MerdekaSEPTEMBER 1 ― After 60 years of charting our own course as an independent nation, I hope that we will, one day before I turn old, completely liberate Malaysia from the yoke of racial segregation inherited from the British.

While politicians like to talk about unity and harmony, neither Barisan Nasional (BN), nor Pakatan Harapan (PH) or PAS seem truly interested in governing the country based on principles of equality and secularism.

BN’s three main component parties ― Umno, MCA and MIC ― still retain racial memberships and are open only to Malays, Chinese and Indians respectively, while parties in Sabah and Sarawak are also predominantly based on ethnic groups.

On the Opposition side, Malay-dominant Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia restricts membership privileges for non-Bumiputera.

PAS similarly does not accord voting rights to non-Muslim party members, while Amanah’s vision is to be the main Muslim party in the country even though its membership is not restricted to Muslims.

The DAP leadership is dominated by the Chinese, even though party membership is not based on ethnicity, and the party still tends to contest in Chinese-majority seats.

What is keeping any of the mainstream political parties from opening up to all Malaysians regardless of race or religion and, more importantly, changing the base of their struggle so that they do not champion the so-called rights of a particular ethnic or religious group?

I suppose BN fears losing an election for the first time by gambling on an untested platform, especially since they lost their supermajority two elections ago.

PH is also afraid of testing the unknown and, for some reason, feels that it must run against BN on similar premises of racial segregation and ethnic superiority.

It is a fallacy to declare support for the rights of one particular ethnic or religious group, and in the same breath say that you will also protect the rights of “the others.”

Why not just say that you’ll protect everyone’s rights, or rather everyone’s interests, since there is no such thing as Malay, Chinese, or Indian “rights”?

The so-called “right” to cheaper housing on the basis of one’s skin colour, for instance, is not mentioned in the Federal Constitution.

If we want to build a nation with race-blind government policies, all of us have to be ready to give up our own privileges.

As a middle-class Chinese resident who lives in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, I have to acknowledge that my ethnicity may cast a favourable light on my CV in the private sector compared to other races, though I have personally never seen incidents of racial discrimination in the few companies I’ve worked for.

I have only heard anecdotes from close friends, besides seeing occasional Chinese-only job ads that go viral on social media. The Mandarin-speaking requirement is also an indirect discrimination if the job doesn’t require you to go to China frequently.

We Chinese also have to question if retaining vernacular schools and being unable to speak the national language (for some of the older generation) is a hindrance to knowing our neighbours from other races and, as a result, affects national unity.

It is not an easy issue to dissect because for people like me whose primary language is English (I only started learning Mandarin nine months ago), we do not understand the cultural significance attached to Chinese schools that has only grown in an environment perceived to be increasingly hostile to the Chinese.

So if the Chinese want equal treatment in terms of education, housing and business, then business owners and HR personnel must stop discriminating against job applicants and employees and instead, welcome anti-discrimination legislation that protects all citizens. They should be proud of or, at the very least, learn the national language.

The Malays, similarly, should be ready to give up their privileges, some of which have been extended beyond what is stated in the Constitution, if they want equal treatment. 

We will not go anywhere if we continue harping on our “right” to Bumiputera privileges or to vernacular education. The Constitution is a guideline to lawmaking and our rights, but it doesn’t tell us how to run the country.

It is up to us citizens to determine how Malaysia should progress and make her way in the world.

If it were up to me, I would ensure that all Malaysians have the ability to speak English and the national language, so that they have access to knowledge and can get jobs in large companies, while being able to communicate with each other.

The key to higher wages is better education and skills, not through affirmative action while keeping citizens dumb and unquestioning in schools and universities.

I would enact legislation to protect all citizens from discrimination based on their gender, race, religion, age etc. in education, employment and housing. Everyone should pay the same price for whatever property they buy. And everyone should have equal opportunities to get a nine-to-five job, equal wages, and to be promoted.

I would slash government ownership in corporations so that the economy is driven by the private sector, not by the government. Privatisation will keep businesses competitive and force them to be profitable. If they’re profitable, they can hire more people and increase salaries to get the best talent, while avoiding discriminatory practices with laws in place.

Price regulation laws would go too. Personal income taxes would be kept low. The smaller the government and the less the State intervenes in business, the better.

I would force political parties to open up full membership to all citizens regardless of ethnicity or faith and change their party struggles to be race- and religion-blind. They can choose to be conservative or liberal or somewhere in between, as long as they do not champion the cause of a particular ethnic or religious community.

But, of course, I cannot do all this because I am not the prime minister and I am merely one out of 29 million Malaysian citizens.

If the current crop of politicians and political parties fail to summon up the courage to radically change Malaysia’s racist system of governance, then they should retire.

Politics is not about attaining power for the sake of wealth, position or acclaim.

It is about having the courage to implement a vision that you know, with deep certainty, will make everyone’s lives better in the long run.