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COMMENT | The struggle between two visions of Malaysia

COMMENT | Aggregate election figures of votes cast on the peninsula from the last general election show there is a deep polarisation in Malaysia.

It’s not about a BN-Perikatan Nasional verses a Pakatan Harapan choice for government. It’s much deeper than that. It is a struggle between a vision for a Malay Malaysia versus the vision for a diverse and inclusive Malaysia.

Malaya was founded on the premise that power would be shared between the different ethnic groups residing on the peninsula. The Federal Constitution recognised the special position of the Malays in a federation of Malay Sultanates forming the new country.

The structure of Westminster-modelled governance took on many of the traditional traits of Malay daulat (sovereignty). These institutions, processes of governance, and conventions were carried over to the formation of Malaysia, which included Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore for a short period in 1963.

The framers of the constitution intended to establish a fully-fledged democracy, where every citizen - whatever his or her ethnic identity - was guaranteed equal rights, notwithstanding the special position of the Malays provision. Article 11 of the Federal Constitution also guaranteed freedom of religion.

These two constitutional guarantees have been encroached upon, debasing the constitution. This lies at the heart of the uneven struggle between the two visions of Malaysia.

Malaya, and later Malaysia, was a primarily rural backwater in the midst of Southeast Asia with a mix of ethnic groups, cultures, and religions that coexisted harmoniously together.

The towns were service centres for the rural heartlands, which dominated the economy with agriculture, commodity production, and mining. Malaysia was a trading nation without much manufacturing at the time.

Malay culture was based upon kampung community. One trait was accommodating and respectful to authority, be it royal or administrative. Islam blended in with centuries-held beliefs and traditions.

Malays had a generally contented society where social problems were usually adjudicated by penghulus or village heads. Malays had their land, pastimes, and a sense of serenity. Other ethnic groups found it very easy to coexist with the Malays for generations, where festivals were shared.

With the May 13 race riots and the coup...

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