Sunday, November 06, 2005
Perils of the sitting duck
Mobilephones switched off, I caught up with some reading over the festive season,
Two books were within my reach: Ousted! by Patrick Keith, and The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Globalised World in the 21st Century by Thomas Friedman.
The former helps me take a peep of our 40-year old history about racial politics, the latter deals with the immediate future.
In the book-sleeve, Friedman argues that the beginning of the 21st century will be remembered not for military conflicts or political events, but for a whole new age of globalisation - a 'flatenning' of the world where advanced technologies, networked knowledge-pools and resources and level playing field that results, will pit each of us as potentially an equal and competitor of the other.
I have decided to read Friedman when I embark on another of my trips to seek refuge in Basho, but please allow me to share some thoughts after reading Ousted!
If running countries and enterprises are like treadmilling the continuum of a time travel, then observations narrated in both books are equally spine-chilling.
The new competition requires us all to run faster in order to stay at the same place, says Friedman, or you are a sitting duck. You become a hit target.
Keith makes an emotionless recollection of the circumstances in which Malaysia and Singapore parted ways and became two sovereign entities on August 9, 1965.
Emotionless, because as a practitioner in old-school journalism, he refuses to allow his presence dominate the narratives, Perhaps, 37 years after having emigrated to Australia, disillusioned with the "region's bitter political trends", Keith has become geographical distanced from his former homeland. The heartstrings attached to the key players of the time, people like Tunku Abdul Rahman he once served, may have become detached and tattered with their passing on.
It thus is acceptable to me that his book is untainted with the author's personal nuances, its objectivity is not in question.
Reading it in one breath, Ousted! tells of the racial politics that besieged Malaysia in its forming and norming years through the perspectives of three personalities, namely the Tunku, Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew and the late Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) president Tan Siew Sin.
The period of 1963 through 1965 was tumultuous at a time when Soekarno - public enemy Nomber One - was wedging the 'Crush Malaysia' campaign, Singapore infested with communist insurgency, and Umno maligned with the 'ultras', and the British was preparing an unceremonial exit from its former colonies. To each entity, numbers are at stake.
The Tunku is remembered in the book as the Malay princeling whose national leadership was severely undermined by Lee who clamoured for a 'Malaysian Malaysia'. Lee's incessant regurgitation of the Chinese population outnumbering that of the Malays, and thus the political representation he asserts, was thought to be a destablising factor for the continued existence of Malaysia.
Prodded by the Malay nationalists - if we can qualify Indonesian immigrant Syed Jaafar Albar as an authentic one - and inflamed by fiery articles in Utusan Malaysia, the Tunku decided Singapore has to go. Ironically, Syed Jaafar abstained when a parliamentary vote to oust Singapore was called for.
In Page 195, Keith entered his observation:
The Press was keen to know what Lee (Kuan Yew) thought about (Syed Jaafar) Albar's situation. The Tunku replied that if Albar had been sacked at the time of the riots in Singapore the previous year, the separation would not have taken place.
But what good was that kind of talk now?
Lee, one the other hand, is presented as a politician on the rush, often times brash, pugnacious and arrogant. In several chapters, Lee was presented as having conceded that the special privileges constitutionally accorded the Malays are unquestionable. But to eradicate poverty and socio-economic imbalances of the peninsular Malays, Lee held to his belief that education, not outright handouts, as the best remedy.
Henceforth, having won the local election within days after Malaysia was formed on September 16, 1963, Lee raised his stakes on the bargaining table. The numbers game followed.
In the 1965 Budget presented on November 25, 1964, Tan Siew Sin, the MCA president cum Finance Minister, introduced new taxes to meet escalating deficit attributed to additional provision for defence as a preparation to counter Soekarno's offensive. At the same time, Tan resurrected a 1963 impasse, when the formation of Malaysia was being negotiated, and demanded 60% of the Federal revenue collected in Singapore to be surrendered to the central government.
At the time, Singapore had argued for 39% but finally conceded to 40% to save the Malaysia Agreement from total collapse.
Singapore's Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee rejected Tan's demand and argued that the brunt of Konfrontasi has caused Singapore to lose 15% of its trade. He said Singapore was hoping that revenue payment to the central government could be reduced from 40%, which was stated in the Malaysia Agreement, to 30%.
Next comes the blunt brunt. Singapore pointed out that its contribution was closely linked with political factors. Singapore, then with 1.9 million people, had only 15 seats in the Malaysian Parliament whereas Sabah and Sarawak, with 1.2 million people, had 40 setas. Precisely, gerrymeandering of the constituencies wasn't an old noun.
History has it that Kuala Lumpur accused Singapore of "not showing the right spirit when faced with a dangerous enemy". When Tunku made up his mind to oust Singapore, Tan was all ayes.
40 YEARS ON
It's thought-provoking to note that, in an interview with The Star's Daphne Lee, author Keith acknowledged that he might not have written the book had he not emigrated to Australia.
His last words on the separation were enduring, as Keith passed away soon after the interview. Wrote Daphne: "As he saw it, the separation ultimately 'was a direct result of racial politics'."
"It broke my heart. Malaysia is my country. Even though I left it many years ago, I still consider it my own. When Singapore left us, I couldn’t bear it.”
He disagreed with suggestions that Lee Kuan Yew had planned to join the federation as part of an elaborate scheme to gain total independence.
“No,” said Keith, “I believe Lee was genuinely upset when he made that announcement. He was in shock. He did not believe that Tunku had shown such strength of will. He thought that the Tunku was soft and pliable. So he was, but he could also be stubborn and determined. I think that if Kuan Yew had been more patient, if he had waited another five years, it would have been different.”
So, what have we learnt with 40 years gone by?
Some say the handout and subsidy mindset remains entrenchment, cosmetically camouflaged under the constitutional privileges and New Economic Policy. Many would not dissent to the views that Utusan Malaysia still flare up racialist vaux pas till today. But what's the unspoken word behind all this?
Perhaps, what Lee said 40 years ago in the Malaysian parliament may draw a vivid parallel to what and who we are today:
They (the Malay extremists) have triggered off something basic and fundamental. Malaysia - to whom does it belong? To Malaysians. But who are Malaysians? I hope I am, Mr Speaker, Sir. But sometimes, sitting in this chamber, I doubt whether I am allowed to be a Malaysian. This is the doubt that hangs over many minds, and the next contest, if this goes on, will be on very different lines.
Once emotions are set in motion, and men pitted against men along these unspoken lines, you will have the kind of warfare that will split the nation from top to bottom and undo Malaysia. Everybody know it. I don;'t have to say it. It is the unspoken word!"
Unspoken it may be, the word remains perplexing even for the post-Mederka generation, especially when you look at the vital statistics of the two countries today.
From the CIA files:
It's never good to remain a sitting duck while others have moved on beyond racial politics. You will be ousted from the global rat-race.
Posted by jeffooi at November 6, 2005 12:31 PM
Jeff, secession is a complex business and not just along ethnic lines, otherwise why shouldn't Penang have seceded on the same basis? Ideology and personal power had a lot to do with the political drama that ensued. Harry Lee laments the fact that he can only be the dictator of the 650 sq km and a kingdom of only 4 million subjects and not the 328,550 sq km and 25 (+4) million.
Don't assume that it is all milk and honey on the other side otherwise why has the racial monster of Chinese extremism reared its ugly head? Sad to say those Singaporean bloggers are not isolated incidents and as someone here as mentioned, the Malays had not provoked the Chinese (except by insisting on their right for their children to wear the tudung; or 1 of the bloggers case, a Malay woman complaining about dogs in taxis). What's their defense, blame the "original sin" on the Malays in Malaysia?
Racism can be in the open or it could be hidden and institutionalized in the form of glass ceilings etc. without explicit policies. I am not condoning UMNO's policies but PAP and the artificial society it created has its problems too when it comes to race. It contends that by brutal suppression (not open dialogue) and sweeping racial issues under the rug is the only way to keep a lid on things, which results in a superficial peace. Why is Sepet a Malaysian film and not a Singaporean film?
Moreover, I thought that according to some people, the Malays in Bolehland are not as "good" as the Malays in PAPland. It needs a lot of statisical evidence and social research for me to swallow these assertions wholesale. Funny I have not heard that the Malaysian Chinese are "better" than the Singaporean Chinese since almost all the Singaporean successful entrepreneurs are born in Malaysia.
IMHO, there is no moving from racial politics - it is going to be present in some form or other. There is still going to be compromise and the question is how much and whether is it reciprocal.
work smarter, more creatively, streamline your processes, build international networks. I could go on but I am not a Harvard professor...
Jeff, if you find Friedman's book interesting, I recommend you see him on a 3hr interview discussing his book. C-Span under BookTV section go to In-Depth.
JEFF OOI says: Many thanks MikeC for the link. I will check it out. Though I dont subscribe to Friedman wholesale, I celebrate him as a world class writer who speaks his mind in a sensible way. He is a devil that u feel save to be convinced by.
Thanks for the book recommendations, Jeff. I'm growing fonder and fonder of Lee Kuan Yew's old quotes, because as much as unpleasant as Singapore is in certain areas, his visionary speeches in the 60s remain as brilliant as ever today; his views on the ISA, on freedom of speech, on a Malaysian Malaysia are all surprisingly relevant. I'm really interested in gathering as much as I can about LKY's Malaysian Malaysia campaign. I recently found the following quote, which IMO, should be pasted on every lamppost and street corner in Malaysia, and spraypainted on the lawns of Parliament:
How does the Malay in the kampong find his way out into this modernised civil society? By becoming servants of the 0.3 per cent who would have the money to hire them to clean their shoe, open their motorcar doors? ... Of course there are Chinese millionaires in big cars and big houses. Is it the answer to make a few Malay millionaires with big cars and big houses? How does telling a Malay bus driver that he should support the party of his Malay director (UMNO) and the Chinese bus conductor to join another party of his Chinese director (MCA) - how does that improve the standards of the Malay bus driver and the Chinese bus conductor who are both workers in the same company?
If we delude people into believing that they are poor because there are no Malay rights or because opposition members oppose Malay rights, where are we going to end up? You let people in the kampongs believe that they are poor because we don't speak Malay, because the government does not write in Malay, so he expects a miracle to take place in 1967 (the year Malay would become the national and sole official language). The moment we all start speaking Malay, he is going to have an uplift in the standard of living, and if doesn't happen, what happens then?
Meanwhile, whenever there is a failure of economic, social and educational policies, you come back and say, oh, these wicked Chinese, Indian and others opposing Malay rights. They don't oppose Malay rights. They, the Malay, have the right as Malaysian citizens to go up to the level of training and education that the more competitive societies, the non-Malay society, has produced. That is what must be done, isn't it? Not to feed them with this obscurantist doctrine that all they have got to do is to get Malay rights for the few special Malays and their problem has been resolved.
It is absolutely undeniable Malays aren't exactly getting a fair shake in Singapore. But that doesn't change the fact that Chinese and especially Indians are getting a far more unfair shake in Malaysia. Ideally, both wrongs should be righted.
Uh, sorry, it seems the quotes didn't turn out right. The italicised paragraph and the two ones following it are Lee Kuan Yew's words, not mine.
Singapore's separation is a good thing for both countries.
It provides a kind of benchmark on what can be achieved if the people of a nation work hard and have a "tough love" government.
I am not saying that Singapore is perfect or paradise but for a tiny nation with no resources except people, they have done splendidly.
As for discrimination of the minority, I think it is just non-government interference in race relations and allowing market forces to determine the level of racist attitudes.
In Singapore, no qualified person is denied the chance to compete for university places.
The other aspect is that if you are not qualified, they will also train you at your level of competence.
I have had 4 children qualified to enter JC and three were offered places at NUS or NTU.
So if you are concerned about the quality of the local Us and worried about entering foreign Us, come to JB and let your children enjoy the best of both worlds.
"As for discrimination of the minority, I think it is just non-government interference in race relations and allowing market forces to determine the level of racist attitudes."
Isn't it a double standard for a country that professes near absolute Equality? If a large portion of a country's citizens are racist, would it be easy to beleive that the ministers of such a state are not racist? I think the jailed Singaporean bloggers would disagree with you about "government non-interference".
"The other aspect is that if you are not qualified, they will also train you at your level of competence."
How, by offering unconditional loans from the State? Training more supervisors instead of workers? I dunno about Singapore Socialist Inc's assessment of "competence" - Creative's Sim Wong Hoo is a perfect example. If the people are not motivated to strike out on their own, how would it benefit a country's economy?
"It provides a kind of benchmark on what can be achieved if the people of a nation work hard and have a "tough love" government."
IMHO it sets a kind of benchmark for "state capitalist" economies, I would personally reserve the above statement exclusively for the USA.
I would like to say something which may be very unpleasant to listen to: that the Chinese may be using the excuse of "Malay rights" and restriction of the university places not to excel. IMHO generally it is true that the Chinese work very hard but unfortunately the old mindsets will not last long in this globalized world.
I believe that it is imperative that the service and retail sectors take up the challenge.
Malaysia is not going to run faster in order to stay at the same place and become a sitting duck.
We are moving at a slower pace as seen by the latest U rankings and the hunter has been fooled!
All those posters at the Us are to create a diversionary tactic.
It contends that by brutal suppression (not open dialogue) and sweeping racial issues under the rug is the only way to keep a lid on things, which results in a superficial peace. Why is Sepet a Malaysian film and not a Singaporean film?"
Actually, Sepet was shown uncensored and shown first in Singapore while here it faced nine cuts and was delayed in its premiere. Says something about the difference between the two countries eh?
I think it was shown in an Arts festival which is why it was shown in Singapore first. The theme was not antithetical to PAP orthodoxy (but imagine a film portraying real life racism caught on camera in Singaporean society).
I didnt say that Malaysia practices full-on democracy and freedom of speech but the question remains why a Malaysian filmmaker felt compelled to make a film about inter-racial issues and not a Singaporean.
"the Chinese may be using the excuse of "Malay rights" and restriction of the university places not to excel"
Err...aren't the Chinese excelling already, especially in relative terms. I'm not sure of your criteria for excellence; i'll assume that they are GDP per capita contribution, standardized test scores and whatnot. So...yeah. They are excelling, aren't they?
"IMHO generally it is true that the Chinese work very hard but unfortunately the old mindsets will not last long in this globalized world."
Hardwork is always good. 'Newer' midsets like entrepreneurship and innovation is great, but there will always be place for good 'ol hard work. Remember Edison's (kind of overused) quote?
"I believe that it is imperative that the service and retail sectors take up the challenge."
Not exactly sure how that supports your argument, but sure, that would be great.
On the issue of censorship, you may as well add that Astro censorship is atrocious. But it may surprise you that the American Right would kill to have the kind of control that the Malaysian government has, particularly over xxx scenes.
"Err...aren't the Chinese excelling already, especially in relative terms. I'm not sure of your criteria for excellence; i'll assume that they are GDP per capita contribution, standardized test scores and whatnot. So...yeah. They are excelling, aren't they?"
So do the "elite" of any race. I didnt want to mention the lack of innovation, business standards and ethics, the slow growth of entreprenurial businesses, poor presentation and leadership. It is the environment on the whole - for eg. a local pizzeria is competing with a global brand, which incidentally is bumiputera-owned. So if the local pizzeria cannot survive in direct competition, the owner starts to blame everything on bumiputera rights etc. without analyzing all the factors that contribute to the failure. Note that I am not defending the inequality but I think that it has become a convienient punching bag.
I believe that like the other contributors here, if you dont like something and want change, vote for it.
"But it may surprise you that the American Right would kill to have the kind of control that the Malaysian government has, particularly over xxx scenes."
They might, but I doubt they would exercise it even if they had the right. It would go smack against the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which advocates free speech, making it a lot trickier to navigate around.
I don't think the conservatives' mindset it set on whitewashing what the public views, but rather on getting their side of the story heard. Interesting fact: Late night TV in the States is dominated by infomercials, naughty stuff and bible waving preachers.
"I didnt want to mention the lack of innovation, business standards and ethics, the slow growth of entreprenurial businesses, poor presentation and leadership."
This is true. Local Chinese need to reform and become more world class. They are far too chinaman at the moment. However, I don't think they blame racism for their failure. They are quite open to say that they failed, period. What they ARE complaining about is racial discrimination which is an insult to human dignity.
Look, every Malaysian politician played or plays the racist card, which may span a range of extremism, say on a scale of 1 (mild subtle racism) to 10 (KKK-type).
Both Tunku and Lee KY played the racist cards for political reasons, but both were from the old school where they know how to couch ethnic slanted politics in diplomatic or nationalistic terms, unlike today’s crude political barbarians.
Between the two, Tunku had the more difficult role – it was no easy task trying to please every partner in the Perikatan, while Lee in opposition (like all Opposition leaders throughout the world’s democracies) could afford to grandstand. But both were great politicians. Lee, above all, was also a conceited egomaniac – just read his autobiography.
As for Tan SS – he was a man caught in the twilight zone. If he played the Chinese card, he would undoubtedly incur the wrath of Tunku, but if he didn’t, he would eat dung from the group he claimed to represent. In the end he chose the latter – which was why at one time (during Tunku’s days) no MCA politician dared stand in a Chinese dominated electoral seat. They hid behind the UMNO sarong in every election, won the election on Malay votes, and then brazenly asserted their rights to represent the Chinese.
Anyway, that was how Tunku manipulated a more difficult Lim Chong Eu out of the MCA presidency and pushed a more compliant Tan SS into it.
Only one MCA leader ever dared to present himself for the crucial test – Lee San Choon in the Seremban seat against the DAP’s Dr Chen. Seremban was a DAP stronghold and many wondered why Lee took the ordeal by "Chinese fire". Rumours were that the PM told him to bugger off, and he decided if he had to go, he would in a blaze of glory. But Lee was a master politician and a strategic whiz, and he did some pre-election ‘preparation’ to win and then leave, thus thumbing his nose at the PM.
I remember some elders scornfully relating to us what Tan SS did when he went to Penang to speak at a election campaigning mass rally, which was allowed in those days. Tan SS was a Baba, so he couldn’t speak Chinese. But in Penang before an intimidating mob of unfriendly Penangites, he thought he better say something Chinese, and was rumoured to have uttered probably the most stupid opening address of any Chinese politician. He was said to have blurted out “Wa si Tiong Kok lang - wa bay yau kong Tiong Kok uwah” (I am Chinese, I can’t speak Chinese)
Even the term Chinese “Tiong Kok” was highly seditious.
But it showed, if those rumours of his faux pas was true, that even a man like Tan SS was not above playing a bit of racist card, even badly in that incident.
This has been the sad story of Malaysian politics and its continued use of the race cards with its consequential damaging effect on race relations. The race cards have become difficult to rid of because apart of poor leadership and their equally poor examples, there is an overlay of vested economic interests. On top of all that, it possesses the power of judicious distraction. When UMNO is in trouble internally or against another Malay dominated party like PAS or PKR, watch out for a bit of Chinese or MCA bashing.
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