Thursday, May 22, 2008

BN Beyond Race

The Winning Formula

Barisan Nasional had a winning formula for a multi-racial Malaysia. All major races were represented by their respective parties and they in turn came together to form a coalition. Each party had a percentage of representatives and all policy issues were agreed upon before it was presented to the people.

Although each party looked after the interest of its own community, together they formed a united front. This was how BN had wrestled independence from the British and this was also how BN had won all 12 General Elections. It had worked so well; until recently.

Fifty Years

Ever since our independence, BN had comfortably cruised along with its winning formula with little variation. The last major change in BN was after the tumultuous May 13 incident in 1969 where BN expended its membership to include more parties especially the multi-racial parties of Gerakan and PPP. Despite its expension, BN’s modus operandi remained the same.

Adding to this fact is, the opposition didn't pose a credible threat for BN to thinker with its winning formula.

The 12th General Election has ushered a changing trend. It has shown us that Malaysians no longer view BN’s ‘formula’ as the be all and end all of political formula's and that they are no longer inclined to vote along racial lines.

A good example is Klang. Though being a predominantly Chinese constituency, it saw YB Charles Santiago and YB Manogaran elected as its MP and ADUN respectively, against Chinese candidates from BN.

The time for change has arrived. BN has to adept to changing circumstances or face the risk of being out-flanked, out-manoeuvred and out-run in the coming elections. The world has changed during the last half a century, so have Malaysians and so must BN.

BN must rework its composition, policies and modus operandi. The fact that it had worked well for the last 50 years is no reason to believe that it will continue working for the next 50 years.

BN’s Inherent Flaws

Racial Card
The three senior component parties in BN, namely UMNO, MCA and MIC are raced based parties. Each party has its set of leaders and party electoral system.

In order for an aspiring politician in any of these parties to make headway in their party elections, he has to invariably be seen as a champion of his race. Hence all those sabre rattling and playing up to the gallery comprised of one’s own race.

Leaders that are seen as champions of their race are pushed up through the party machinery. Those with moderate and multi-racial views are often ignored or voted in as an ‘also ran’.

When these ‘champions of our race’ rise up the ranks of the party, you have race-centric leaders representing the components in the BN Council. This results in all those haggling based on zero-sum game and us-versus-them posturing.

Discussion Behind Closed Door Policy
Most haggling and discussion on BN policies are done behind closed doors. Leaders will cobble out compromises to the satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) of all component parties. Subsequently these agreed upon policies will be presented to the people as a fait accompli.

It is then the duty of each component party to sell these policies to their respective communities. Each community will in one way or the other feel that it has been short-changed and that it deserves more. The leaders who bear the burnt of these dissatisfactions will be resolved to dig in more to their racial corner at the next bargaining session.

People don’t see the ‘give-and take’ and the ‘compromises’ made by other parties to appreciate the intricacies that goes in before a particular policy sees the light of day. This gives rise to accusations against leaders of selling one’s race out, which in turn pushes the leaders to be more race-centric .

Ascendancy of UMNO
UMNO, the component party that represents the Malays in BN has gone through many crises through the years and has come out stronger. Through all those internal crises and turmoil, the other component parties have stood with UMNO and have supported the leaders chosen by UMNO members.

UMNO in turn had consistently delivered the bulk of Malay votes that is crucial for any electoral victory through its proficient electoral machinery. The component parties had always deferred to the leadership of UMNO and seldom challenged any UMNO led policies, at least openly for the sake of maintaining a united front.

Over the years, UMNO from being first among equals became the unchallenged pace setter and policy formulator of BN. Component parties found it increasingly difficult on one hand to challenge the UMNO led policies and on the other, to ‘sell’ these policies to their communities. This caused the erosion of credibility of the component parties within their own communities and with it, their ability to deliver votes.

What is more perplexing is that UMNO itself finds it increasingly difficult to ‘sell’ these policies to the Malays. The last election saw a substantial number of Malays casting their votes against BN candidates. The numbers were large enough that, together with the ‘majority’ of non Malay votes, had cost BN its two-third majority in parliament and five state seats. What returned BN to power in the last general election were the Southern States, Sabah and Sarawak.

The accumulation of flawed policies had caused BN to be dealt a severe blow in the last general election. An easy escape route for politicians is to blame the delivery system for the failure of any policy. However, the weak and inefficient delivery system is in it self the result of previous flawed policies.

The Way Forward

New Attitude
The first step forward is for BN component parties to place emphasis on candidates with multi-racial outlook and chastise its own leaders that play the racial card. Leaders should champion issues based on principles and not race.

Arguments based on ‘us against them’ must not be tolerated. Fairness and equitability should be the underlining basis upon which policies are debated. BN must educate its leaders to think of themselves as Malaysians first before anything else.

A New BN Constitution
The next step is to formulate a fresh BN constitution that reflects the aspiration of all Malaysians regardless of race. For the formulation of this new constitution, all BN leaders must cast off their hats as representatives of a particular race and adopt a holistic approach.

The constitution of all existing ‘multi-racial’ parties must be studied and combed to ensure the best qualities are incorporated into the BN Constitution for it to progress beyond race. The new BN Constitution must be sustaining, enduring and effective for generations to come.

BN Beyond Race
It has become necessary for BN to transcend its existing coalition and achieve a consolidation. BN should set up a committee consisting of credible leaders to formulate a mechanism to enable smooth integration and transformation from its present state.

Membership of all component parties must be verified and streamlined so as to avoid duplicity and inflated claims. The new constitution of BN must also be in place by then to ensure that the new organisational structure is sturdy. An interim measure can be introduced where each party elects a delegation to a BN convention and these delegates vote for leaders of BN regardless of race and party of origin.

The final transformation might take time but steps forward must be taken now. Such an important advancement must be thoroughly deliberated as this transformation sets the foundation for the future of a progressive BN.

The ultimate step for BN is to take that giant leap forward and merge to form a party that is truly beyond race.


BN beyond race is indeed an unchartered territory for all Malaysians but one that must be undertaken. Its time we venture beyond the comfort of our present system and look at new frontiers.

Unless this coalition can break free from the cocoon that has thus far protected it, BN will not be able to spread its wings to reach greater heights. This metamorphosis is essential for BN to realise its full potential. BN beyond race is an inevitable necessity.
Murugesan Sinnandavar

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Need for Meritocracy in Our Education System - Part 1

It’s that time of the year again when students get their SPM and STPM results. Nerve wrecking as it may be, getting good grades is just half the story. The other half has to do with getting suitable courses in universities or colleges and scholarships that comes with it. All your student life, nay, your entire life (and in some cases, the entire family’s) has been geared towards this moment.

Students would have put in hours after hours of hard work for years to get the best possible results. A fantastic result is a cause for joy for the entire family but that’s just the beginning of the next battle; proper placement. There, things are not entirely in the hands of the students. Higher forces are at play.

This brings back memories of my own school days. My secondary schooling was at SM La Salle Klang, a school rich in it’s tradition of excellence and discipline. I remember parents who enrolled their children in La Salle used to brag about it, as if it was a kind of achievement on its own. Although most well-to-do parents in Klang preferred to send their children to La Salle at that time, it had a good mix of students from upper, middle and working class families.

At La Salle , we were treated equally and were judged based on merits. There were children of state exco members, YB’s, business tycoons and laborers alike. Your religion, race or family background didn’t count for much (unless of course there was a fund-raising). We were constantly reminded that our ticket to a bright future depended on how well we performed academically, coupled with good discipline and some extra curricular achievement for a good measure. We, in La Salle Klang played hard and studied harder.

I had a long time rival in school, Maniyamuthan. We were both in the same class from Form One to Form Six. We were friends but were also fierce rivals when it came to exams. Most of the time Maniyamuthan came out first in class and I used to come in second. However, in SRP (now PMR) I upped him by becoming the top student in school by scoring 8As. Not to be out-done, he came storming back in SPM as the top student with 9As and I came in a distant second with only 7As (although I came out first in the trial!).

We were both from working class families. Therefore, our hopes for a bright future hinged on us obtaining excellent results and getting a ‘suitable’ course on scholarship. There were many other bright students from all races in my school and we all grew up as brothers. However, imagine the despair, hurt and sense of unfairness when none of the non-bumiputra top students were offered JPA Scholarship after SPM.

Our Malay brothers who had good or even average results were offered scholarships to continue their studies overseas. Maniyamuthan and I, despite being the top two students in school didn’t qualify for the JPA Scholarship.

Some of the Malay students who were offered scholarships were deserving but many weren’t; by ordinary standards. Students who did half as well and whose parents were directors of large corporations or high ranking civil servants were offered to further their studies in the USA whilst we, the non-Malay students who had given our all, were consigned to Form Six.

Students from La Salle did their Form Six at Sekolah Tengku Ampuan Rahimah which was just across the street. There were only two Malay students in our Bio-Math’s class and even they were from another school. All our Malay ‘peers’ from La Salle had gone overseas on scholarships. What we were left with were two Malay students from another school who didn’t make the cut. Things were never the same for anyone of us after that; both the Malays and non-Malays.

It was not the fault of our Malay brothers and most of them genuinely felt sorry for us that we weren’t offered scholarships despite having better results. It was the failing of a system that chose one over the other based on race and not merits.

It’s been twenty four years since; regrettably the same cycle is still being played out today in schools all across Malaysia. Imagine the number of students that would have been affected by this form of partiality through the years. A whole generation of Malaysians would have grown up being taught to strive to be the best but would have ‘learnt’ the hard way that the best does not necessarily win.

The policy makers might have had a national agenda of getting more Malays into government sponsored foreign university programmes to balance up the perceived racial inequality. However, they failed miserably on another important front. They failed to nurture and care for all the nation’s children equitably. The policy has left almost half of its children with a sense of alienation and disenchantment.

With that, they killed the spirit and trust of those children that knew only this country as their own and who would have laid down their lives in her protection.

The system was also unjust in that it robbed the dignity of the truly deserving Malay students who would have nevertheless earned their rightful place in a merit based system. Excellence both in the Malays and non-Malays were punished by rewarding the mediocre.

Any effort towards national integration will be futile and a mere gloss over if the educational policy is perceived to be discriminatory. Excellence must be justly rewarded and our children must feel that they are on a level playing ground to enable them to bond seamlessly.

For the survival of this nation and to nurture the spirit of this country, the government must treat all its children equally, regardless of race. Equal educational opportunity must be given to all. Inequality in this field will only serve to diminish the credibility of our educated population.

Education is the life-line of a Nation. This lifeline should never be chocked by the debris of mediocrity. Let the best student be given the best opportunity. Without it, this nation will never achieve greatness.

Murugesan Sinnandavar