May 13 1969 and its aftermath
In "Nation Before Self and Values That Do Not Die", at page 417, Tan Sri Yuen Yuet Leng captured post-independence multiracialism as follows:
"The emotions and practice of Malayan multiracialism were striking in the jubilation of our early independence years and without any obvious prejudice to the emotions or sensitivity of any community.
... Then sometime and somewhere along the course of further national, economic and social development and for various reasons we have taken a turn towards graduating racial and religious polarization. I had sometimes even asked myself if it was because we had solved the threat of communism too fast and this had made some politicians and the country to forget it so fast and so soon. ..."
In "The Colour of Inequality - Ethnicity, Class, Income and Wealth in Malaysia", at pages 7-8, Muhammed Abdul Khalid summarized the events leading up to the communal riots in 1969 as follows:
"The mutual resentment of Malays and Chinese on the disparity of economic and political representations reached its peak in 1969 after the third general elections. The Malays felt that they were not enjoying the fruits of Independence, especially in terms of economic uplifting. The socio-economic status of the Malays had not changed; poverty among the Malays was still rampant ... Not unexpectedly, in the third general election in 1969, almost half of the Malays voted for the opposition, ...and a majority of the non-Malays voted for the Chinese opposition parties. ... After the election, the city of Kuala Lumpur was engulfed in racial riots - primarily due to culturally offensive behavior by jubilant opposition party supporters, according to official records."
Immediate measures were taken by the National Operations Council, an ad hoc Cabinet, set up to govern the country while Parliament was suspended. This included the drafting of the five principles of the Rukun
Negara (Articles of Faith of the State) and the introduction of the New Economic Policy.
The Rukun Negara was proclaimed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on 31 August 1970 (13th Independence Day) to be a national ideology and philosophy. The five principles of the Rukun Negara were supposed to be the key to national harmony and unity, for the success and stability of Malaysia's multicultural society.
The New Economic Policy (NEP) was formulated with the overriding objective of attaining national unity and fostering nation-building through the two-pronged strategy of eradicating poverty and restructuring society.9 The first prong of the NEP strategy was to eradicate poverty, irrespective of race, while the second prong of the NEP strategy sought to restructure society by eliminating the identification of race with economic function. 10 The key element of the second prong was the creation of the Bumiputera Commercial and Industrial Community (BCIC) to ensure a viable participation of Bumiputera individuals in the modern sectors of the economy. The target was that Bumiputera would own and manage at least 30 per cent of the total commercial and industrial activities of the economy by 1990. The 30 per cent target was a means to an end, namely to achieve better distribution of assets and income.8
Despite the NEP and other efforts, the threat of disintegration of the carefully crafted unity of the nation would however continue. This was primarily because of dissatisfaction over growing economic disparity and perceived inequalities in various sectors such as education, as well as between urban and rural areas.
At the end of 1974 high rates of inflation and increase in food prices led to peasant demonstrations in Baling and Sik in Kedah, supported by university students in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The Government intervened with millions of ringgit in subsidies to alleviate tensions.
It became clear that the education system under the British did not take into consideration the needs of development, the creation of a national identity and the unity of the nation. Instead it had deliberately focused on reinforcing the loyalty of the migrant workers and their descendants to their countries of origin and suppressed the spirit of development of the local people.
Therefore in 1957, an educational policy was developed for the new Malaya which focused on its future needs as follows:
"The educational policy of the Federation is to establish a national system of education acceptable to the people as a whole which will satisfy their needs and promote their cultural, social, economic and political development as a nation, with the intention of making the Malay language the national language of the country whilst preserving and sustaining the growth of the language and culture of peoples other than Malays living in the country.".
Therefore we all need to read and understand the preambles and sections of laws carefully before making comments.
The policy was construed and implemented with the guidance of the Razak Report 1956 and later the Rahman Talib Report 1960. The goal of the policy was to unite multi-racial school children and prepare a work force of the people for Malaysia's economic requirements.
By the end of its period in 1990, the NEP had achieved remarkable success. Poverty levels had dropped, corporate equity ownership by the Bumiputera had improved, there were more Bumiputera involved in modern occupations, enrolled in universities and there was a booming Bumiputera middle class. But it was not the panacea for all Malaysia's challenges.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In "Theories of Social Order", Thomas Schelling said that, "When all individuals pursue their own preferences, the outcome is segregation rather than integration". Where then does Malaysia stand in its 57th year as an Independent nation in terms of national unity and national harmony?
One of the biggest challenges to social order and national harmony today is actually our own ignorance of and indifference to our history, our laws and our values and principles as a nation. This is aside from the multiple external threats such as corruption, religious intolerance, radicalization and extremism and organized criminal activities.
Appreciation of the symbols of national unity
Charles de Montesquieu said, "There is no nation so powerful, as one that obeys its laws not from principals of fear or reason, but from passion". If there is a root cause of our current dilemma, it appears to be a lack of understanding of everything that is supposed to make us a nation. Such passion for our nation is supposed to be inculcated from cradle to grave, by parents and teachers. But as J. Edgar Hoover said,
"No amount of law enforcement can solve a problem that goes back to the family".
First, the most important national symbol of all, namely the Federal Constitution. It is the supreme law of the land and the corner stone of our social order and national unity. However, aside from a specialist group of lawyers and historians, does anyone read its actual provisions, and each and every one of its provisions? Some seem to read selected articles and then claim to be lawyers!
Secondly, let us take that foremost symbol, the national flag. Do we respect, take pride and understand its' power to unite our nation? Or is this something only for the security forces and school children? And we forget our times and days as school children too.
Next let us consider the national anthem - "Negara Ku". How many truly understand and appreciate the meaning of those first words in our national anthem - "Negara Ku, Tanah tumpahnya darah ku". Taken literally, it means my country, the place where I am willing to spill my blood in defending it or the land of my birth. Metaphorically, it means my country, my Malaysian motherland or homeland. Our security forces who had to fight in the attacks against Sabah last year proved they were willing to die for their country. Others make noise but the question is whether they are willing to die for our country.
Fourthly, do we understand the importance of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as the living symbol of our unity. If we did, would we be so quick to disparage this highest constitutional office?
Finally, let us revisit the Rukun Negara (Articles of Faith of the State). Do we merely recite or do we actually internalize the 5 principles which were intended to be the moral compass and key to national harmony and unity. Bear in mind that the Rukun Negara was specifically crafted for the success and stability of Malaysia's multicultural society. Do we epitomize and practice these values which are supposed to define the national character of the people? Do we realize that the Declaratory Preamble to the Rukun Negara holds equal importance to the 5 principles, if not more. To be frank, how many have read the Preamble?
Perhaps it is worth for us to take a moment to reflect on the continuing relevance of the Rukun Negara today. The five principles of the Rukun Negara declare that -
"We, the people of Malaysia, pledge our united efforts to attain these ends, guided by these principles:
• Belief in God
• Loyalty to King and Country
• Supremacy of the Constitution
• Rule of Law
• Good behavior and Morality." [Emphasis added]
But it is the declaration that sets out what is intended to be achieved through these principles. The Declaration states:
"DECLARATION OF RUKUN NEGARA
Now therefore, our nation Malaysia, being dedicated:
• to achieving a greater unity for all her peoples:
• to maintaining a democratic way of life;
• to creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably shared;
• to ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions; and
• to building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology;".
In relation to the third aim to be achieved, it is emphasized that it refers to the "equitable" sharing of wealth and not the "equal" sharing of wealth, and the difference in meaning should be clear to all.