FORMER twice prime minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad might be right or wrong about Malaysia as a multi-racial country.
It is possible to advance a coherent argument either in support of multi-racialism in Malaysia or not. The Federal Constitution can be selectively used to define the cultural make-up of the country.
The embodiment of the basic fundamental rights of citizens goes a long way in defining that the Federal Constitution is not biased in favour of certain cultural community or communities.
On the same token, there is possibility that the Constitution can be selectively interpreted to say that it is Malay-based one. The provision of Islam as the official religion, the protection accorded to the natives and reservations for the Malays might make the Constitution less than multi-racial.
However, as one constitutional expert said recently, the Constitution is not frozen in time and space but a living one. In other words, it caters for all over long period of time. In essence, the Constitution is the collective emblem of the nation.
The fact that the Constitution of the land has functioned well over a period suggests its relevance to the country and the people.
It serves no purpose to take umbrage saying that the Constitution has been misinterpreted by certain quarters. The same can be said about those who want to give a particular definition to the Constitution.
For Dr Mahathir who has the tendency to place the cart before the horse, it is always about the means justifying the ends. This Machiavellian approach to politics seems to be the key problem in Dr Mahathir’s approach.
It is not the Constitution alone; there are other instances that Dr Mahathir might be prone to invoke to justify why Malaysia is not a multi-racial country.
The fact that non-Malays are immigrants, the Malays being the original people or natives, the political bargain between the two communities, the demographic make-up and others might be cited to show that Malaysia is a Malay political and cultural based country.
However, it was the same Dr Mahathir not too long ago chided PAS for not accepting the multi-racial feature of the country.
At one time, he even praised the DAP for being more multi-racial and nationalistic in comparison to the MCA, Gerakan and the MIC – all the three being mono-ethnic parties.
It is somewhat strange that the attempts to define the political and cultural make-up of the country is happening at a time when there is counter-global move towards the multi-cultural paradigm.
It is just like candle that burns brightest before it fades away. The analogy of the candle might not be appropriate to describe the overzealous tendency on the part of Dr Mahathir and others in holding on tenaciously to ideas that might be fast eroding in a world where national boundaries are fasting eroding.
I suppose the last vestiges of nationalism in the form of cultural and religious extremism might not fade away under the impact of universalism but they will resist as far as possible.
This might be what we are witnessing in Malaysia where culture and religion are invoked to maintain and perpetuate a hegemonic agenda. – July 12, 2023
Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is the DAP state assemblyman for Perai. He is also Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.