serve a useful purpose. In this way, the judiciary are neutralised, and are required to apply draconian laws, which are unexceptional in their origins, and clearly enforceable in constitutional terms.

The progressive erosion of democratic rights and the dimunition of fundamental liberties, like freedom of speech, of press, liberty of person, freedom of assembly, have further accentuated the problems of race and the problem of class.

Decline in the Moral Authority of Government:

There has been a steady decline in the moral authority of government because of the rampant corruption in high political places, whether at the Federal or State government levels, and increasing deception and dishonesty in public life.

Many in authority identity their own well-being with the well-being of the country, and tend to see any threat to themselves as a threat to the future and unity of the country.

Self-interests are inflated in to national interests, and to serve and ance oneself is to serve and advance the national. Self and nation are assimilated as one, and the rot deepens.

Sometimes, the sense of what is right and what is wrong have become so lost that these actions are defended publicly.

I will give one instance. Beginning this year, every Barisan Nasional Member of Parliament is given $50,000 a year and development projects in his constituency. This money does not come from Barisan Nasional party funds, but from the Treasy – from public funds. Opposition MPs and their constituencies are openly discriminated against, although they pay equal taxes as other constituencies. In fact, Opposition constituencies probably pay more taxes on average then Barisan Nasional constituencies.

It is from such failure to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong, that the abuse of power originates, and the moral authority of government is eaten away.

At the end of last year and beginning of this year, there was general expectation that there will be a wind of change on the anti-corruption front, that the new Prime Minister had made up a blacklist purge the government of the corrupt in high political places. Many powerful men temporarily knew that what was fear.

The black cloud has come and passed. Now, corruption in high political places have become even more unrestrained, rampant and unashamed. The moral authority and credibility has taken a further nose-dive.

These then, the double polarisation of class and race, the undermining of democracy and curtailment of the people’s fundamental rights, and the decline in moral authority of government, are the fundamental problems of Malaysia which will determine our political and national future.

These, rather than the threat by the communists, are the fundamental challenges to Malaysia. Unless, we identify the basic problems of the country, and are able to see the problems in proper perspective, we are likely to miss the wood for the trees.

This is why a predominantly security response to the mounting communist guerrilla challenge is to completely misread the nature of the communist challenge.

The government is now spending increasingly on security, at the expense of socio-economic development of the people. The tragedy of course is that greater and greater expenditures on defence and security is no sure formula for guaranteeing security – as the Americans have found to their great cost in Vietman where their wealth and military might could not prop up a corrupt, decadent and undemocratic Saigon regime.

The great expansion of the police and the armed forces being planned in Malaysia is in fact an admission of the failure of the government so far to win the battle for the hearts and minds of Malaysians on the contest with the guerrillas, whose strength lies in the increasingly inegalitarian, inequitable and undemocratic social system in Malaysia.

By expanding the police and armed forces and stepping up defence and security expenditures, without at the same time adopting new nation-building policies over the whole range of political, economic, social and educational fields to halt the dangerous degree of polarisation of classes and races, the restoration of meaningful democracy and moral credibility og government, is merely to create new and even more intractable problems – like a future military take-over.

This is why it is urgent and essential that everyone concerned, especially those in power, should realise that the paramount tasks at present is to deal with the four problems I have outlined, and deny the political ground to the communists, who thrive on such popular grievances and frustrations.

The overwhelming majority of Malaysians want to live in a democratic, -communist country, where there are no gross extremes of wealth and poverty, there every citizen regardless of race has an equal stake in the future in thr country, under a clean, honest and efficient government.

On the other hand, we should be surprised if the people, given the choice between an authoritarian government which is corrupt, incompetent, its leaders dedicated to self interests and the interests of the moneyed and propertied class, and an authoritarian government which is clean, incorrupt, competent and its leaders dedicated to the masses, the people would prefer the latter.

Government leaders have said several times that the communist challenge is a battle for the hearts and minds of the people. But their action often indicate otherwise.

This is why I was baffled by a proposal soon after the 1974 general elections by the Home Affairs Minister. Tan Sri Ghazalie Shafie, that the Barisan National has all the checks and balances necessary to prevent abuse of power. Apart from the fallacy of this reasoning , this proposal could not come from one who is convinced that communist challenge is a battle for the development would precisely redound to the political advantage of the communists.

Again, I have been baffled by the new booklet by the UMNO Secretary-General, Datuk Senu Abdul Rahman, entitled: “Keselamatan Sudah Tidak Terjamin?” (“Is Security No Longer Assured”)

There is no reference whatsoever to the discussion on the socio-economic underppnnings of the communist challenge. In fact, apart from the ominous warning about the possibility of a revival of Malay chauvinism in the Malay Archipelago should the Malayan Communist Party intensify its struggle, there is no mention as to how Malaysia as a nation, and Malaysians as a people, can assure their security! Is Datok Senu a Malay politician or a Malaysian politician? (As he is here, I cannot refrain asking whether a stepped-up PKI armed struggle would itself provoke a greater Malay chauvinism in the Malay Archipelago?)

I am also very disturbed by a new book by the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, He is clearly aware of the increasing class contradictions.

This is probably why he had gone round the country saying that if the communists win, the rich and the poor would equally suffer – which in my view, could only dismay the rich but would not make the poor lose any sleep, as there cannot be an equality of losses in this equation, where the rich stands to lose their riches while the poor their poverty!

Although the book is directed at a Malay readership, there is no linking of the issues duscussed there with the fact that Malaysia is a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-religious nation.

Again the question that comes to mind, is, whether Dr. Mahathir is a Malay politician or a Malaysian politician, whether he is a Deputy Prime Minister for Malays only or for Malaysians as a whole.

The book is among other things, a treatise in defence of the maldistribution of income and inequality of wealth.


The political prospects of Malaysia will depend on the ability of the government to come to grips with the fundamental problems of class and racial polarisation, restoration of meaningful democracy and moral authority. If these problems ca be successfully dealt with, then the Malayan communists can never mount a serious challenge. Otherwise, if the situation deteriorates, then the present system may become indefeasible, and with intensifying communist insurrections in both urban and rural areas, a fully authoritarian government may take over, leading to chaos and national disintegration, and the beginning of the Dark Age.

I have made reference to regional developments and forces, as these factors, of important bearing on our development, are finally subordinate to local, domestic factors. If another South East Asian country goes communist, it is not because of the failure of another South East Asian government to provide good, clean, efficient and just government.

Malaysian authorities may be pleased by the military take-over in Thailand, believing that this will bring about an anti-communist Thai government, which may allow Malaysian security forces to return to Betong to operate.

This may be the short term gain for Malaysian security forces, but in the long run, a more unstable and divided Thailand may prove to be even more independable.

Finally, however, it is what we do about ourselves that matter.