Zaid Ibrahim’s impassioned call for a rejection of race politics last Friday at the LawAsia conference is one that deserves its place in history. His plea for the restoration of democracy and the Rule of Law has reverberated throughout the nation.
This is not surprising. Zaid’s message is rooted in an obviously deep and heartfelt commitment to the nation and the interests of all its citizens. Where the Malays are concerned, he is strident in his rejection of policies that have left the community struggling against a siege mentality that robs it of its ability to meet the challenges of a globalizing world. As he observes, the “Malays are now a clear majority in numbers. The fear of their being out numbered is baseless; they are not under siege. The institutions of government are such that the Malays are effectively represented, and the there is no way the interest of the Malays can be taken away other than through their own weakness and folly.”
Equally forceful in his defence of non-Malay interest, Zaid laments attempts by politicians to do away with a social contract that guarantees “equality and the promise of the Rule of Law” in favour of one that promotes a supremacist ideology that ultimately serves only the interests of an elite. This, he opines, has left the nation deeply divided and cut off from the democracy and Rule of Law so vital for the sustainable and inclusive development that all Malaysians need, irrespective of race and religion.
Put another way, Zaid has given voice to what it is most Malaysians think: that we need to be united to face the future. The founders of this nation understood we could, appreciating that there was no reason for fear and that we had every reason for mutual respect and dignity. Fear mongering has however kept us apart and from seeing the threats that confront us, and what we need to do to counter them.
Zaid’s message is persuasive for its simplicity and self-evident truth. He must be credited for having been able to say what had to be said, as it needed to be said.
If there is any doubt as to the legitimacy of the viewpoint expressed, then we need only consider the reactions from senior UMNO members entrenched in the leadership structure of the party. These reactions not only make it evident that Zaid hit the nail on the head, they also show why it is UMNO and the Barisan Nasional need to seriously reconsider how to make themselves relevant. Two responses are illustrative.
Perlis UMNO liaison chief and former Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim had this to say, according to media reports, “Zaid should repent. Otherwise he should get out of the ‘rumpun Melayu’. Paraphrased by BERNAMA, his explanation for this was that “if Zaid continued to question the Malay supremacy concept, then he should no longer be a Malay as a Malay should be defending the Malays and not running them down.”
But, is that not what Zaid was doing? Apparently not, for the New Straits Times reported Home Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, who is incidentally an UMNO supreme council member, as saying that Zaid was “a traitor to his own race and should apologise for his remarks.”
Both responses are so self-defeating that they boggle the mind. They typify the might is right attitude that Zaid speaks out against. Being senior UMNO members, both individuals must be open to the possibilities. As Zaid put it, if “affirmative action is truly benchmarked on the equitable sharing of wealth that is sustainable, then we must confront the truth and change our political paradigm; 40 years of discrimination and subsidy have not brought us closer.”
Zaid was not alone in expressing concerns about the way things are. At the same conference, His Royal Highness Raja Nazrin Shah, the Raja Muda of Perak, called for a rejection of discriminatory policies. The Raja Muda observed that the “consequence of not empowering citizens or, worse, disempowering them, is to create a deep sense of alienation and hostility. Indeed, it is very often an overwhelming sense of alienation and powerlessness that causes the rash acts of violence that fracture societies. It gives these citizens every reason to seek to divide society in order to redress their dissatisfactions. This is bad and insensitive politics. On another level, we cannot morally turn our backs on the fundamental responsibility of ensuring that all stakeholders in our society, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, have a place under the sun.”
The ideal could not be better articulated. Malaysians, all of us, want our place in the sun. We do not wish to live in fear, looking over our shoulders all the time. There is more than enough for us all to share in. We have been blessed with a nation so abundant with resources and so rich with potential that generation upon generation will be able to live in peace and prosperity. The only catch, if it can be called that, is that we need to be left alone to find our equilibrium. Only then can we get on with the task of doing it right.
(Malay Mail; 4th November 2008)