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Call on the Prime Minister to declare whether Bangsa Malaysia remains the objective of the government nation-building programme and Vision 2020 or whether it had been abandoned/cold storaged as a result of Ghani Othman�s denunciation

Debate on the motion of Thank On The Royal Address (Part 4)       
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday) : This year is the 50th Merdeka Anniversary for the nation.   

There are two ways to celebrate the half-century of nationhood -  in a lavish expenditure of public funds in fireworks, extravaganzas and pageantry or to celebrate it in a meaningful manner to instill greater national solidarity and sense of purpose in the nation�s journey to achieve a Bangsa Malaysia and a fully developed nation status. 

Parliament, as the highest political forum in the land, should set the national example to celebrate the half-century of our nationhood in a meaningful manner, with Malaysians regardless of race, religion, class or political beliefs standing up for fair, just and progressive nation-building policies to create towering Malaysians and to stop Malaysia�s loss of international competitiveness. 

The most meaningful way to celebrate the country�s  half-century of nationhood is to seek a national consensus as to what had gone wrong with nation-building and how we can learn from the mistakes and failures of the past decades so that we can be more successful in the next 50 years, in particular on the following issues:  

Firstly, National unity � why after nearly five decades of nationhood, race relations in Malaysia is �not good, fragile and brittle�, as publicly admitted by the Prime Minister recently.  Racial and religious polarization have never been more serious today than in the past five decades. 

The introduction of the national service training programme in 2004 is testimony of the failure of the national education system to create national unity in the country � and this is no surprise when the Education Minister, Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein is the very symbol and cause of such polarization  with his racist  keris-wielding histrionics at Umno general assemblies. 

The national service training programme is a misnomer it has nothing to do with national defence or fighting a war but to instill national unity, patriotism and discipline. 

But even for the limited objective of the national youth service training programme to inculcate national unity, patriotism and discipline, a  comprehensive review and even suspension is warranted as it is highly debatable whether such limited goals are being  achieved and whether such a programme should be organized for all students during their school years instead of have a very costly and most dubious one affecting only one-fifth of school-leavers.

There are two other reasons why the national service training programme has not inspired general confidence of the parents and the public:

  • Firstly, the defects, flaws, mishaps, sub-standard camp conditions, crimes and tragedies of the national service training programme since its inception, with 12 trainee deaths with four in the last two months, i.e.Ili Ameera binti Azlan (18.1.07), Teng Siau Shean (30.1.07), Zul Hadi bin Basir (20.2.07) and Prema Elenchelian (28.2.07) and the most recent case of paralysis of Asilalatin Abdul Basir from Pasir Mas. With three trainee deaths in 2004,  three in 2005, two in 2006, and four alone in the first two months of this year, how can parents feel safe to have their children selected for the programme?
  • Secondly, the programme�s  failure to be a model of integrity, accountability and transparency without a whiff of scandal to dispel all suspicion that the refusal to suspend the troubled national service training programme was prompted more by vested crony interests in the annual expenditures of some RM500-RM600 million for the programme, which would total some RM2 billion at the end of this year�s programme.

As the Defence Minister in direct charge of the national service training programme, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak should give a detailed breakdown of the RM500 � RM600 million  million expenditure a year since 2004 for the national service training programme, showing what, how, where, who and when expenditures under the programme were made, whether open tender had been called, and if so, the respective bids for the different contracts under the programme.

It is most ironical and tragic that the government�s nation-building objectives had come under a cloud on the occasion of the nation�s 50th Merdeka anniversary � whether the Barisan Nasional government is still committed or has abandoned the objective of creating a Bangsa Malaysia. 

After the denunciation of the Bangsa Malaysia concept and objective  by the Johore Mentri Besar, Datuk Abdul  Ghani Othman at a Umno Johore conference in early November last year -  a run-up to the �fire-and-brimstone� Umno and Umno Youth general assemblies the following week � the Federal and State Governments appear to have distanced themselves from the Bangsa Malaysia objective. 

Let us not forget history. The Bangsa Malaysia concept was proclaimed  in Vision 2020 in 1991 with the objective that it be achieved within three decades in 2020 with the emergence of a people entirely Malaysian in perspective, transcending ethnic, religious and cultural differences. 

This was how Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who proclaimed Viksion 2020, explained  the Bangsa Malaysia concept at the time:

This is the report from the Star (Sept. 11, 1995), which carried the  front-page headline �ESCHEW ETHNICITY�, with a secondary headline of �PM: Be proud of being Malaysians�:

�Kuala Lumpur: Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysians should reduce their strong sense of ethnicity in order to achieve Bangsa Malaysia.

�He said citizens should be proud of being Malaysians and work together instead of being preoccupied with ethnic origin.

��Bangsa Malaysia means people who are able to identify themselves with the country, speak Bahasa Malaysia and accept the Constitution,� he said at a dialogue with the Malaysian Students Executive Council of the United Kingdom here yesterday.

�The Prime Minister said to realise the goal of Bangsa Malaysia, the people should start accepting each other as they are, regardless of race and religion.

� Dr. Mahathir said certain quarters may condemn him for wanting to achieve Bangsa Malaysia and not struggling for the Malay cause as he did during his early years in politics.

�He said when he was fighting for the Malay cause per se, he was young and his thoughts were that of an inexperienced politician.

�Dr. Mahathir said, in future, there would be no nation in the world which would have a single ethnic group as its citizen.

��People have a high degree of mobility and no nation will have the purity of a singular race with the exception of probably Japan and Korea.�

�Dr. Mahathir said while a citizen of a nation may associate himself with the country, he would not be readily prepared to give up his culture, religion, or language.

��Previously, we tried to have a single entitybut it caused a lot of tension and suspicions among the people because they thought the Goverment was trying to create a hybrid.

��There was fear among the people that they may have to give up their own cultures, values and religions. This could not work, and we believe that the Bangsa Malaysia is the ansswer,� he added.�

On 7th August 1996, in an interview with the Editor-in-Chief of with the Utusan Melayu Group, Johan Jaafar, on race relations in Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir said:

�PM: Zaman berubah. Kalau dahulu tumpuan ialah kita kepada asimilasi. Di mana-mana negara juga tidak ada lagi usaha untuk �asimilasi�, bahkan di Amerika Syarikat mereka sering bercakap berkenaan dengan �roots� asal-usul mereka. Jadi kalau kita sudah terima bahawa itu tidak mungkin, kita perlu cari jalan lain untuk merapatkan perhubungan antara kaum ini. Seperti kata De Bono, Lateral Thinking, kalau kita tidak boleh merentas satu jalan maka kita pergi ke jalan lain untuk sampai ke matlamat yang sama.�

In an  interview with TIME magazine for the December 9, 1996 issue, which carried Dr. Mahathir as the cover story, the  then Prime Minister said:

�TIME: You recently said that efforts to assimilate races have not been successful and it was time to try something else.

�Mahathir: The idea before was that people should become 100% Malay in order to be Malaysian. We now accept that this is a multi-racial country. We should build bridges instead of trying to remove completely the barriers separating us. We do not intend to convert all the Chinese to Islam, and we tell our people, the Muslims, �you will not try to force people to convert�.�

I had at the time commended Dr. Mahathir for the evolution of his thinking on nation-building for Malaysia, for this was one of the cornerstones of the DAP political struggle when we were formed in 1966, to establish that Malaysia is a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation and that the only viable and successful nation-building policy must be one based on integration and not on assimilation.

Many DAP leaders had to pay a heavy price in terms of loss of personal freedoms or being persecuted in courts for courageously defending and upholding the rights of all races, languages, cultures and religions in a multi-racial Malaysia.

In the sixties, seventies and eighties, when there were political forces trying to impose and implement a �One Language, One Culture� nation-building policy, the DAP was the only political voice and force in Parliament and in the country to declare its uncompromising opposition.

There is no doubt that if there had been no DAP in the last three decades, the attempt to impose a �One Language, One Culture� Policy in Malaysia would have been taken to extreme lengths with disastrous results both for national unity as well as development.

Mahathir�s public acknowledgement that assimilation had not and cannot be a successful nation-building policy is a vindication of the DAP�s political struggle for a Malaysian Malaysia.

The question on the occasion of the 50th Merdeka Anniversary is whether the Johore Mentri Besar Ghani Othman�s rejection of Bangsa Malaysia now holds sway in Umno, Barisan Nasional and the government. 

I am quite disturbed that the objective of Bangsa Malaysia has been conspicuously omitted in the Royal Address, which is the government policy speech. 

I call on the Prime Minister to explain whether a policy decision has been taken by the Federal Government to acquiesce to the objection of the Johore Mentri Besar who had claimed that there was no justification for the concept and objective for a united and single Bangsa Malaysia or a Malaysian race, when the constitution provides clearly for Malays as �the pivotal race� � or to backtrack from an open commitment to achieve a Bangsa Malaysia under Vision 2020. 

Has the Cabinet and Barisan Nasional Supreme Council endorsed the abandonment of the concept and objective of Vision 2020 for a Bangsa Malaysia, cold-storaged it  or have they reaffirmed that Bangsa Malaysia remain the unshakeable and unaltereable objective of the government, nation and Vision 2020? 

Or is the Cabinet and the Barisan Nasional  Supreme Council just hiding their heads under the sand like ostriches, avoiding the issue altogether? 

If the Prime Minister, Cabinet and Barisan Nasional Supreme Council are not prepared to reaffirm Bangsa Malaysia as the national goal and Vision 2020 objective, then what is the meaning and purpose of the 50th Merdeka Anniversary celebrations? 

I call on all MPs, whether Barisan Nasional or Opposition, to stand up in Parliament in this debate to declare loud and clear  their categorical support for  the Bangsa Malaysia objective of Vision 2020 and repudiation of Ghani Othman�s subversive thesis  to destroy the Bangsa Malaysia concept.  Let everyone in Parliament, every political party represented in Parliament, stand up and be counted in full support of  the Bangsa Malaysia objective. 

I hope we will not end up with a situation where only DAP MPs dare to openly support the Bangsa Malaysia concept and objective for Malaysian nation-building while Ministers and MPs particularly from the Barisan Nasional component parties fall silent on the matter, one by one. 

Secondly, on Inter-religious relations today and the past 50 years. In the first two decades of nationhood, the government sponsored the establishment of a Inter-Religious Council headed by a Cabinet Minister to promote inter-religious dialogue, understanding and goodwill. Today, a very similar proposal, the Inter-Faith Council, is regarded as highly sensitive and intolerable by the government-of-the day. What  has gone wrong?  

It is most regrettable that despite six requests in the past nine months, the Prime Minister has refused to meet the Article 11 coalition of 11 civil society groups to uphold the Federal Constitution as the supreme law of the land � or even to give any response. 

Why is the Prime Minister who preaches inter-religious dialogue in international conferences adopting such a hostile attitude to Article 11 and domestic inter-religious dialogue? 

Non-Muslim concerns about religious freedom as entrenched in Article 11 have been re-ignited by the latest Court of Appeal judgment in the R. Subashini case. 

Just like the  S. Shamala case in 2004, the Hindu women found they could not seek legal remedy in the civil courts to protect their rights after their husbands converted to Islam and unilaterally converted their children.

While the civil courts told Shamala to seek the Majlis Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan�s help, Subashini was told to gain recourse through the Syariah  Appeal Court.

Since Shamala�s case, there had been the M. Moorthy, Nyonya Tahir, Anthony Rayappan and Lina Joy cases, where  the court has not provided just remedies to the grievances raised by the plaintiffs on constitutional grounds, causing grave injustices and setting dangerous precedents in subjecting non-Muslims to the laws or Islam.

If Islam Hadhari as espoused by the Prime Minister cannot give justice to non-Muslim Malaysians to uphold  the constitutional right to freedom of religion, then Islam Hadhari will not only be seen as irrelevant but detrimental to the constitutional rights and freedoms of non-Muslims �  definitely not a desirable way to celebrate Malaysia�s 50th Merdeka anniversary.

I call on the Prime Minister to meet with Article 11 and play a proactive role to allay the cumulative concerns of non-Muslims about their constitutional right to freedom of religion.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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