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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Must we pointlessly debate racist proposals about FTs?



It belies belief that a debate about federal territories is still alive a week after Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor’s ridiculous suggestion to turn Penang into a federal territory.
The smart response from DAP et al would have been: “No, thank you very much, we will not turn Penang into a federal territory, please stop dreaming. Let’s move on to political matters that, well, matter.”
Instead, things have now spiralled into manufactured outrage, and counter-proposals of ever-increasing ridiculousness.
The most generous interpretation is that this is merely symptomatic of a boring week in politics; the least generous interpretation is that this shows how all sides of the political divide continue to thrive on divisive, racial politics.
Impossible impracticalities
I’ll start with my belief that from every starting point - legal, administrative, political - it would be impossibly impractical for the federal government to successfully federalise the state of Penang.
I would put the odds of doing so at less than one in ten thousand. If there are any serious, neutral experts or scholars who would like to point out otherwise, I will happily stand to be corrected.
If I am right in this regard however, why on earth are we debating this ridiculous, purposely provocative proposal?
A likely answer unfortunately seems to be that it is because this proposal, and the many counter-proposals that have followed, have an ugly racial twinge to them.
Needless to say, an attempt to make Penang into Kuala Lumpur - a federally-administered entity without an elected leader - is easily couched by old school politicians as an attempt by Malays to encroach on Chinese political power.
We love to go on and on about how Umno stays in power by preying maliciously on manufactured fears that the rich and powerful Chinese are out to subvert and dominate the Malays.
Will we turn a blind eye when DAP makes political hay by doing the exact same fear-mongering, by exaggerating fears of Malay dominance of the Chinese for self-benefit?
Truly, how much longer do we want to perpetuate this backwards, counter-productive, racist brand of politics?
Wrong priorities
It does no one good to deny facts. Yes, Kuala Lumpur was carved out of Selangor in 1974 so as to maintain a Malay majority state of Selangor, and most likely (at least somewhat unjustly) federalised in an effort to reduce Chinese political influence - that I believe is a fair interpretation.
I also agree, of course, that Kuala Lumpur would be better served by some sort of elected, accountable representative, rather than a federally-appointed one.
That does not mean I support DAP’s Liew Chin Tong’s latest suggestion - that (in today’s political climate) Kuala Lumpur be made into a state, with its own elected state government.
I remember many years ago, being at a meeting where the formation of some sort of common policy framework for Pakatan Rakyat was being attempted.
Liew informally began thinking aloud that perhaps Pakatan Rakyat should push for Kuala Lumpur to be defederalised and reintegrated into the state of Selangor, presumably to right the wrongs of 1974.
The idea made me want to bang my head against the table in frustration then, and his latest proposal this week did not elicit a particularly different response.
Equally stupid
Of course, I must respect Liew’s credentials as my superior in terms of being an accomplished scholar, a successful, experienced politician, an elected Member of Parliament, and the winner of the most votes in DAP’s last central executive committee elections.
That said, as a humble private citizen, I cannot for the life of me see how his logic advances any wholesome political goals in the context of Malaysia today.
All such ideas do is reinforce the notion in the minds of Malays (especially in rural Umno strongholds), that DAP is this group of insatiably greedy Chinese chauvinists, intent on grabbing more and more political power - by pursuing things like turning Kuala Lumpur into a state, whose leadership would obviously be determined by the Chinese majority there.
How on earth can reinforcing this mindset possibly bring us anywhere closer to removing Umno from federal power?
Will it not instead simply drive more voters into the waiting arms of Umno, making it increasingly impossible for the opposition to expand beyond their urban base, and take control of Parliament?
Even if the idea is to talk big to make it easier to accomplish smaller goals, the damage outweighs any benefits.
The reason that these proposals are as stupid as Ku Nan’s proposal is because neither Ku Nan nor Liew expect these ideas to come to fruition in any foreseeable future.
Pointless chest-beating
In terms of longer-term political goals, yes, we should be working towards proper, accountable representation at every level of government, from local to federal.
In terms of politics today however, the only thing these proposals ‘achieve’ is to continue casting those who make them as champions in the eyes of Malays/Umno and the Chinese/DAP.
The only end result of prolonging these proposals and counter-proposals is further division of our nation along racial lines.
“Oh look, the Malays want to steal Penang!”
“Oh look, the Chinese want to steal Kuala Lumpur!”
Further and further backwards we go, because of politicians who would rather aggrandise their own careers rather than heal our nation’s many wounds.
Sound and fury
Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya hosts a pretty great flea market every Sunday (not much racial division there, I’m happy to report).
This last weekend, my wife bought a copy of William Faulkner’s 'The Sound and the Fury' there. This book takes its title from a quote in Macbeth, which talks about how life is like "a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".
At a time like this, where shifting alliances between major political parties in Malaysia is in flux, we should not be wasting time strutting and fretting, full of sound and fury, about proposals that truly do signify nothing.

We should be concentrating on the big picture, and how we might hammer out a political landscape where principles, justice and unity prevails. Surely there is enough good in us to focus on what can unite, rather than what divides.

NATHANIEL TAN has a friend who is bringing the Malaysian legend of Raja Bersiong, The Vampire King alive in an ambitious musical, produced by Malaysian students in Cardiff.- Mkini

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