The claim made by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Paul Low at ‘The Great Debate: Everything in Moderation’ forum that “politicians had to satisfy the wants of the people in rural areas who still voted based on race” only tells half the story. The real issue is what makes people vote along racial lines.
As someone who has been part of a global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption - Transparency International-Malaysia - Low’s statement is deeply disappointing because he justified race-based politics as unavoidable instead of condemning it.
Low elaborated to the audience that there is no political will to do away with race-based politics because politicians rely on it to ensure their political survival. One should take Low’s words seriously because as a member of the cabinet he now represents the Barisan Nasional government’s view.
Low’s revelation is shocking because it comes from a minister in the Prime Minister's Department. If a minister agrees that racial politics is imperative for the political survival of the ruling government, the civil service will surely follow suit to maintain the status quo. This explains why some still voted along racial lines at the last elections.
Low’s remark also proves that the prime minister’s brainchild ‘1Malaysia’ is deeply flawed and erroneous. While 1Malaysia is said to promote racial unity, race-based politics is unavoidable, as confirmed by the minister himself, as long as mono-ethnic parties still rule the country.
Barisan Nasional’s mono-ethnic or race-based parties are to be blamed for racial politics, not the people. Through a media controlled by the ruling parties, Malay-based Umno and Chinese-based MCA play the race card to instill fear, hatred and insecurity within their respective communities.
Utusan Malaysia’s front page headline the day after the 13th general election’s polling day ‘Apa lagi Cina mahu?’ (What more do Chinese want?) is one example of racial polarisation engineered through the government-controlled media.
However the people’s sentiment shows otherwise as captured in the 2013 general election results and the recent survey by Merdeka Center. In the last election, 52 percent of voters voted for Pakatan Rakyat, directly rejecting race-based politics; and the Merdeka Center survey found that Malaysian voters want political parties who take care of all Malaysians, regardless of race or religion.
We challenge Low to show real leadership by resigning from his ministerial position should he support racial politics. As the saying goes, the difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation.
GINIE LIM is assistant research director, Institut Rakyat.