DAP calls for an All-Party Closed Conference of top leaders to check the worsening race relations in Malaysia

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, at the Penang Medical Practitioners Society’s Fellowship Dinner at Ferringhi Beach Hotel on Sunday, 23-8-1987 at 8p.m. on “Problems of Integration in Multi-racial Malaysia and their Solutions”

DAP calls for an All-Party Closed Conference of top leaders to check the worsening race relations in Malaysia

Your topic, “Problem of Integration in Multi-racial Malaysia and their Solutions” could not have been more topical or more apt at this moment of our national life, for two reasons:

Firstly, in a week’s time, we will be celebrating our 30th National Day, an occasion for the nation and people to reflect on and take stock of our three decades of nationhood, to identify the failures and mistakes of the past, and to reaffirm our commitment to make a greater success of nation-building in the coming years. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be are preoccupied with the external trappings of the 30th National Day celebrations like parades, march-pasts, variety shows, exhibitions, etc and have no time or interest to initiate such nation-wide reflections, and frown on organizations which organize conferences to review the last 30 years of Malaysian nationhood, like the Aliran conference on 30 years of Merdeka last week, and the present Conference on 30 years of the Malaysian Constitution organised by the Law Faculty of the University of Malaya this weekend.

Secondly, race relations in Malaysian have worsened significantly I recent months, to be extent that it has been blamed for last week’s plunge in the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.

Are we therefore marking our 30th Malaysian nationhood as a more polarized people, instead of a more united Malaysian citizenry, when compared to the year of Merdeka in 1957? I am afraid the answer has to be, ‘Yes, it is so’.

Recent events seem to be coming quick and fast to inflame feelings, tramp on sensitivities and quiche the aggravation of racial polarization, some of which are the following:-

• The secretive manner in which the Education Act 1961 is being revised arousing fears that mother-tongue education, and in particular, Chinese and Tamil primary schools, would face a serious threat to their continued existence;

• The University of Malaya Senate ruling doing away Chinese and Tamil languages as medium of instruction for elective courses and demonstrations by undergraduates who uttered seditious and racist abuses against some students of other communities and creating the most serious problem of racial polarization in the campus;

• The University Kebangsaan Malaysia incident during the UKM convocation celebrations on August 1 when a Martial Act, Lion and Dragon Dance Night was forced to be cancelled at the last minute because a group of students who accused the Chinese undergraduates who organised the programme of glorifying ‘immigrant culture’ and threatened the Secondary students performances who had arrived at the campus with bodily harm.

• The Johore Seafood Festival chinese signboard incident where Chinese language characters were wiped out by Johore Bahru municipal officers.

One command thread of these four incidents is that they concern the language, education and culture of the Chinese and Indian communities in Malaysia.

Why have these issues of language, education and culture suddenly become the new focal point of racial tension, political and economic instability in the country?

Last week, UMNO Youth Acting President, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak, warned that UMNO Youth had ‘lost its patience’ and could ‘no longer contain its anger’ at what he alleged as ‘dating challenges…to Malay rights, dominance, dignity and sovereignty.’

Najib wants to be an instant Malay hero with such a warning, but what would have happened if nonMalay political leaders act equally irresponsibly by trying to become instant Chinese or Indian heroes by the counter-warning that they in turn had ‘lost their patience’ and could ‘no longer contain their anger’ at challenges to Chinese or Indian rights, interests and positions?

Malaysia will then be locked in a vice of escalating racial confrontation whether the four instances I mentioned constituted a ‘during challenge to Malay rights, dominance, dignity and sovereignty’ as alleged by Najib to justify the escalation of racial tension and confrontation?

Have the Chinese and Indian communities suddenly become very aggressive seeking to tear up the constitutional provisions and upset the status quo and raised their demands at the expense of the Malays?

In all the four above-mentioned instances, the Chinese and Indian communities were the ‘objects’ of events, rather than the ‘maker’ of events, and they were reacting to defend their rights and dignity as guaranteed in the Malaysian Constitution and not to threaten he rights and dignity of others.

It is most unjust, and will introduce a great bitterness into the race relations in the country, if the party seeking only to defend its rights as guaranteed in the constitution, without any thought of wanting to encroach on the rights of others, is accused as the ‘aggressor’. This is the stuff on which racial mistrust and polarization will feed on!

The most disturbing trend recently is the tendency to question the constitutional rights and position of Chinese and Tamil languages in the country, as best exemplified by the statement of the UMNO Youth Education Bureau chief and Selangor UMNO Assemblyman, Fahmi Ibrahim, last week, who made the most serious challenge in the last 18 years.

Fahmi said firstly, that apart from Bahasa Malaysia, the other languages are in a “transitional existence” that should be phased out gradually; and secondly, that it was not the government’s responsibility to develop other languages as “it is up to them (each race) to maintain and preserve their own language.”

Both assertions run afoul of Article 152(1)(a) which guarantees free use, study and learning of the other languages, apart from official purpose, which means that they are not ‘transitional’ or ‘temporary’ languages, but ‘permanent’ and ‘eternal’ ones; and Article 152(1)(b) guaranteeing the government the right to preserve and sustain the other languages.

In fact, by questioning Article 152(1)(a) and (b), Fahmi has laid himself open to two sedition offences for questioning one of the four ‘sensitive’ issues but this reflects the seriousness of the trend where even ‘sensitive’ issues have come under open challenge.

What is even more disturbing is the other trend to regard the promotion of Bahasa Malaysia must mean the demotion of the other languages, the same applying to questions of culture; when Article 152 made it very clear that this zero sum game does not apply at all, for it has two limbs, firstly on Bahasa Malaysia as official and national language; and secondly on the constitutionally guaranteed rights and position of the other languages.

Another cause of the worsening of racial tensions is the unilateral and arbitrary attempt to shut out public discussion on issues by classifying them as ‘sensitive subjects, going well beyond what is provide in the law and Constitution.

In the Malaysian Constitution, under the 1971 amendment, only four subjects are entrenched as ‘sensitive’ issues namely Article 152 on Malay special rights; Part III on citizenship and Article 181 on the sovereignty of Rulers. Although these four issues could not be questioned in principle or policy, they could be questioned in relation to implementation.

There is an attempt to expand these four sensitive issues to cover a whole lot of other issues, like the New Economic Policy, the National Education Policy, the National Culture Policy, to the extent that UMNO politicians go into a froth and frenzy when these ‘non-sensitive’ issues are questioned.

There is also an attempt to regard any questioning of the implementation of these four sensitive’ issues as ‘seditious’, when the are fully permissible under the Constitution. For instance, the government’s special publication on the 1971 Constitution Amendment Act published after the amendment said;

“…an act, speech, words, publication or other thing shall not be deemed to be seditious… if it seeks…(a) to show that any Ruler has been misled or mistaken in any of his measures…”

Yet there has been a recent attempt to extend the definition of ‘sensitive’ issues by sheer political pressure, when Sdr. Karpal Singth was accused of sedition when he sought to point out that a Ruler was misled or mistaken in his pronouncement.

Call for a Committee of Inquiry into Racial Polarisation in the University of Malaya campus

The recent escalation of racial tension and in particular the racial polarization in the campus in the University of Malaya over the elective course issue, must be a source of grave concern to all Malaysians who love this country.

Eighteen years ago, the National Operations Council appointed a committee of inquiry, under the chairmanship of Dr. Haji Abdul Majid bin Ismail, to report on racial polarization among the undergraduates in the campus and to suggest remedies.

The time has come for a new Committee of Inquiry to investigate into the racial polarization in the University of Malaya and other local universities, for the universities seem to have become active agents of racial polarization.

On the national scale, the trend towards greater politics of race, leading to greater racial tensions, is the result of the internal power struggle in UNNO in the next three years.

The country cannot afford an escalation of racial tension and polarization for the next three years until the UMNO has sorted out its internal power struggle, for it will bring irreparable damage to the country.

For this reason, I call on the leaders of all political parties to address themselves to this grave problem of worsening race relations in Malaysia, by holding a All-arty Closed Conference of top political leaders to discuss ways of checking and arresting the spiraling trend of racial polarization.