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Days of paternalistic system of governing gone

According to The Star, everyone wants reconciliation. But on May 7, under the headline 'Apa lagi orang Cina mahu?' (What more do the Chinese want?) an article in Utusan Malaysia criticised the Chinese community for being ungrateful for various programmes undertaken for their benefit by the BN government.

This article was in turn criticised as provocative and racist. How does reconciliation deal with this?

We need to be aware that throughout Malaysia's short history, the traditional way of dealing with race relationship issues is for the boss man of the Chinese and Indian communities to convey their feelings to the boss man of the Malay community whom they believe will be able to keep the Malay community in check.

The boss man then tells the rest of us that this is a very sensitive issue, that we should not discuss it publicly and leave it to them to settle it privately by themselves.

I call this the paternalistic system, i.e. a figure of authority helps but also controls people.

For many years this paternalistic system has been gradually breaking down, and GE13 showed its complete breakdown for the Chinese community (as proven by the resignation of the president of Gerakan, and and the likely resignation of the MCA president) and possibly for the urban Malay community.

It appears not to have completely broken down for the Indian community and may be still quite strong in the rural Malay community.

What replaces this paternalistic system? One possibility is to deny the need to discuss the hopes, fears and aspirations of the various communities and by just shouting reconciliation, we will get reconciliation.

But unless there is common ground between the hopes, fears and aspirations of the various communities, tensions will build under the surface until there is the inevitable explosion.

The other possibility is for the hopes, fears and aspirations of the various communities to be stated publicly so that they can be discussed, debated and compromises made so that we, as a nation, will have a common vision and a common purpose.

If this is to be the case, then the question asked by Utusan Malaysia, 'What more do the Chinese want?', is not only sensible; it is necessary and legitimate.

The question is blunt; it is direct. Under the paternalistic system, we are not used to such bluntness and directness, and regard it as an attack.

We are forever screaming that our sensitivities are hurt, making police reports, and asking for prosecutions under the Sedition Act.

But in the new situation where the different communities discuss openly and publicly their hopes, fears and aspirations, we must learn to value such bluntness and directness so that our differences may be clearly defined and solutions found.

Of course it is not enough to ask "What more do the Chinese want?". We need also to ask "What more do the Malays/Indians/Malaysians want?"

As in the past, we need honest and dedicated political leaders in all communities to organise and lead these discussions.

The difference is that they need to do it openly, publicly and between communities, whereas in the past they did it behind closed doors within each community.

Since Utusan Malaysia has asked, they deserve an answer. I cannot of course speak for the Chinese community, but as a Malaysian first and a Chinese second, I believe the following is an indication of what the Chinese community wants.

Of course, the Chinese community is grateful for Najib Abdul Razak's decisions benefitting Chinese vernacular education.

Perhaps the appreciation would be greater if the decisions had been made during Najib's term of office rather than during the campaign period when it is seen as vote buying.

But the results of GE13 show that what was enough to satisfy the Chinese electorate in the past, i.e. economic development and advancement of Chinese vernacular education, is no longer enough.

The Chinese electorate, in common with many Malaysians in other communities, today want in addition:

  • Eradication of corruption and crony capitalism
  • Honest, efficient, transparent and accountable governance
  • Judicial independence and equality before the law
  • Commitment to human rights
  • Free and fair elections

It is also clear the Chinese electorate does not want to dominate or exploit any other community.

It has no desire to change those articles of the constitution which embody the social contract between the communities, agreed when our country gained independence in 1957.

The Utusan Malaysia article branded the Chinese community racist as it voted en bloc for the opposition.

But in truth the Chinese community is not racist as it voted just as much for opposition Malay and Indian candidates; in truth the Chinese community is not anti-Malay; it is just anti-Umno.

Those who were very comfortable with the old paternalistic system may fear that open discussion and debate of the hopes, fears and aspirations of the various communities will fuel and not resolve tensions between the various communities.

We must have faith in the sense of fairness, reasonableness and wisdom of our people.

We must have faith that Malaysians of goodwill will restrain the extremist demands of the few in their own and other communities.

We must have faith that our communities will seek the path of consensus and compromise.

For better or worse, the old paternalistic system has broken down and cannot be put back together again.

Race relations and political accommodation post GE13 cannot be the same as before GE13. Utusan Malaysia writers have been very quick to realise this.

Will the rest of us be just as quick? The sooner we can agree on new ways of settling the differences between us, the better it will be for the future of our country.

The stakes are high. If our different communities can work together, the future is very bright; if we cannot, we face a future of pain and sorrow. God willing we will succeed.