For many, the date “March 8” will continue to resonate far into the future in as evocative a manner as “May 13”. It was the day that Malaysians reclaimed Malaysia. For the first time in a very long time, they voted on issues. And in ignoring the Barisan Nasional and its artificial divisions, Malaysians ignored race.
Just as May 13 was a display of a vicious racism, March 8 was a concrete display of unity.
We planted a seed that day and that seed has germinated. Discussions about, and more importantly the very public rejoicing in, the pluralism and multi-culturalism that underlie a truly Malaysian national identity are quickly becoming the norm rather than the exception. It would seem that Bangsa Malaysia has come in from the cold and is digging its heels in, strongly intent on staying the course.
Those who lead the way must be congratulated, it does not matter which side they are on or whether they are aligned in any particular way. They lay the foundation for the Malaysia that all of us want to call our home. United, we can start giving thought to what we have been kept from before this: how to harness our collective spirit and passion, our undoubted talent and skill and our unique worldview to take on the world.
At the risk of sounding naïve, I am excited. Very excited.
Which is why I am troubled by what is going on with UMNO. The results of the General Election shocked UMNO into a realization that it needed to reassess itself and its value to Malaysia if it were to remain relevant. And as much as the public posturing of the party could be said to suggest the contrary, subtle and not so subtle indications of a subtle point to a deeper understanding of a need for reform, both internally and as well as externally.
Whatever the motivation, the potential gains for the nation are tremendous. While I remain skeptical about whether the promised reforms will actually happen in the way they should, the traction gained from just a recognition of the need for such as well as what made things go wrong in the first place are invaluable. This recognition underscores the truth that a race based system of politics and its concomitants can only result in declining standards and potential ruin.
UMNO cannot be consigned to irrelevance. The nation needs a strong two-party system for the crucial counter-balance that it ensures and the guarantee it provides that no political party or coalition will take a stranglehold of the nation again. Though prior to March 8th, UMNO hegemony made the prospect remote, the changed political landscape since has brought it within grasp. The mere existence of a strengthened opposition presence in Parliament is not all that is required. For UMNO and the Barisan Nasional to play this very crucial role, reforms must be embraced just as universalism has to be.
The dogfight that is happening within UMNO is however threatening to derail UMNO. While the question of who leads UMNO is an internal matter, the national impact the maneuvering of those concerned makes it a matter of concern for all of us. This is more so where tactical plays involve the inciting of racial and religious sentiments that threaten not only national stability but also Bangsa Malaysia and the promise it holds.
For while to those involved in this macabre political dance, race and religion are merely tools at disposal, the injuries that they could inflict in being misapplied are potentially so serious that the nation may succumb.
Though I am loath to say it, Tun Dr Mahathir has crossed the line. I recognize that he is fully entitled to act in the interests of UMNO. However his invoking of race and his equally dangerous incitement of racial fears directly threaten our existence and our future. His assertion that the Malays will suffer for the fact of non-Malays gaining political power is both unsubstantiated and dangerously misleading. No non-Malay politicians are challenging the status of the Malays. The Federal Constitution guarantees their protected status and there is a glaring absence of any discussion of an amendment to the Constitution. In the same vein, the call for a more equitable method of affirmative action can only be beneficial to the Malay community, a community that, despite the many years of the NEP and its successor policies, many of those under the stewardship of Tun Dr Mahathir himself, is still afflicted by poverty. This sad state of affairs is indisputable and has even prompted calls for reassessment by Malay opinion leaders.
And it goes without saying that a more transparent, accountable and competent government founded on national unity rather than race divisions can only be to the benefit of all. This is what we fought for on March 8th, not just for ourselves but also for our children and their children. It is what we must continue to rally to.