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MKini: Racial segregation a microcosm of Malaysian politics
By P. Ramasamy
27/12/2001 2:26 am Thu
[The following is a MUST READ article for every Malaysian. Apartheid in
schools is but a minor symptom of a gigantic cancer that has gown over the
past 4 decades with no sign of slowing down. And the root cause and main
perpetrator is UMNO and its racial politics.
It is clear that unless UMNO is replaced soon by more progressive forces,
this Country will not develope sufficient international competitiveness to
survive the imminent onslaught of market regionalisation and globalisation.
Racial segregation a microcosm of Malaysian politics
12:56pm, Tue: The recent exposure by the National Union of Teaching
Profession of the extent and nature of racial segregation in schools should
not come as a major surprise to us. Right thinking and concerned Malaysians
from all walks of life have long acknowledged that something is really amiss
in the country.
Of course, the real source of racial segregation in schools is not so much
the action on the part of racially-minded headmasters or local educational
authorities, but rather the way politics in the country has been organised
and manipulated for a long time since political independence.
Very specifically, the fundamental source of the present racial disunity and
divisiveness is none other than Umno itself, a party that prided itself as
the real integrationist force. Equally responsible are the non-Malay
representatives who have gone along with Umno on many questions just to
ensure that they have slice of the cake.
Even if the government removes some overzealous headmasters or school
principals for going against the national policy, it would merely have
removed the symptoms of the racial disease. Racial segregation or
compartmentalisation is not the sole preserve of the school system -
universities, government bureaucracies and other public sectors have also
been equally affected by the disease over the last three decades or so.
The prime cause of this misery is Umno, the super-ordinate racial party
within the larger coalition called Barisan Nasional. It is the divisive
politics of this party along with its less than equal partners, that have
sowed the seeds of this present malaise in the country.
Agenda of racial politics
The party's emergence as the protector and defender of Malays rights in the
heat of racial politics of 1950s, 1960s and 1970s laid the grounds for the
rise of exclusive racial politics in the country. While Umno's legitimacy
as the sole representative of Malays has been broken with the rise of PAS in
recent years, its continuing hold on the government provides it with the
political power to set the agenda for racial politics of the worst kind.
Over the years, Umno, lacking other universal credentials, has simply harped
on racial politics and on the need to maintain Malay dominance over other
races. This has meant, among other things, the need to maintain preferential
racial policies to ensure that political power and the control of the public
sector would be in the hands of the Malays.
It is this need to control and dominate the public sector that has resulted
in overwhelming Malay concentration in schools, universities, the civil
service and other related sectors. Therefore it should be of no wonder that
in the last few decades, non-Malay participation in schools as teachers,
headmasters and as government officers in the civil service has gradually
The process that led to Malay domination of the public sector and the
consequent decline of non-Malay participation actually laid the grounds for
the development and sustenance of polices and rules in favour of one race.
Thus, it is in this context that officials of schools, education
departments, head of universities and others took the deliberate step to
ensure that the public sector should only benefit the Malays and that
non-Malays should only play a minimal role.
Intake of teachers in schools, promotion of teachers, the appointment of
headmasters, the hiring of lecturers in universities, the employment trend
in the civil service basically indicates a well entrenched policy condoned
by the government although it only favours the Malays.
In other words, without a policy or a measure supported by the present
government, there would not be any talk of racial or religious segregation
in schools or universities. Therefore it makes no sense for government
officials and members of the government to express surprise as to the nature
of racial problems in the country.
Of course, some headmasters or principals would have gone one step further
to further entrench pro-Malay policies in the way students are organised in
classes, but they would not done it in the absence of larger agenda of
'De facto' apartheid
It is the nature and manner of the organisation of politics in the country
that it tends to favour one particular race to the detriment of others and
this is the root cause of the racial compartmentalisation of the society.
The former white regime in South Africa had an official policy of apartheid
in terms of separating the development of whites and blacks. And now in
Malaysia, we can talk about an evolving de facto apartheid policy in the
realm of the public sector.
Racial segregation contributes to the racial discrimination of non-Malays
and makes a mockery of the government's official agenda of racial
integration and the creation of a truly multi-ethnic and multi-religious
society. A closer examination of Malaysian society would easily reveal that
there is no integration; merely racial groups existing side by side on the
basis of limited tolerance, something brought about not so much by
government policies, but by the nature of societal evolution.
Generally, it is more appropriate to talk of disintegration in the country,
something that could lead to political decay sooner or later, if the present
divisive policies are maintained and perpetuated.
It will make more sense to speak about the politics of muddling through by
the government in power. A government based not on universal or progressive
values, but operating on the basis of primordial concerns and attributes.
Global developments have not to date provided any stimulus to the regime to
undertake progressive reforms in the realm of politics.
There is no definitive answer from the government as to why citizens in the
country have to be organised and mobilised along ethnic and religious lines.
There is no answer as to why members of society have to be discriminated and
marginalised simply because they belong to one particular race or religion.
For more than four decades the present government has managed the country
but results of this management are hardly impressive. On the contrary,
Malaysians are terribly concerned over their future and that of their
children given the pernicious nature of racial politics.
Racial segregation and racial division cannot be resolved overnight. Whether
the present government - headed, controlled and manipulated by Umno - can
resolve the problems of social and political fragmentation remains to be
But then going on the basis of its track record of nearly 40 years, there is
no compelling evidence to indicate the party has the intellectual and
progressive attributes to carry the country forward.
Sept 11 might have complicated matters for the opposition in the country, but since politics is the art of possible, there are new grounds for the opposition members to sink their differences so that the country and its people could be rescued from the clutches of those in power.
P RAMASAMY is a professor of political economy at the Political Science Department, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and has academic interests in Malaysian politics and labour. He has written quite extensively and is currently focusing on conflict management in Sri Lanka.