Recently, when opening the MCA general assembly, the prime minister was quoted as saying that Malaysians should get back the spirit of 1957, when the 'bonds between the three main communities were at their most potent'.
One can draw many inferences from this statement. One of which is that the bond between the races is not as close as it was 50 years ago. This is a departure from government publicity statements which have always stressed how united the people were.
By acknowledging that the races are not as close as before, there is an indirect inference that something is very wrong somewhere, hence the call to get back the spirit of 1957. It is an indirect acknowledgment that 50 years of government policies have failed to achieve true unity.
I can venture to tell you that racial politics and divisive policies are to be blamed for this phenomenon. Because of our race-based politics, any matter arising will be made into a race-based problem. And once it becomes a race-based problem, race-based parties will try to outdo each other to champion the rights of that ethnic group.
Instead of 'give and take', it becomes a case of 'take and take'. Policies, no matter how well- conceived or how well-intended, become victims of race-based politics. Because of this, policies are slanted and implementation skewed to benefit certain groups only. Self interest is placed above the interest of racial unity. This is in fact a very dangerous trend but is an unfortunate fact of Malaysian politics.
I wish to quote the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah here. In his speech given at the First Annual Student Leaders' Summit recently, the wise prince said:
'When the New Economic Policy (NEP) was established, it was to address the problem of economic function being identified along the lines of ethnicity, and the problem of widespread poverty. All quarters of society came to an agreement that in order for nation-building to proceed, certain sacrifices had to be made to help the underperforming groups.
'But it was not a case where one party was to benefit at another's expense. Distribution was to take place within the context of a growing economy. It was meant to be a situation of give-and-take that would result in economic growth shared by all segments of society.
'Today, the give-and-take attitude seems to have dissipated. Malaysians are exhibiting signs of polarisation along ethnic and religious lines.'
On the eve of our 50th anniversary of nationhood, we should heed the advice of the prime minister and get back the spirit of 1957. Then, it was a spirit of give and take, and not a case of one party benefitting at the expense of another. There also was a spirit of accommodation where differences of opinion could be discussed and settled amicably, through mutual understanding and consultation.
Policy wise, we should also go back to 1957 when policies were based on helping the poor and uplifting the living standard of all the people rather than along the lines of ethnicity. It was also a time when scholarships were given not so much based on ethnicity but rather on academic excellence.
At that time, our universities, our judiciary, our police and even our football team were among the best in Asia. It is not coincidental that the decline in the standard of almost everything started with the implementation of divisive policies, especially the NEP.
Perhaps, with this call from the PM to recall the spirit of 1957, we should seriously consider adopting policies to eradicate poverty based on social and economic strata, bearing in mind that there are poor people in every single ethnic group. If we do so, then everyone living below the poverty line will benefit irrespective of his colour.
At the same time, we should seriously consider doing away with race-based political parties which actually hinder the achievement of true unity.