COMMENT | The death of Teoh Beng Hock in 2009 shocked the nation. And a shocked nation watched the inquest and subsequent royal commission of inquiry with horror and disbelief. Teoh was not even a suspect.
The coroner recorded an open verdict, not being able to determine how Teoh died. The Court of Appeal later set aside the open verdict, stating that "a person or persons were responsible for Teoh’s death."
The RCI ruled the cause of death as suicide. This did not go down well with many. Teoh's treatment at the hands of the MACC led to a loss of confidence in the government’s ability to ensure observance of the rule of law.
There was also police inaction in the M Indira Ghandi case. More recently, we had the professional-style abduction of pastor Raymond Koh and activist Amri Che Mat.
There are also concerns about the disappearance of pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth Sitepu. No missing persons report has been lodged in respect of them.
The Suhakam inquiry concluded that ‘state agents, i.e., the Special Branch, were involved in the abductions of Koh and Amri.
We now have the setting up of a special taskforce to look into the Suhakam findings. Its initial composition had caused uproar, mainly because of concerns of conflict of interest and the absence of non-Malays.
The chairperson of the Suhakam inquiry had called for the attorney-general to investigate its findings and proceed with the prosecution of those involved. Some attempt is being made to improve the independence of the taskforce.
The credibility of our enforcement agencies is in question. Earlier concerns proceeded from the high incidence of deaths in custody, and the alleged involvement of armed groups in the Kampong Medan incident.
Perhaps there will a point in time in the future when most Malaysians think, feel and react beyond race and religion. That clearly is not the situation for many now.
In the meantime, it is our politics of race and religion that keeps us from becoming one united nation.
There was a time when things looked different. That was in the 1960s and the early 1970s, when there were substantial numbers of non-Malay civil servants, teachers, police officers and armed forces personnel.
That gave non-Malays the feeling, comfort and assurance that they were part of government, and for a while it appeared that the government was sensitive to non-Malay needs and aspirations.
All that changed dramatically after 1969, when the view developed in some quarters that Malay rights and interests were being threatened, and there was a need to protect and defend Malay-Muslim interests by having a civil service and armed forces loyal to a single community.
And from then on non-Malay numbers in these services reduced drastically.
Read more: May 13, never again
National Civics Bureau (BTN) indoctrination explains the thinking behind these moves. Non-Malays needed to know their place in the scheme of things. And the entitlement to preference and privilege had to be explained and reinforced in particular ways.
That led to policies, programmes and institutions that were exclusive to the community. That, in turn, resulted in flight from government primary schools to vernacular schools, the setting up of many private colleges and universities, and the emigration to Singapore, Australia and elsewhere.
Every action had a reaction, and the reactions were used or seen or interpreted as justifying earlier policies. The loyalty of non-Malays was always questioned. The unfairness of policies was never accepted and acknowledged.
Every time non-Malay leaders asserted their right to equal treatment and more inclusive policies, there was strong pushback from some Malay leaders. What happened on May 13, 1969 was often raised as a caution, and sometimes as a threat.
Allegations of conspiracies to undermine Malays and Islam by Christians and Chinese were made by a few irresponsible leaders.
There clearly is resistance to changes that will alter old structures and schemes to make them more inclusive and needs-based.
There was also resistance to police reform. All will recall the very strong objection taken by a former inspector-general of police to the recommendation of the 2005 RCI to the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).
An internal memo of the police at the time indicated that the police would seek the support of the opposition if the government were to proceed with the IPCMC. The police under the new IGP have agreed to the IPCMC. That is a big step.
The rule of law requires the police to uphold the Federal Constitution and enforce laws impartially. What they defend should be the laws of the country. They serve and protect the people of Malaysia, and not just a particular community.
Some politicians on both sides justify current and past policies by saying that non-Malays have higher incomes and more wealth than non-Malays.
The statistics justifying these conclusions are not readily accessible. The selective uses of some statistics support some conclusions.
The distribution of wealth between communities is not openly investigated. The explanation for the low productivity of workers, low savings and poor investment habits is not examined and factored into the analysis.
The role of a good education is not factored in and offered as part of the explanation for low productivity.
The government is responsible for the state of the economy, the high national debt, the high cost of living, low standards of education and the middle-income trap.
Things must change if we are to transcend race and religious differences and come together as Malaysians. Pakatan Harapan represents our only hope for change at this moment.
That hope is premised on both Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his designated successor Anwar Ibrahim also having changed their earlier positions on some things, that each has become wiser learning from past experiences and past failures.
No more fear
Non-Malays cannot live in perpetual fear of vigilante groups or paramilitary forces lurking in the shadows, out of reach of regular forces, protecting Malays and Muslims from alleged threats.
Many non-Malays have chosen to leave. Some leave for higher paying jobs elsewhere, and some leave because they find our politics and policies unacceptable.
The fundamental question remains – can we build a society on a foundation of justice, fairness, inclusiveness and compassion?
Will political parties, government, the civil service, the enforcement agencies, the judiciary be able to breathe life and meaning to our constitutional guarantees and safeguards?
The 14th general election was the almost universal rejection by non-Malays and moderate Malays of past policies. Gerakan, MCA and MIC were near obliterated.
Many Malays, accustomed as they are to policies and programs exclusively designed for them, are uncomfortable with power shared with non-Malays and with more inclusive policies aimed at eliminating poverty. That is not right. It is not lawful or constitutional. And it is not necessary.
Harapan must persevere and stay the course. In time, all will benefit from honest government and from the combined effort of all races.
Harapan represents a chance for change. That was their mandate. They must now formulate and implement policies that are inclusive and bring all Malaysians together.
We are a relatively new nation. During the days of British colonial rule, it was convenient for them to keep us separated and divided by vocation and location.
In that way, they could exploit our labour and our resources best. And for some time, race-based parties fed the illusion that leaders of each race would look after members of each race.
In the end, many of these leaders looked after themselves first and distracted us from the real issues that should concern us, by playing up issues of race and religion.
All Malaysians, no matter what their race or religion, should commit themselves to looking after each other, and to combining their talents and energies to moving the nation forward.
DAVID DASS is a lawyer and Malaysiakini subscriber/commenter.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.