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In his Chinese New Year message, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak noted that all Malaysia’s ethnic communities “have played important roles in building this great nation” of ours. And, referring to Malaysian Chinese as “fellow sons and daughters of Malaysia,” he went on to praise them for their “important role in nation-building.” Their “tremendous contribution,” he said, “was evident in every part of the country.”

He also assured Malaysians that he was committed to ensuring that “the future of our children will be better than ours and that we will grow strong and together as one.”

Most Malaysians will, no doubt, enthusiastically welcome the Prime Minister’s message. It was, after all, what he promised the nation when he came to office in 2009.

Appreciating all our sons and daughters

What Malaysia’s ethnic minorities will want to know, however, is whether such reassuring statements are just rhetoric or will they inform Government policy?

Great speeches and good intentions without corresponding policies and programmes to match are simply political dishonesty and empty sloganeering. And we’ve had too much of that already.

If the Prime Minister truly cares about all Malaysia’s sons and daughters, if he truly values their contributions to nation-building, if this is not simply nice words to win support as the general election looms, here are some things he can publicly commit himself to do:

  • Exercise decisive leadership in confronting the bigotry and racism that is growing in our nation. Time and again, the same “sons and daughters” of Malaysia that he referred to have been intimidated, demonized and vilified, often by members of his own party. They have been called ‘pendatang’ and viewed as an existential threat. Their religious beliefs have been derided, their places of worship disrespected and some of their religious leaders even abducted. The silence of senior ministers in the face of such provocation has been disconcerting to say the least. The Prime Minister and his cabinet must speak out boldly and decisively whenever bigotry rears its ugly head, must make it clear that racism and extremism have no place in Malaysia or forfeit the right to leadership.
  • Introduce meaningful measures to make our public services open and inclusive. All Malaysia’s sons and daughters must be made to feel that they are welcome, valued, respected and treated fairly in the public services of our nation. Small steps to ensure that qualified individuals from minority communities are appointed vice-chancellors, for example, will do more to break down barriers and make those sons and daughters he talked about feel at home in their own country than a thousand new year messages. For so long as our public services are effectively shut out to minority communities, we will always feel like second-class citizens, mere stepchildren.
  • Take genuine steps to promote a national culture that truly respects and honours our diversity at every level of national life – in the education system and in our schools, in the telling of our history, in government, in sports, in the celebration of our holidays and festivals and in our daily interactions. The Prime Minister should personally lead the celebration of each and every major Malaysian ethnic festival – Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Gawai, Diwali and Christmas – as was the practice many years ago. It sends a powerful message that the Government is committed to celebrating and honouring our diversity.
  • Implement programmes to help the poor and disadvantaged irrespective of race or religion. No Malaysian should be left behind simply because of his or her ethnicity .

Walk the talk and the nation will follow you

By all means build a strong and prosperous future for our Malay brothers and sisters, but don’t forget that non-Malays too, are sons and daughters of Malaysia with hopes and dreams of our own. We shouldn’t have to go to some distant country to realize our dreams, to find success or to be appreciated. By all means develop the spirituality of our Muslim brothers and sisters, but don’t deprive non-Muslims of the space they need to pray, to worship and to practise their own faith.

You have it in your power, Prime Minister, to help make the Malaysian dream a reality for all of Malaysia’s sons and daughters. If you have the courage of your convictions to walk the talk, many will eagerly join you in the quest to build that more prefect nation that we all long for.

In the meantime, I’m sorry, Prime Minister, but nice words and stirring holiday messages are not enough, not after you have been in office for nearly a decade.

Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 16th February 2018