Sunday, August 1, 2010

'A Sick Country'*

Recently, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah boldly stated that “our race-based party system is the key political reason why we are a sick country.”
I couldn’t agree more. And I have a strong feeling that more of us from all walks of life than ever before find ourselves agreeing with the above sentiment.
Ku Li’s recent address to the 4th Annual Malaysian Student Leaders Summit should give us further cause for concern and reflection. However, we need to go beyond reflection and heed his admonition that it is indeed “time to wake up.”

Quite frankly, most of what Ku Li had to impart to the students was refreshing and, from my vantage point, most necessary. For this, he ought to be commended.

Far from mincing his words and delivering stale and old Soviet-style sounding party propaganda, which we have been subjected to by Umno operatives and ideologues through the years, Ku Li did himself (and the country) a huge favour by delivering strong words about the government’s direct hand in fragmenting and dividing us, whilst overseeing the decline of our national stature in various facets domestically and internationally.

Perhaps more impressively, he delivered his message with genuine statesman-like credibility and dignity – more than one can say about his contemporaries and successors in Umno and Barisan Nasional.

Trapped in the contradiction
Ku Li, understandably, has a deep reverence for the historic legacy of Umno. It is hard not to admire his passion and commitment for legacy and vision of Tunku Abdul Rahman and Onn Jaafar.

Tragically, it is also at this intersection – between his passion for the vision of Tunku and the machinery that Umno has become - that Ku Li seems to stumble.

Contradictorily, Ku Li seems weeded to an Umno that has, for all practical purposes (as he himself has conceded), buried Tunku’s vision. Indeed, few (including Ku Li) would deny that Umno has threaded so far away from Tunku’s vision of a progressive, moderate, and inclusive Malaysia that it has practically abandoned that dream.

Despite all the private and public calls for Ku Li to continue to help shape the country in Tunku’s vision, he nevertheless seems unconvinced that abandoning Umno and BN is the only real way for him to continue to salvage any modicum of hope for that progressive vision.

Indeed, millions of Malaysians who share his commitment for getting back on the right path yearn for him to be a part of that very process.

But alas, Ku Li seems mired and trapped in the contradiction between the Umno of today and  Tunku’s vision. Consider the following.

Ku Li says, “Today we are no longer as united as we were then. We are also less free. I don’t think this is a coincidence. It takes free people to have the psychological strength to overcome the confines of a racialised worldview. It takes free people to overcome those politicians bent on hanging on to power gained by racialising every feature of our life…”

Yet, he seems to believe that the way out of this perilous dilemma of a racialised Malaysia is to make BN into a multiracial party.

And this is precisely where, unfortunately, the faultiness of Ku Li's proposal becomes exposed.

To “convert BN into a party open to all citizens” requires, as Ku Li is well aware, for Umno to be capable and willing to set itself on an equal footing with the other subservient parties within BN. More importantly, it requires a leadership within Umno capable of – let alone willing to lead – for such a vision.

Surely, Ku Li can appreciate that the embedded and deeply cemented interests within Umno renders it incapable of such a radical departure from what it has – through a decades-long process of systematic racialisation – become.

Ku Li should also wake up now
Indeed, rather than expecting Umno/BN to set the trend in dismantling the race-based political party structure and system, he stands a better chance of accomplishing this outside of the current BN framework and vested interests.

Despite accusations to the contrary, two of the three major parties currently in the Pakatan Rakyat coalition are explicitly and institutionally non-race-based parties. Indeed, the same can be said of PAS.

The DAP, PAS and PKR are, despite relative racial homogeneity, not by design race-based parties. The same, of course, cannot be said of Umno, MCA, and MIC. So whilst the Pakatan aligned parties could arguably do more to promote greater racial diversity within their respective parties – they are not by constitution or mandate race-based parties.

In fact, to be race-based is in the political DNA of the BN parties. He knows all too well how Umno and BN’s cancerous DNA progressively became malignant and regressed into making us “a sick country.”

Therefore, while Umno/BN are steeped in a “racialised worldview”, on the other hand, nothing about each of the parties within Pakatan  makes them prisoners to the political cancer that afflicts BN.

By this measure, Pakatan is arguably already one major step ahead of BN in fostering a non-racialised worldview. To be sure, I personally would welcome the day when Pakatan can be a stand-alone party, rather than a coalition of three major non-race-based political parties.

Perhaps Ku Li could come around to recognise that the vision that he so passionately adheres to – and the antidote to the political cancer he so aptly diagnosed - is already germinating outside of BN.

In his clarion call to his hosts at the Student Leaders Summit, Ku Li stated that the “waking up can begin…not tomorrow or the day after but today.”

Alas, if only Ku Li himself could see just how much more he can still do to shape the life of this nation, by waking up now – not tomorrow or the day after – to the reality that the roadmap to the Malaysia he envisions is being spearheaded by those already practicing (however imperfectly) a non-racialised worldview. 
G. Krishnan
* This commentary first appeared in Free Malaysia Today