ADUN SPEAKS | It is indeed worrying that racial tensions have been rising after the controversial Icerd made headlines recently. The question now before us is: how to make this New Malaysia work for all Malaysians regardless of race and religion, in order for us to progress towards a more united and harmonious nation?
Being extreme is certainly not a way out for us, no matter which side you happen to be on the Icerd debate.
The real question is: even as we all cheer for the birth of this New Malaysia on May 9, are we ready to start the inter-ethnic dialogues to establish a national consensus on how our “New Malaysia” should look like?
Of course, let me make my stance very clear. I regret that Icerd cannot be ratified by the government because I think the new government should have the political will and determination to build a New Malaysia; one that embraces diversity and inclusiveness, unlike the old one that uses race and religion to divide its people.
Also, through the lens of a Sabahan, though safeguarded as bumiputera under the Federal Constitution, the ethnic groups of Sabah and Sarawak are institutionally discriminated against.
For instance, ethnic groups indigenous to Sabah were often identified as "dan lain-lain", and they were often neglected. There are many clear and indisputable evidence that discrimination exists in this country, even though so-called “protection mechanisms" are in place for such groups.
We have witnessed how poor, oppressed, and suppressed these groups can become in this country. Is this the Malaysia, where the poor are always marginalised, exploited and forgotten, that we truly want?
A New Malaysia should mean that all Malaysians, regardless of race, religion and background should be treated fairly and equally. Eradication of all discrimination means that the government will help the needy and poor among us based on their needs, not the colour of their skin.
Ever since the formation of Malaysia in 1963, Malaysian politics has always been shrouded in racism and religious bigotry, with politicians often playing both the racial and religious cards to promote the supremacy of their race and to incite hatred at the grassroots level to strengthen their political footing in the country.
To me, ratifying Icerd does not necessarily mean that the status of bumiputera or Malay rights in this country will be encroached or that Article 153 of our Federal Constitution is challenged, as feared by many.
I support Minister in the Prime Minister's Department P Waythamoorthy on his statement that the government can implement certain reservations to safeguard the interests of the Orang Asli, as according to Article 1(4) of Icerd, “special purpose of securing adequate advancement of certain racial or ethnic groups or individuals requiring such protection as may be necessary in order to ensure such groups or individuals equal enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms shall not be deemed racial discrimination”.
That means whatever protection or "benefits" one group enjoys on the basis of its ethnicity, the outcome must be to the effect that all citizens in this country, whether Muslims, Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, or Ibans must be treated equally.
In other words, special status does not confer special privileges, only special assistance. That means all affirmative actions or “special protection” that may be conferred on any group or person, is to achieve the end goal of ensuring that the group or individual enjoy equality of rights and freedoms shared by all others; not to confer on them additional advantages superior to the rest. That I believe, is the spirit of Icerd.
Now, Icerd has become a political issue. Everyone is trying to gain political mileage over it. Honestly speaking, it hurts our beloved Malaysia. It won’t make this New Malaysia great. Instead, each racial and ethnic group will possibly tear apart over it.
While Icerd might have been shelved for now, I believe that for Malaysians, as well as their leaders, the mission of nation-building will, and must, continue.
Do we still remember the strong sense of unity on May 10? It is we, the people, who created the New Malaysia - a nation that is awaiting her citizens to redefine herself. If we truly seek a New Malaysia that will unite us all as one, let us all stop finger-pointing and start having meaningful dialogue with each other. Nobody said this was easy, not even in the early hours of May 10.
I hope Malaysians will continue on this journey, without underestimating the enormity of the challenges ahead. That is the only way out for all of us.
PHOONG JIN ZHE is the state assemblyperson for Luyang.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.