Political leaders who resort to demonizing other races for political advantage may not realise that their actions will hurt the very people whose support they are seeking.
Umno politicians used race to win over the majority Malay voters in the Seminyeh by-election by referring to non-Malays as pendatang and penumpang (immigrants and riders) among other things and incensing the non-Malays in the process. Politicians have always used the race card to win support. No doubt that has been the practice, especially in the rural areas, but it was a practice that non-Malays never appreciated.
They put up with it because the non-Malay partners of the previous Barisan Nasional administration were apparently advised (privately, never openly) that it was a necessary strategy to get the Malay rural vote so that Umno had the Malay mandate to lead the BN coalition.
Well, that was before. Now, Pakatan Harapan is in government with the strong support of non-Malays who wholeheartedly demonstrated their patriotism when they staked their claim as equal partners in this country by overwhelmingly supporting the PH in the 14th General Election (GE14).
To have had to listen to the racial drivel that was poured out at the Seminyeh by-election and which was followed up by others was an assault and insult to the loyalty of the non-Malays to Malaysia.
Leaders and the politically knowledgeable may understand the need for such a strategy if it would mean support from the homogenous rural voter base. That support would have meant that the candidate and party they supported would lead the government, which in turn would have ensured the interests of this particularly large demographic.
In Seminyeh, however, would that strategy have helped Umno deliver? Umno is now the opposition. Can it meet the needs of the rural Malay voter which only the government of the day can deliver? They can’t. So, what was the primary objective of using the race card if not to stay in power by any means?
Once the voters realise that race baiting was used only to win an election, they are going to wise up to Umno’s bankrupt political patronage as they finally realise that race politics was nothing but a pack of lies.
Do Umno politicians understand the damage they cause by resorting to race baiting? People in the know may understand it was nothing but a strategy; the politicians are actually not racist. The grassroots, however, don’t know that — they might now, after all the publicity the issue attracted.
As long as the grassroots don’t know they were taken for a ride, the consequence is a dangerous enmity between the races. The mentality of us vs the others will be entrenched and that would be the end of racial unity.
Do they know what they are doing? To use the language of Umno leader Khairy Jamaluddin in the hope his colleagues understand, “do you comprehend, YBs (Yang Berhormat (respected Members of Parliament))?”
Despite using the race card, politicians of different races generally work together for the sake of political expediency. But, it is a different scenario on the ground. The chances for social integration will be diminished. Because of the race divide, the races will continue to live in their social ghettos, maintaining cordiality for the sake of peace but deeply wary of each other.
Social integration won’t take place, which means economic integration won’t follow. Businesses and markets will be characterised by race and remain segregated. People of different races won’t form businesses together and reach out to a mixed market. Markets will be confined to and restricted by race. How can they grow businesses in limited markets?
In the absence of an integrated economy, it becomes easier for capital owners to uproot and get out if their interests are threatened, which may lead to an economic collapse.
There is only one way to prevent such a catastrophe from ever happening. Integrate the economy so that businesses and markets are encouraged and supported across the races. The solution is not to reinstate the 30% bumiputra shareholding quota in listed companies as considered by the Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad but to launch policies and plans for multi-racial businesses and companies where possible.
In this respect, MCA president Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong’s suggestion to the government should be considered. He had asked the government to give tax incentives for savings and shareholdings, and educate students on investment and shares through school syllabuses and extracurricular activities.
Government policies must aim at social and economic integration. That would make it clear that all Malaysians are treated as equals and will be supported in their endeavours to make Malaysia a better home and none will have any reason to flee.