Perspectives for the 1980s – Malaysia’s Race Against Time

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, at the Seventh DAP MPs and State Assemblymen Seminar held at Cameron Highlands on Saturday, August 9, 1980 at 9 a.m.

Perspectives for the 1980s – Malaysia’s Race Against Time

Never before in Malaysia’s 23-year history has she been confronted with such complex and intractable challenges to her national integrity and sovereignty as now, when entering the Decade of the Eighties.

Internationally, Malaysia lives in a dangerous age and region, with an expansionist Sovlet-backed and Hanoi-headed Indo-China Federation threatening the territorial integrity and regional solidarity of non-Communist South East Asian states.

The Vietnamese, with the largest military might in South East Asia, and the Soviet military build up in Asia, have completely altered the military equation in this region.

Vietnam has become the hub of Soviet military operations in the Asia-Pacific region, with the recent Soviet access to former U.S. military base at Cam Ranh bay – which has built by the United States at a cost of US$2 billion with base and adjacent port facilities sited next to one of the finest natural harbours in the world.

This base lies astride major South China Sew oil and trade routes leading to and from Indian Ocean. Operations of Soviet aircraft from Cam Ranh Bay means that Soviet heavy bombers are within two hours of the Malacca Straits.

A persistent question in the minds of all South East Asians I whether Thailand, the front-line state, can withstand the mounting pressure from Soviet-backed Vietnamese proddings, testing and incursions. This question is of course linked to larger international questions, e.g. China and United States’ role in a new war in South East Asia. For instance, there is no doubt in China’s announced intention to administer a “second lesson’ to Vietnam had an inhibiting factor on Vietnamese expansionism.

However, probably more serious a question is whether Thailand, faced with such external pressures, might crumble from internal weaknesses arising from corruption, undemocratic regimes, violation of human rights and the glaring gap between the rich and the poor.

Furthermore, upsurge of the Muslim Pattani separatists activities under the leadership of Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO) which received aid from Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia, and as evidenced by the recent bombings in Bangkok injuring 47 people, six seriously, highlights the fragility of the Thai society and government.

It is self-evident that should Thailand falls from external aggression or crumbles from internal weaknesses, than Malaysia will be the next on the target.

Malaysia is a veritably in a Race Against Time, to build her national defences and resilience. It is a grave mistake for anyone to think that Malaysia’s defences could be secured by more and more money to spent on expanding troops and buying defence hardware. For then, Saigon would never had fallen to become Ho Chi Minh City.

While orchestrating diplomatic initiatives and moves to forestall any Vietnamese designs, all ASEAN leaders must given priority attention to strengthen their own societies by the removal of socio-economic inequalities and injustices which may prove even more fatal to national sovereignty and integrity than overt external aggression.

For Malaysia, the task of using every possible moment to constructively build up a united Malaysian nation, is the most pressing because, as one political writer recently noted about Malaysia, “for two long decades, there had been a constant feeling that the whole structure hung by slender threads which could at any moment give way.”

The single most urgent task in Malaysia is to make Malaysians out of the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans Ibans, who have made this land their home. We must convince all Malaysians that although they do not share a common past, they have a common future. Either they hang together to work out a common destiny, or their fate is to hang separately.

Internationally, there are mischievous forces which want to keep Malaysia divided by pitting one race against another, as for instance, in spreading the dangerous line that the Malaysian Chinese are disloyal and fifth-columnists of Communist China.

What is even more deplorable is that there are Malaysians who are out to set the races apart through the espousal of extremist and chauvinist or bigoted religious doctrines.

Recent events have shown the danger of the greater polarisation of races in Malaysia through the irresponsible extremist and chauvinist demands of political leaders for their own personal political gain.

Thus, in this category belongs the extremist and chauvinist call by the UMNO Youth Leader, Haji Suhaimi Kamarrudin, to implement Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act to close and convert Chinese and Tamil primary schools into national primary schools. This is an open challenge of Article 152 of the Malaysian Constitution and the Sedition Act 1948 and amended in 1971, and is a test of the impartiality of the Attorney-General and the Government to prosecute laws without fear or favour.

Belonging to this category is also the call at the recent Third Bumiputera Economic Congress that the New Economic Policy target that by 1990, bumiputras should have 30% share of commerce and industry should increase to 51%, This was followed by the call by Haji Suhaimi at the UMNO Youth General Assembly for imposition of control on the economic progress of non-bumiputras to reduce the economic gap between them and the bumiputras. Haji Suhaimi has again said few days ago in Ipoh that the economic development of the country should be “slowed down” in order to fulfil the NEP targets of bumiputera participation.

But what is not normally known is that at the UMNO Youth General Assembly and UMNO General Assembly, a high level campaign for the 1980s was started which would out-Suhaimi Suhaimi.

The third contender for the UMNO Youth President’s post, Hang Tuah Arshad, an “UMNO-putra” par excellence being member of the privileged Malay elite who benefitted from the NEP, expensively published a book with high-quality paper entitled “Revolusi Sikap & Perjuangan Grand Ekonomi Tahun 2,000 (1980-2,000)” stating the programmes and objectives that should be pursued by the Malays.

Hang Tuah Arshad demanded that the NEP be replaced by Dasar Grand Ekonomi with the objective of achieving 50% bumiputra participation in commerce in 2,000, and after that, to continue “mulai tahun itu kita mesti memperjuangkang ke MATLAMAT PENGUASAAN SEPENUH nya activiti ekonomi tanpa berperasaan uas-uas dan segan-segan” – beginning that year, to struggle towards the objective of total control of ekonomic activities without any hesitation or doubt”.

To achieve this objective, Hang Tuah Arshad also proposed that the subject “Malay economic problems”- “Masalah Ekonomi Melayu” – be ranked as a sensitive issue through a Constitutional amendment.

I don’t have to deal in detail with his order extremist and chauvinist proposals. What I have mentioned is sufficient to indicate the type of extremist demands which could only lead to greater racial polarisation and national disunity.

More and more openly, voices are heard which reject the cardinal tent of the original New Economic Policy that “no particular group experiences any loss or feels any sense of deprivation”; repudiate the basic philosophy of the New Economic Policy that the redistribution is based on an expanding economy and not that of a static economic cake, a zero sum game to rob Peter to pay Paul; and advocate that to achieve the NEP one racial group should be held down from moving forward so as to allow another racial group to catch up.

These are all dangerous ideas which could only subvert the very basis of nation building, in permanently setting the various races into irreconcilable and warring groups!

The great irony is that all these extremist calls for the increase of Malay share from 30% to 51%, and the so-called Grand Economy objective of total 100% bumiputera monopoly of commerce and industry, do not come from the Malay peasants, workers or fisherman – who have not benefitted much from the last 10 years of New Economic Policy. These demands come from those who have benefitted most from the NEP – the UMNO – putras, who have developed a greed for more for themselves and not for the ordinary Malay masses.

In fact, studies show that under the New Economic Policy, unemployment is about equal for Chinese and Malays; but as Gross National Product (GNP) has risen, income disparities between rich and poor Malays have grown more than have those between rich and poor Chinese.

This is another classic example of the exploitation of the Politics of Race to perpetuate the Interest of Class.

These “UMNO – putras” are more interested in getting more of the economic cake for themselves, than see to it that the poor Malay poor get their just share!

The Sixties and Seventies had been very divisive decades, which could not be allowed to go on if Malaysia is to build up the national unity and inner resilience to withstand external threats and pressures of the Eighties.

The Fourth Malaysian Plan, 1981-1985 should be a Plan of Unity and Reconciliation, to give every Malaysian, regardless of race, his or her place under the Malaysian sun commensurate with this undivided loyalty and citizenship.

Extremists and chauvinists who could only set one race against another like the Suhaimis and others should be smacked down hard by those in authority, and all moderate Malaysians.

Malaysia needs a New National Vision for the Eighties which could bind all Malaysians together in a common search for a common destiny, and move away from the host of negative attitudes of the past which divide and sub-divide Malaysians from each other.

In education, for instance, we must break away from the prison of percentages in allocation of higher education places in the local universities, and boldly adopt a national and Malaysian outlook which aim on the one hand, to provide every eligible bumiputra student with higher education opportunities, while on the other hand, encourage and facilitate every non-bumiputera with the requisite qualifications with higher education opportunities as this can only benefit Malaysia as a whole.

In politics, we must allow human rights and democratic liberties for we must have faith and trust in the people of Malaysian of all races who want Malaysia to succeed and prosper, and not to fail and disintegrate.

In economic development, we should give priority to the elimination of poverty of all races, of both urban and rural areas, for the poor, whether Malay or non-Malay, are insult to human dignity of both the poor and the rich.

In defence, national service should be instituted to enable every Malaysian youth an opportunity to train himself to serve and die in the defence of his motherland in time of need.

In the 1980s, the DAP, as a multi-racial, nationalist Malaysian party, will do its utmost to foster a Malaysian outlook.

We will lead our 700,000 voters in the last elections, and the millions of other supporters, in the demonstration that in any hour of national need to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity, DAP leaders, members and supporters would be second to none in our preparedness to lay out life for our motherland.

We will also lead our 700,000 voters in the last elections, and the millions of other supporters in the demonstration that we will exert our utmost to promote Malaysian values and approaches, to combat extremist and chauvinist forces, in the creation of genuine national inner resilience and unity.

If the Decade of Eighties is going to be a mere repeat of the Sixties and Seventies, or even worse, see an aggravation of the Politics of Race for the Interest of Class, then the losers will be every Malaysian citizen, and all the race in Malaysia – The Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, Ibans, etc.

Malaysia and her people are engaged in a Race Against Time to develop the Malaysian identity, consciousness and resilience before being put to the test. Let us do our part to ensure that when that day of test comes, Malaysia could acquit herself honourably in the verdict of history.