Just think about the many opportunities we have lost since the nation’s turning point in May 1969.
If only our politicians had possessed the maturity to reject divisive politics and race-based quotas, Malaysia could have been a different country altogether.
We could have been as good as, or even better than the red dot, Singapore. We have an abundance of natural wealth, unlike the island nation, but more importantly, our most valuable commodity is our human resources.
We could have become as integrated as the people of Sarawak today, because the country, could have prospered by making the most of its diverse community.
Prior to 1957, Malaya’s educational standard was one of the highest in Asia. Nowadays, our education has become ‘bog-standard’.
We have lost some of our best people to other nations. They were either poached by countries who saw the potential of these people, or the men and women left reluctantly because our leaders refused to value their contributions.
It was not just non-Malays who left, because Malays too were fleeing to foreign shores.
We could have been a major food exporter like Thailand. With climate change, uncontrolled illegal and legal logging and mining, environmental degradation and emphasis on manufacturing, we lacked food security, and our youth were not actively encouraged to take up a career in agriculture.
We could have learnt from mainland China how to eradicate poverty, but our politicians corrupted us in two ways.
First, soon after the New Economic Policy (NEP) was established, they and the elites decided that wealth generation should be restricted to a select band of people. Second, we were trained to want immediate results and were discouraged from thinking long-term.
We could see how the Indians and Chinese in the People’s Republic of China developed a hunger to learn the English language so that they could communicate effectively with those from English-speaking nations.
This helped enhance their competitive edge. They knew that being fluent in English did not mean they were less patriotic towards their own nation. Back in Malaysia, speaking English was deemed to be unpatriotic.
Instead of nation-building, our politicians polarised us even further. The physical and mental scars from 1969 may have healed but each year, we would be reminded with a toxic drip-feed of more confusion and scaremongering.
By playing on Malay insecurities, the politicians managed to dominate the Malay psyche with a combination of methods which involved fear, feudalism, fatalism, division and crushing of the spirit.
If Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, a former deputy prime minister had not died early, Malaysia might well have taken a different, more positive path.
At Merdeka, we rejected one colonial master, for a home-grown colonial master, called Umno.
Ever since the watershed in Malaysian politics, the most striking thing is that we are stuck in a rut. We did not progress far. We regressed.
Divisive politicians kept reminding us about the Chinese, the DAP, or the Singaporeans’ desire to seize Malaysia and change its social structure, its main religion and its name.
A succession of prime ministers perfected former prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s social engineering and helped keep the Malays ignorant, divided, and demoralised.
We, the rakyat allowed it to happen by our votes at the general elections. Moreover, successive PMs did nothing to stem the tide of racism and extremism as they only thought of their own interests.
Affirmative action policies divided the country into Malays and non-Malays, and with judicious manipulation, politicians further subdivided the Malays into the elite and the ‘others’.
If you are Malay, to which group do you think you belong? Are you prepared to forego the rich pickings given to the Malays, such as the scholarship places, the entry into public universities, the handouts, the housing allocations, business loans and promotions?
Many Malaysians, especially those who consider themselves well-informed, strongly believe that the rural Malays are the ones who need to change their thinking, to create a more equal and fair society.
These people are wrong because the ones who helped create our current ‘mess’ are the educated, English-speaking, articulate, widely travelled, well informed and professional Malays.
The rural Malay has no time to think about democratic ideals because he must work twice as hard to put food on the table and a roof over his and his family’s head.
From the moment he goes to nursery school, many Malays are told that ‘Tanah Melayu’ was theirs, and the Malays’ have “special status” which entitled them to “special privileges”.
There is one more weapon in the politician’s arsenal of control over the Malay.
In Malaysia, all Malays are born Muslims. One Muslim will not speak out against another – it is considered haram.
For political expediency, Umno, Umno-Baru, PAS, Bersatu and the ulamas have hijacked Islam and used it to manipulate the Malay mind. That is what holds Malays back. This single factor is so detrimental that it is enough to stop the further positive development of the Malay character.
Malaysia’s rich racial heritage, our link with the Commonwealth, and our geographical location, sandwiched between India and China, and surrounded by Muslim Indonesia and Buddhist Thailand give us so many advantages.
All is not lost and divisive politicians have not triumphed. There is still hope because ordinary Malaysians can rebuild Malaysia and seize those lost opportunities.