Ipoh Road, City Centre – A multiracial country like Malaysia can never ever afford to tolerate racial-based remarks made by any party, group nor individual. For the past 50 years, we have been living in harmony and co-operation, downplaying the question on each of our descendants’ origins. However, the recently highlighted Bukit Bendera drama has put us Malaysians in an unpleasant situation.
Some of the various factors of this prolonging drama are miscommunication, media spin, manipulation of issues to attain personal / group power and popularity, role playing by the agents of chaos and etc.
I personally attended the press conference for Ahmad Ismail which was held after the UMNO Supreme Council meeting last week. The Council decided that his membership rights were immediately suspended for three years. This meant that besides losing his post, he is also unable to contest for any posts nor exercise his voting rights in the upcoming party election later this year.
In other words, Ahmad Ismail’s 20 years of political road to power is legally demolished. He would have to wait for another 4-5 years to be able to contend. Well, that is if he is lucky enough to be elected again.The way Ahmad tried to explain his situation and the questions posed to him by the journalists gave me the real picture of the whole situation. It was obvious that everything started from those factors that I have mentioned above. This wasn’t an issue about ethnic conflicts among Malaysians but a slight miscommunication or probably an endeavour of achieving hidden agendas by certain people in politics.
The misunderstood conflict could be actually traced back from the outcome of the 12th General Election. When Barisan Nasional failed to secure a two-third majority of the parliamentary seats, the component parties especially its leading party UMNO was grappling with its power of social legitimacy. Numerous groups in the society began to openly voice out their interests and rights questioning the government’s policies. One of them being the New Economic Policy (NEP).
The non-malays viewed that the NEP should be abolished whereas the conservative Malays vehemently defended the policy and the issue of Malay Supremacy (Ketuanan Melayu). Up till today, the government is still struggling to address these issues and the conflicting interests of the society. Personally, I view that the economic crutch does have its socio-political and economic flaws and should be carefully withdrawn gradually. Included that the government monitors the condition of the process and accommodates when needed to avoid socio-political instability. Nevertheless, I shall not delve further into that issue for now as we are focusing on the Bukit Bendera incident.
What Ignited The Friction
In response to the questioning of the NEP raised by a non-malay MP during the by-election, Ahmad eventually attempted to defend the policy in a public talk during the Permatang Pauh by-election campaign.
Unfortunately, his description of historic facts was viewed as a negative connotation on “Chinese being immigrants” which was then subsequently quoted by a Sin Chew Jit Poh (SCJP) journalist.
Initially, Ahmad was elaborating that the NEP was needed to elevate the Malays economic status to be on par with the Chinese. In his speech, he mentioned that “orang cina adalah pendatang pada masa dahulu pada zaman British”. Ahmad stated that the Chinese people were comers / travellers / immigrants (choose any appropriate) during the British colonial years and these people were given the priority in job and skill-development opportunities before the Malays.
Hence, they progressed economically in advance to the local people. The formation of the New Economic Policy was intended to erode the vast socio-economic gap between these major ethnic groups in 1971.
Ahmad Told To Apologize
The next day after the SJCP press reported on Ahmad’s “racial remark”, Koh Tsu Koon as one of BN’s component party leader insisted that the UMNO Bukit Bendera should apologize to the Chinese citizens.
Ahmad refused to do so and his stance was supported by a majority of Penang UMNO Division leaders. The public viewed this as an atrocious and utterly egoistic behaviour that was displayed by the Penang UMNO leaders as a whole.
However, Ahmad and the Malay leaders felt that the Bukit Bendera leader was victimised by a media spun and they became defensive. They stood by the fact that Ahmad was not wrong as he was misquoted by the media. Thus, simply apologizing for an accusation that he did not do meant that he is blindly succumbing to external powers out of fear. Ahmad felt that he should stand up for himself.
Before putting blame to either of these actors involved in this drama (non-malay MP, Ahmad Ismail, SCJP journalist and etc), it is imperative to examine their situations and motives.