‘The ethnicization of politics’ by Ku Li

Call it by any other name but  Ku Li’s proposed 10-point charter that presumably would inoculate the body politic against “ethnicized politics”  sounds uncannily similar to the Peoples Declaration that was proposed by NGOs and the Rakyat before the March 8 elections of 2008.

The “ethnicization of politics” has been the chief cause of the malady afflicting Malaysia politics, said veteran MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in a lecture organised by the Perak Academy at a leading hotel in Ipoh this evening.

Speaking to an overflow crowd that bought tickets to a subscription dinner, the veteran Umno leader proposed a 10-point charter that presumably would inoculate the body politic against “ethnicized politics”.

ku li tengku razaleigh interview 241106 significantThe first two points would require all political parties to imbed the equality of all citizens in their constitutions such that they cannot propose political and economic policies that discriminate among the citizenry.

The remainder of the charter would require political parties to uphold the federal and state constitutions, respect the rule of law and the concept of separation of powers that is the bedrock of constitutional democracy, respect the independence of the judiciary, refrain from engaging in business, and conduct transparent and free elections.

Apart from proposing state funding for political parties, presumably the recourse to a ban on their engaging in business, Razaleigh did not spell out how the maxims of a democratic culture could be made an integral part of the constitutions of political parties, assuming that freedom of association is guaranteed in the federal constitution.

Slide began during Second Malaysia Plan

Razaleigh, who in recent months has attempted to rise above the reflexive partisanship of party politics to assume a statesmanlike role in the national arena, traced the “ethnicization of politics” to failure to meet the national unity goals set for the country in 1971 in the Second Malaysia Plan.

The Gua Musang MP, elected in 1974 and thus is the longest serving parliamentarian in the country, recalled that the Plan, introduced in tandem with the launch of the New Economic Policy, had an overriding goal: national unity.

“What was inspiring [about the Plan] was the conviction that out of our diversity we will have the flowering of the Malaysian genius,” he said.

Why then did the Plan’s goal of national unity and its conviction that the people’s genius would flower from the eradication of poverty and the identification of economic function with race not materialise?

“I believe one of the main reasons for [this failure] was the decline of democracy in the political parties and in the nation, and the over-centralization of power,” offered Razaleigh.

“Meaningful debate in political parties, Parliament, and in the media became almost non-existent,” he said.

He went on to elaborate his thesis: “This atmosphere allowed undemocratic legislations, such as widening the Official Secrets Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act to be passed by Parliament at the expense of the erosion of democracy and the moral authority of the democratic process.

“The public values that underpin the rule of law were replaced by the authoritarian rule by law. Unfortunately, any possibility of challenging these legislations as undemocratic became impossible with the closing of the separation of powers, and freedom of the press as envisaged by Article 10 of the constitution was made into a monopoly of the mainstream media which is used as a political instrument of influence to justify the unaccountable centralisation of power.

“Thus, the party, parliament, the judiciary, the civil service, the financial institutions and the media became concentrated in the hands of the prime minister.”

Increasing undemocratic culture

Razaleigh blamed the phenomena on the “increasing undemocratic culture spawned by the illusion of the importance of ethnicized politics.”

He held that a generation after the articulation of lofty goals in the Second Malaysia Plan, there were attempts to make the “politicization of ethnicity” an “institutionalised part of our political culture.”

Not only the present political culture must be changed, there should be a wider conception of economic progress and social development
He suggested the western experience of economic growth based on GDP (gross domestic product) statistics was too narrow and that more comprehensive models of growth and social development presently being formulated by Nobel laureates Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz would be worth the study.

According to him, the latter models would be more relevant to Malaysian society where income disparities and imbalances were apt to suffer greater distortion from application of the western model.

Razaleigh inveighed against excessive greed and individualism which he said were destructive of the goals of social cohesion and economic equity. He called for the design of an economic system more suited to the complexities of Malaysian society.

Razaleigh favoured judicial review of acts of the legislature that are in conflict with the objectives of constitutional democracy.

His discourse was in the 11th in the series inaugurated by the Perak Academy, a body formed in 1999 to foster the development of intellectual pursuits in the state.

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