The long road to equal opportunities for all

MARCH 17 — It’s racist to suggest that only people of a certain race or religion can assume political office in Malaysia.

PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang said Muslims should dominate Malaysian politics because they form the majority of the population.

He said rather patronisingly that non-Muslims did not have to worry about tyranny or unequal treatment because this is forbidden in Islam.

Just three years away from Malaysia supposedly achieving developed nation status, we still have politicians saying racist things like these. Hadi also fails to see that he is perpetuating inequality himself by saying that only people of a certain faith should be political leaders.

It’s not that non-Muslims are worried about being tyrannised by Muslim leaders in government; it’s that some of us (like me) want a shot at it ourselves because we think we can do a better job.

Malaysia has had five prime ministers, all of whom were Malay men. The sixth and current PM, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, also shares the same ethnicity and faith. All were from Umno. The Malaysian Cabinet is also dominated by Malay-Muslim men.

Yet, for all their (Malay/Muslim/Umno/male) domination of political power for almost six decades since Malaysia achieved independence, they still maintain Bumiputera quotas. If they were truly successful, we wouldn’t need racial quotas at this day and age.

This failure is especially apparent given how Vision 2020 draws near. A developed nation is not just a country with high income (we’re failing on that score too as our gross national income (GNI) per capita in US dollar terms has fallen, but one with good policies that promote equality and competition so that all Malaysian citizens have the same opportunities to reach their dreams.

Maintaining racial quotas is incompatible with creating a developed country.

Using poverty as an excuse doesn’t hold water either. Poverty should not be looked at through a racial lens. Otherwise, it will leave minority groups out in the cold.

The government’s job is to ensure that its policies cover the interest of all citizens, not just the majority of a certain ethnic or religious background.

If Hadi’s rationale is that Muslims will “take care” of other Muslims, cases like the Johor land scam involving alleged corruption in the conversion of Bumiputera to non-Bumiputera lots have shown otherwise with the implication of Malay-Muslim leaders.

If London can have a Muslim mayor and Jakarta a Christian governor, why can’t Malaysia have more non-Muslim mayors, chief ministers or Cabinet ministers?

We should appoint or elect leaders in politics, business or any other field based on merit, not because of their race, religion, gender, or any other part of their identity. It feels strange to have to say this out loud when other developed countries have explicit policies against discrimination.

Here, discrimination is not just tolerated, it’s welcomed.  

Racial discrimination, of course, happens in each community. There’s not only purported discrimination against non-Muslims when it comes to jobs in the civil service, there’s also the ridiculous Chinese or Mandarin-speaking only job ads in the private sector and plain racism against Indians (and other races) in the property rental market. 

The supposed job requirement to speak Mandarin should only apply if you frequently visit China, otherwise it’s a cover for racial discrimination.

As long as we accept racial quotas and discrimination, Malaysia will not progress very much.

It’s difficult for the nation to achieve greatness if talented people are prohibited from becoming leaders just because they have the wrong skin colour or religious belief.

Malaysia needs to start embracing equality.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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