By Kee Thuan Chye
Dear Soi Lek,
You are a highly educated person and one with the ability to think. As such, you are probably aware that the welfare of this nation rests on more than just the MCA winning its share of seats at the next general election and remaining in the coalition that holds the power to decide the fate of Malaysia.
You are probably aware that the way forward for Malaysia is renouncing the way of the Barisan Nasional, led by Umno, falling back on an outdated decades-old formula. And that if you and the MCA continue to collude with the other parties in BN to retain power, you are subscribing to practices that could lead the nation to racial rifts and economic ruin.
Would you not agree with me that at this point in our history, as we stand at this crucial crossroads deciding which is the best path to take, national politics should no longer be race-based?
If you do agree, what then is the rationale for the MCA to continue to exist as an ethnocentric party? What is the rationale for you and your party members to stick with Umno which avowedly fights for the Malays and the MIC which avowedly fights for the Indians?
How long more do you see this ethnocentric equation taking hold of the lives of Malaysians, causing strife from time to time when disputes arise over who should get what and how much? We’ve had 53 years of that; isn’t it enough?
Which is more important for you and your MCA colleagues: To stay on in BN in order to reap the rewards of being in government positions, or to do something that will ensure the honour and integrity of your party and of yourselves? I cannot tell you what that thing is which you could do to gain rectitude. You have to find it yourself.
But as you search for an answer, perhaps you would like to reflect on how strong the MCA’s position really is within the BN coalition for the party to achieve its aims. Are you, for instance, contributing to inter-racial understanding and harmony? How could that be when you have to speak up against any threat to the position of the Chinese? How could that be when Umno must speak up against any perceived threat against the Malays?
It’s a game full of contradictions, isn’t it? You can’t have one and the other, can you? In fact, your attempts over the past several months to speak up for the Chinese – indeed, for the country as a whole – clearly illustrate this.
Last August, after the Malaysian Chinese Economic Congress, when you called on the Government to gradually remove the 30 per cent Bumiputra equity in all sectors of the economy, you were immediately jumped upon by Umno deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin. He even warned you about May 13.
A few days later, in your interview with a Malay-language newspaper, you had to soften what you had said, clearly showing your vulnerability.
Even Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein told you to “stick to the struggles of BN”. What are they? Do you know?
You were even a target of criticism at the Umno general assembly last October. A delegate slammed you for saying that the social contract should not be discussed openly.
Then at the BN convention last month, you called for a ban on the use of the term “Ketuanan Melayu”, and you told Umno it should not approve government policies during its supreme council meetings. But straight away, Hishammuddin said you had upset many BN leaders, including those in the MCA.
This boggles the mind. What you said was absolutely right – how could Umno take it upon itself to decide on government policies when it is only one of the component parties of BN? Does the MCA have no say? So how could MCA leaders be upset by what you said? Have they become Umnofied themselves? Have they become slaves of their masters? Or, as former Perak menteri besar Nizar Jamaluddin said, “running dogs”?
If so, what dignity is left in them? And in you, if you continue to serve the MCA within the BN fold?
Isn’t it obvious, too, that what you say doesn’t count for “doodley-squat”, as the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut would call it?
To be brutally honest, what good is your speaking up when you are still within the same cabal and your partners not only disagree with you, they don’t respect what you say?
As you have probably been informed, people outside don’t give much credence to your speaking up, anyway. They think it’s just a sandiwara act to merely give the impression that you are standing up for what is right. But it’s just an act.
I admit that going by the issues you have been bringing up recently, you are highlighting the fact that things are not being done right, and that your political partners should be held accountable. I might even hazard that you are at least concerned. What I fail to see, though, is your commitment.
For instance, at the MCA general assembly last October, Umno president Najib Razak told your party right within your own premises to be less communal and less demanding. Did you have an answer to that? Did you tell him in return to ensure that Umno would be less communal too? Did you tell him that the MCA was not being more demanding, that it was merely asking for what is guaranteed all Malaysians?
You see, I believe you know what is right for the country, but you are not willing to go all the way to ensuring that what is right prevails. If you were, you would not continue with the current regime. You would press for reform.
Surely, you would not disagree with me if I said the judiciary needs to be independent, that it needs to regain the trust of the people? The same with the police, the mainstream media and the civil service?
Surely, you would not disagree with me if I said our education system needs to be totally revamped to institute quality and regard for merit?
Surely, you would not disagree with me if I said that the way we award government projects needs to be transparent to eliminate cronyism? Or is that too tough a call after your appointment as Penang Port Commission chairman, a move that raised many eyebrows?
Above all, surely you would not disagree with me if I said we need a government that is clean; tells the truth; follows the rule of law; uses public funds for the people’s sake rather than for its own; and upholds the country’s institutions rather than abuses them for its own advantage?
Do we have such a government today?
If we did, you would not have said what you said last Dec 5 – when you called for each BN component party to have an equal voice and to share power “genuinely”; when you said BN had to change to be inclusive, multi-racial and to put the people first.
I know how to read between the lines, Soi Lek, and what you said that time said a lot about the coalition your party is part of.
Do you think it is capable of responding to your calls for change? Right now, looking just at the Cabinet line-up, we can see what a far cry it is from the days of Tunku Abdul Rahman. Will we ever see an inclusive government that has non-Malay ministers for the portfolios of Finance, Trade and Industry, or Defence? That no longer looks at skin color but at ability, integrity and character?
I think you might better serve the people by taking the first step that leads away from race-based politics. If you choose to do that, you will be blazing a trail. And that could bring honor not only to you but your party as well. Unless, of course, you’re a politician first and a public servant last. Then all I’ve been saying here would be worth doodley-squat.