KUALA LUMPUR, April 22 — Malaysians must start to move beyond communal politics to close the divisions separating the country by race, said Parti Sosialis Malaysia committee member Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj.
Speaking at the Jalur Gemilang Patriotic Forum last night, he said the entrenchment of racial politics was still clearly visible in how the country’s three major ethnic groups continue to vote along racial lines.
Pointing out that Malaysia was over 60 years old, Jeyakumar asked the audience of over 300 why this remained so and why there were not more common platforms that appealed to all communities.
“Is it the way we are politically organised? Our political system is called consociational politics — which means each group has its elites which come together, representing racial and religious groups, and they share power among each other.
“It’s in Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH). For instance, there are elites who fight to represent their ‘Indianness’. They try to show that our Indian rights have been taken by the other,” he said
He challenged them to consider if it was acceptable for both coalitions to contain elements that blatantly state their intentions to “protect” their race over another community.
The incumbent Sungai Siput MP said overcoming this issue will require each race to consider matters from other points of view and to tackle this jointly, instead of persisting with stereotypes and labels of “the other”.
Jeyakumar used underprivileged Malays as an example, saying it was unfair for the other races to label the group as lazy and dependent on political handouts, or “dedak” in Malay.
He described an incident at his service centre three days ago when two 30-something Malay men came and asked him for work. The men had been job hunting for months and visited over 30 factories in Sungai Siput, Perak with no luck.
By his telling, the factories only installed such signs to appear as though they were actively hiring, so they could tell the Immigration Department that there were no takers.
“They (actually) want foreign workers because it is easier to bully them. This shows the Malays are not lazy, but because of a system that favours the few who are rich and in power, they are forced to depend on the government.
“This anxiety translates into votes because they fear that without the current government, which heavily subsidises the Malay community, they will not be able to survive. And some of us say these people eat dedak. Is it fair, when we don’t understand their struggle?” asked Jeyakumar.
Later, forum organiser and Country Heights founder Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew said that for greater checks and balances in the country, the prime minister should not hold the finance portfolio.
“If I hold the chief executive officer and the chief financial officer post, my company would never be public listed,” he said.
At the event, the Jalur Gemilang was passed around to guests, coupled with the SK Seri Kembangan brass band playing the national anthem Negaraku.
Earlier, Universiti Malaya constitutional law expert associate professor Azmi Sharom accused the Election Commission (EC) of being “unpatriotic” with the alleged gerrymandering in their recent redelineation, which drew applause from attendees.
“When the EC draws the electoral boundaries in a way which is one-sided, they are taking away the value of our votes. It means they are taking away our dignity. They stole it. This is why I’m upset. It’s not about making it easier for one group to win against another group.
“When you make my vote lesser, you take away my value and dignity as a human being. But more than this, with the gerrymandering, what they are doing is effectively taking away our right to change our government peacefully.
“When vote isn’t fair, that people get angry and will do something silly,” said Azmi.
Others who spoke at the forum included Hakam chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir.