All illustrations of Alice in Wonderland characters by Peter Newell, 1890
(source: public domain | Wiki Commons)
NO doubt about it. Some days, I think I’m Alice. In Wonderland. Because reading the news on some days, I just want to blurt out, “Curiouser and curiouser!” The latest news that made me feel like Alice was reported on 2 April 2010. It quoted Housing and Local Government Deputy Minister Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin as saying: “There will be an imbalance in racial representation in local governments if such elections are held.”
Clearly, this argument is yet another red herring that has been thrown into the pile of fishy arguments opposing local government elections. And certainly, Lajim is just following in the footsteps of his boss, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. After all, Najib had earlier argued that he was against local elections because it would create too much politicking.
Still, Lajim’s statement, made on behalf of the Barisan Nasional (BN) government, bears further scrutiny under the gills. For one, his claim of an “imbalance in racial representation” smacks of government insincerity and hypocrisy. Also, is Lajim saying that there is actually “balanced” racial representation in currently unelected local governments, and that this would be undermined by elections?
Secondly, and perhaps Lajim didn’t know what he was actually saying, it undermines BN’s own race-based formula of governance, including the star of government campaigns, 1Malaysia.
Here is my question for Lajim and his colleagues in the BN government. If the BN government is truly concerned about racial imbalance in public institutions, why hasn’t it done anything concrete to address the racial imbalance in the civil service and government or semi-government bodies?
It is a well-known fact that the civil service, for example, is not racially representative. Indeed, a 2006 report by Asli’s Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) states that Malay Malaysians are over-represented. In 2005, Malay Malaysians comprised 77% of the total civil service. Additionally, this racial grouping predominates in all three service groups within the civil service. The Asli report, entitled Proposals for the Ninth Malaysia Plan, notes that, “All other racial groups, including non-Malay bumiputera, are under-represented in varying degrees. Since the inception of the New Economic Policy in 1970, the proportion of Malay [Malaysians] in the civil service has grown from 60% to 77%. The Perkhidmatan Tadbir dan Diplomatik (PTD) is 85%, or has six Malays for each non-Malay.”
The CPPS report points out that Malay Malaysians “are over-represented to the tune of 1.44 times their population share”. Additionally, the data in the CPPS report does not take into account the police and armed forces which would further increase the Malay Malaysian percentage. The report also notes that the under-representation of other racial groups in the strategic services of security and defence is another matter of “grave concern”.
So, really if the BN government is so concerned about racial imbalance, why hasn’t it done anything to reverse and rectify the racial imbalance in the civil service? Why don’t we see more non-Malay Malaysians heading government departments, public universities, the police force or the judiciary? After all, the civil service and other government agencies are meant to serve the public. They are also funded by tax money from all Malaysians, and hence should be more representative of all Malaysians.
So on one hand, the BN opposes the holding of local elections because of the purported racial imbalance that would be created. But on the other, it does nothing to address the stark racial imbalance in the civil service and in other government and semi-government agencies. Considering that the BN has been in power for more than 50 years, what excuse might it have to explain the sore lack of racial representation under its administration?
Only my race
By stating that racial imbalance is a problem to avoid, Lajim is also saying something else. He is saying that only a person of my race can represent me. That’s right. If I were Malay Malaysian, I really cannot trust that a Chinese or Indian Malaysian would be able to represent my interests. Indeed, I should be wary of fellow Malaysians who are not from my race.
What does this mean? It means that up to 40% of Malaysians cannot trust that a Malay Malaysian prime minister will do right by them. There may already be some indications that that could be true, but that’s another story for another time. It also means that in any election, a voter would be foolish to vote for a candidate who wasn’t from the same racial category.
Now, what does that do to the BN’s promise of representing all Malaysians through their special race-based formula of governance? Surely, Lajim’s declaration just makes it one big fat lie.
Regardless of the BN’s promise of 1Malaysia for all, and a Government Transformation Programme where citizens are Malaysians first and foremost, it would seem that the BN itself remains stuck. It remains stuck in the very notion that it is trying to persuade Malaysians it is no longer mired in. As Alice would say, “Curiouser and curiouser!” I am tempted to say, “Off with their heads!” But since I’m no Queen, perhaps I’ll just stick to, “Yet another big fat lie!”
I understand why it would be hard for the BN to actually support local government elections. A government that has no interest in upholding democracy — because it would lose power if it did — would naturally not want local government elections.
But the BN’s opposition to local government elections isn’t just telling us that it isn’t interested in democratising Malaysia. It also tells us that the BN government is dishonest when it talks about why it is opposed to local government elections. And to top it all off, it is also dishonest about the publicly-funded government campaigns spewing national unity in the name of 1Malaysia and the Government Transformation Programme.
And so I wonder. I really wonder if it is when we finally have an honest government that we can actually have both democracy and national unity. For real. Not the Wonderland version we’ve been having thus far.
Read previous Shape of a Pocket columns
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