Speech by Lim Kit Siang at the DAP Cheras SSS (Support, Sympathy and Solidarity) Dinner for Teresa Kok at Hee Lai Ton Restaurant, Kuala Lumpur on Friday, 19th September 2008 at 9pm: 

Will the proposed Race Relations Act enable and empower a major breakthrough like the Barack Obama phenomenon to take place in Malaysia?

When the Home Minister, Datuk Seri Hamid Albar announced yesterday that the Cabinet has approved the proposed Race Relations Act to strengthen ties among the different races in the country, I immediately thought of two matters.

The first is the “penumpang” controversy set off by the Bukit Bendera Umno division chairman, Datuk Ahmad Ismail as part of Umno’s most racist and inflammatory campaign in the Permatang Pauh by-election, which was decisively rejected by the voters from all racial groups uniting as a pioneering Bangsa Malaysia to give a thumping victory to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to return to Parliament in triumph after an enforced absence of a decade.

The real fall-out from the “penumpang” controversy was after the Permatang Pauh by-election, where for two weeks, Ahmad was allowed to assume “hero” status among extremists and communalists for his provocative, inflammatory, insensitive and racist reference because of the abdication and bankruptcy of the moral and political authority of the Cabinet and the Barisan Nasional leadership in tailing to immediate action to strike down such divisive and destructive outbursts.

Ahmad’s grandparents migrated to this country from India. Why should a Malaysian who is a second-generation locally born in the country be so irresponsible, provocative and racist as to question the loyalty of a Malaysian Chinese like seventh locally-born generation Tan Siok Choo, daughter to Tun Tan Siew Sin and grand-daughter to Tun Tan Cheng Lock – whose ancestors came to Malacca 237 years ago in 1771?

Even up to now, Ahmad is totally unrepentant and immune from any police prosecution for his incendiary utterance – while the Sin Chew reporter Tan Hoon Cheng who had professionally reported Ahmad’s speech was detained under the draconian Internal Security Act but saved from the full iniquity of the ISA because of instantaneous nation-wide and international outrage.

What is the use of a Race Relations Act in Malaysia if the Ahmad Ismails enjoy immunity from the law being able to get away scot-free for their inflammatory, offensive, insensitive and racist utterances without fear of having to face criminal reprisals from the police and the Attorney-General’s Chambers for their seditious utterances?

The second matter that comes immediately to mind is about political developments the other side of the globe – Barack Obama’s presidential candidature in the United States.

Only 220 years ago, the Negroes are slaves in America, totally deprived of all political, economic, social and human rights. Today, an American black is one of the two contenders for the American Presidency in November – marking a historic breakthrough in race relations in the United States.

What has Malaysia to show in race relations in similar field after 51 years of nation-building?

When we achieved Independence in 1957, the Merdeka social contract and the Malaysian Constitution is unambiguous in providing equal citizenship status for all Malaysians, as in stipulating that any Malaysian, regardless of race, religion or class, can aspire to the highest political office in the land to become the Prime Minister.

The only condition for anyone to be Prime Minister is that he commands the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament.

During the first premiership of Tunku Abdul Rahman from 1957 to 1969, nobody would raise an eyebrow at the assertion that any Malaysian, whether Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan, Iban and regardless of whether Muslims, Chrisitians, Buddhists, Hindus or Taoists, can become Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Half a century later, under the fifth Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, anyone who makes the assertion in public place that any Malaysian, regardless of whether Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan or Iban, and regardless of religion, whether Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Taoist, would be looked askance and even deemed to have made an most “insensitive” statement.

There would even be groups in the country who would feel justified to be “provoked” by such a straightforward statement to launch vociferous protests up and down the country.

Why is this so, despite the Vision 2020 objective of creating a Bangsa Malaysia out of the diverse races in the country, which was proclaimed 17 years ago in 1991?

Will the proposed Race Relations Act resolve these knotty problems of Malaysian nation-building, or is its purpose to further institutionalize racial segregation and discrimination which have surreptitiously crept into various aspects of Malaysian life and taken deep and subversive root?

Will the proposed Race Relations Act open the way to enable and empower a major breakthrough like the Barack Obama phenomenon to take place in Malaysia or the reverse?

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor