MALAYSIANS must be disillusioned to see the ugly head of race issues surfacing again lately. What many urbanites may not realise is that the politics of representation in the rural areas, still largely controlled by Umno and Pas, has not changed very much over the years. During the 14th General Election, roughly one third of rural Malays supported Pakatan Harapan (PH), one third supported Umno and one third voted for Pas.
Change is also happening in the rural areas but not as fast as in the urban areas.
Wherever and whenever there is poverty or economic distress, the situation is fertile for extremism, terrorism, strife and conflict. In such a situation and for a multi-racial society, it is easy for unscrupulous politicians to play the race card by presenting the other races as a threat or scapegoat for economic ills.
The PH government will be judged, in the next election, mostly on its economic performance so it had better get its act together and support strategic projects which the country already has strong assets in.
A healthy economy would also minimise racial conflict. In the current political climate, using grassroots race representation, but via a multiracial coalition and on a short-term basis, like in the struggle for Merdeka in 1957, may be tactically necessary to win over rural support.
But the country should generally move away from exclusive race representation and towards an inclusive multiracial representation by building trust, mutual respect and goodwill among the races.
A member of parliament or state assemblyman, as the “wakil rakyat”, is supposed to represent all the races in his constituency. Even if only one racial group voted for a politician who won, the elected wakil rakyat is morally obliged to represent all the races in the constituency.
An MP (who has other races in his constituency), who is also a former minister, recently questioned the legitimacy of having non-Muslims as minister of finance, attorney-general and chief justice, based on his view that they must swear an oath on the Quran to legitimise their positions.
This MP also implied that the king was wrong in agreeing to appoint these non-Muslims to such high positions. He also challenged the right and wisdom of the prime minister to nominate qualified people to fill these top positions based on integrity and capability rather than race.
Furthermore, this MP argued that non-Muslims, such as these three senior officials, would not be fair and able to represent the interests of Muslims.
There are still many people who have an outdated idea of democratic representation, that a politician is only able to represent his own kind. Or a person of a particular race cannot be trusted or relied upon to represent other races.
Since Merdeka, we have had six Malay prime ministers who had been entrusted to represent all the other races. An important principle of democracy is that an elected representative has the same accountability and responsibility to all the people of his constituency or organisation.
In the early eighties, as an overseas student in a leading British university, I was elected by the majority (95 per cent) white British students to be the president of the Students’ Union for a sabbatical year.
While I made sure the special interests of the overseas students (who faced more problems there) were take care of, I also ensured that I looked after the interests of the British students as well. I was equally accountable and responsible even to students who did not vote for me.
As a non-Muslim, I have been fighting for many years for oppressed Muslims around the world, especially for the Palestinian struggle against Zionist aggression and oppression.
When President Donald Trump took office in 2017, he aggressively sided with Israel and promoted Islamophobia. He banned Muslims from at least seven countries from entering the US. He was sending the message that no Muslims could be trusted and stereotyping every Muslim as a suspected terrorist or violent extremist.
I felt a sense of indignation and wrote at least four hard-hitting press articles to condemn Trump for his racism and exposed his lies and distortions about Muslims. Why can’t some of our politicians be willing and eager to defend or fight for the people of other ethnicity based on justice and principles?
It has been 62 years since our independence. We live in a multi-racial society in the 21st century. We are a small country of 33 million people, living in a highly competitive regional and global environment. We need to be united and work together to deal with all challenges and the forces of globalisation.
We sink or swim together as a multiracial country. We are also part of the human race and we must work together with the global community to address major global challenges (such as trade disputes, climate change and World War III). We sink and swim together as a multiracial global community.
The writer is a corporate and political analyst on local and global issues