A referendum on race based politics

This is from the New York Times:

Malaysia Vote May Rule on Racial Divide


Published: April 3, 2013

 KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — When the prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, announced Wednesday that he was dissolving Parliament, he set in motion an election campaign that will render judgment not just on his embattled governing coalition, but also on Malaysia’s longstanding system of dividing the power and spoils of public life on ethnic lines.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, said that he was dissolving Parliament on Wednesday, setting the stage for a vote.

 “This is a referendum on race-based politics,” Ibrahim Suffian, the director of the Merdeka Center, an independent polling agency, said of the election. “The ruling coalition continues to argue that the existing system brings stability. The opposition is talking more about politics based on class, not race.”

The country has been led since independence in 1957 by a coalition, now known as the National Front, whose three main members are parties that define themselves on explicitly racial lines: one for Malays, the country’s largest ethnic group; one for Chinese; and one for Indians. But in recent years, the cohesion of those groups has begun to fray.

 Chinese voters, who make up about one-quarter of the country’s population of nearly 30 million, have abandoned the coalition in large numbers, and the Malays who have dominated the political hierarchy for five decades are divided.

 “How can you have a country based on race? It’s like South Africa 30 years ago,” said Nariza Hashim, a voter in Kuala Lumpur who is classified as Malay but who has Chinese, Indian and Scottish as well as Malay ancestors.

 Though her grandfather was an early leader of the United Malays National Organization, the Malay component of the coalition, Ms. Nariza said the country’s ethnic classifications baffled her five children. “They really don’t understand why you would ask someone’s race on a government form,” she said.

 The ethnic system has been reinforced over the years by paternalistic news media with close ties to the governing coalition. A leading English-language newspaper, The New Straits Times, ran an article about the elections on its front page Wednesday with a photograph of Mr. Najib waving his index finger, next to the headline “Choose wisely.”

 But young Malaysians are increasingly cynical about the view they see in the establishment press. As Internet access has spread — two-thirds of Malaysians can now use it, up from about 55 percent at the last election in 2008 — independent voices and opposition parties have had an easier time reaching voters.

 “A lot of what I know about what’s happening in the country comes from what my friends share on Facebook,” said Pei Ting Tham, 27, an outdoor sports instructor. “People are much more aware of what’s going on.”

 Some Malaysian policies that discouraged people from speaking out have been repealed in the past two years, including laws barring university students from politics and allowing for detention without trial.

 The opposition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister, made major gains in the 2008 elections, winning control of several states and enough seats in Parliament to deny the governing coalition the two-thirds supermajority that had allowed it to amend the Constitution at will. This time around, analysts and polling experts say, the opposition has its first chance to win outright.

 The way the electoral system is structured and constituency boundaries are drawn may still give the National Front the edge. It won only 51 percent of the total popular vote in 2008, but that translated to 63 percent of the seats in Parliament.

 But Mr. Ibrahim of the polling agency said the government faced a challenge in winning over new voters, who appear “more inclined” to vote for the opposition. More than one-quarter of the electorate this year will be voting for the first time.

 Chinese voters are another challenge. Longstanding preferences for ethnic Malays in land purchases, bank loans and university admissions have angered and alienated Chinese Malaysians. “We are always reminded that we are not full-fledged citizens,” said Ms. Tham, the sports instructor, who said she intended to vote for the opposition.

 Mr. Najib sounded defensive at times as he announced the dissolution of Parliament on national television. “Don’t gamble the future of your children and Malaysia,” he said. “Think and contemplate as much as you can before making a decision. Because that will determine the direction of the country and also your grandchildren’s future.”

 The precise date has yet to be set by the country’s election commission, but the vote must be held within two months; Malaysian news media speculation centered on late April. State legislatures will be elected the same day.

 Although the opposition has held some power at the state level over the last five years, some people still see a vote for the opposition as a leap in the dark.

 “Malaysians have been so loyal; it was blind loyalty,” Ms. Nariza said. “We grew up with this system, and there was never a strong alternative. Now there is. Can they deliver? We don’t know.”

(A version of this article appeared in print on April 4, 2013, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Malaysia Vote May Rule on Racial Divid)


17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. klm
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 11:35:30

    This is the reason why we must have. Nothing more nothing less.


  2. Dr Hsu
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 12:05:40

    Yes, klm. The main reason to choose in this election is whether we want race based politics to continue or we want to try a class-based politics. The other considerations are all secondary.

    It is that simple: if you want racebased politics, vote the incumbents; if you want a class based one not based on ethnicity, try the other one at least for 5 years.


  3. CYC
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 13:22:12

    I proudly state my choice : Pakatan Rakyat. What is yours? You may wish to choose the incumbent but it is really sinful to remain silent but quietly wishing to share the fruits of others hard labour.

    There will not be a 2nd chance to choose a new govt and dethrone the ROTTEN regime.


  4. chanjoe1
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 16:02:55

    Time has passed from those days when we as Chinese would never think of voting for parties like PAS but since 2008 Tsunami, my family’s vote went to Pas and they won in my area which can be said to be unthinkable in the pass. We have crossed the border line for racial parties and we voted and will continue to vote for a more fair and more just coalition and not for those who had squeezed us for the pass 55 years and continue to do that even when they lost heavily last round but do not want to repent. No need to think…its good for a 2 party system and now its for PR all the way….we want to see a change!!!


  5. Phua Kai Lit
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 16:02:55


  6. Li Li Fa
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 22:00:21

    When I was small, I was told Malaysia consists of three main races- Malays, Chinese and Indians. Then as years went by, they added another category- Others, which include the Seikhs, Eurasians, Kadazans, Bidayuhs, Ibans, etc. Today, they also include many foreigners, including Sulus. Many more can now vote. But not all will vote wisely.

    Vote for a free, fair, just, and incorruptible government, one which upholds human rights and dignity, and also one that doesn’t discriminate on color and creed, and also one which allows freedom of worship.

    BN has had 55 years to rule over the masses. Truely where is our nation heading in areas of Education, Economy, Trade and Industries, Banking and Finance, Public Administration andGovernance, Judiciary, etc. Where do fair as compared to the ‘little red dot’, Taiwan, or even S.Korea?

    Enough is enough. The people are now rising up to exercise their rights. It is time to vote in an alternative coalition which represents hope, fairness, justice, accountability, incorruptibility. dependability and competency.


  7. klm
    Apr 05, 2013 @ 04:26:20

    BN is stuck in the rut. It is not able to change. It’s soul and its very structure is race based. This is one reason why society and yes, Malaysia’s politics is race base. LI LI Fa’s comment of increasing race segmentation can be explained by this. Slicing and dicing by race segmentation is one marketing technique.This method is used in BN politics to tailor its messages and actions to different racial groups. This has no place in 21st century Malaysia. The only way is to change this is to remove the practitioner from the field i.e. vote BN out.


  8. HY
    Apr 05, 2013 @ 12:20:21

    I think this NYT article is inaccurate in its narration, we are more likely an elite politics that use race as vote bait. And Hsu, we must be very careful not to trap under the dichotomy of raced based versus class based, knowing that “the opposition pact must try to win as much support from the majority race as possible.”


  9. deadeagle
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 13:51:10

    Who said kris will drink Chinese blood, year 1987, ??
    Want to vote for some one whose kris need to drink Chinese blood ??


  10. Simple Sense
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 14:31:50

    Passage of time is an unstoppable impetus for change.
    No one in America would dream about a descendant of a black slave will become the President of United States less than 300 years after its independence.
    The line dividing the politics of race based of class based struggle is fading with the world becoming interwoven.
    As for Malaysia, ethnic or race based politics had run out of its runway as the dominant race gained control of every aspect of running the nation, from government administration, military’s power to majority share holder in the nation’s wealth and its control. Affirmative actions for the majority race have become meaningless when wealth distribution had reached its equilibrium! There is no more to be taken from the minority races other than physically enslaving them or exterminating them like what the Nazi did to the Jews.
    Hence the beginning of the inclination of class based political struggle and class has no divide based on race. America is a prime example for this. The reason Obama managed to win in his second terms is because class based politics has become much stronger than race based politics which the Republican advocate in very subtle and sophisticated way. The class based struggle involves multi classes:
    1. The poorer middle class versus the ever wealthier upper class.
    2. The gentle class where women favor Obama and the Democrats for supporting women rights.
    3. The gays class struggle which the Republican disapprove.
    4. The immigrants class struggle to be own the path of citizenship.
    5. The young and liberal generation struggle for more open social practices.

    Malaysia is no different in the social political path of evolution. What determines the final outcome is whether the method chosen is democracy or ethnic violence which we wee plenty in Africa. Hence if change does not materialize in GE13, it may be GE14 or it takes on a different path such as Afghanistan or Pakistan, or Burma.


  11. A true Malaysian
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 19:14:12


    Same old story, repeated every 5 years when we have GE. The link pasted above is still applicable, and my comments there still valid until this moment.

    There is a chance we can do a ‘white-wash’ of our country’s political landscape this coming GE13. Perhaps this article is right, ‘A referendum on race based politics’.

    Fellow Malaysians, can we send a clear cut message to Umno-BN that we don’t want race based politics? Make it LOUD & CLEAR.


  12. Phua Kai Lit
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 09:38:32

    Don’t talk sh*t ! Don’t talk shi*t !


  13. taikohtai
    Apr 09, 2013 @ 10:35:43

    I won’t be surprised at all that after consultation with Najib, EC picks May 13 as the date for GE13.


  14. Dr Hsu
    Apr 09, 2013 @ 12:21:27

    Maybe May 11..Just my guess.


  15. A true Malaysian
    Apr 09, 2013 @ 22:52:54

    Dr. Hsu,

    Perhaps you are right with your guess. May 11 polls, full results May 12, celebration for New Malaysia on May 13.

    If this is true, perhaps it’s a perfect timing to wash away the old May 13 taboo, which keep linger in ‘their’ mouths.

    A new beginning for an end to race based politics……or communal politics as the late Mrs Lee Kuan Yew put it.

    We Malaysians have wasted more than half a century because of ‘power-sharing’ model fixed by the British and endorsed by our founding fathers, we cannot afford to make this a full century of wasteful years.

    Put a stop on this once and for all, please.


  16. Li Li Fa
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 12:03:07

    If I am not mistaken, race-based politics is like eating durians. First, it is prickly and the risk of endangering oneself is high. One has to be careful to pry open the thorny husk in order to get to the delicious pulp. Some cannot stand the smell and taste of durians and therefore shun away from it. It is not for everyone.

    However, when one has tasted it, one can develop the liking and then fondness to try again. The fondness can develop into a bond of enjoying of this fruit.

    Incidently, even after tasting this fruit, the taste will linger for a while before it dissipates into the hollows of our organs.

    To get rid of race-based politics in this nation is a gigantic task. It takes time, perseverance, and political will. Fondness does linger and pundits or progenitors love to make use of it to lure people into their fold.

    So it takes time, hardwork, perseverance and political will to move away from race-based politics.

    It amazes me to see, in the antique roads near Jonker Street, Malacca, religious places of worship are housed almost side to side with each other. People in the olden days did not practised or were influenced by racebased politics. They respected each other as human individuals with their respective rights enshrined.

    Perhaps our politicians need to take a walk along Jonker Street, Malacca to enjoy this piece of peaceful history.


  17. Phua Kai Lit
    Apr 11, 2013 @ 08:37:53

    “Fascism is the socialism of fools”


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