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Mukhriz Mahathir is a desperate man, quickly fading into irrelevance, among the walking-dead politically speaking. He is so desperate that he is now pleading to join Perikatan Nasional, the very people he once spurned. 

He has also taken the drastic step of parting company with his father, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He knows that his father’s legacy is now fatally impaired, that he has gone as far as he can go by clinging to his father’s coattails. Now he must find common cause with his father’s political enemies to have any hope of political survival.

But he knows that even that might not be enough to save him from oblivion, so he is resorting to what desperate and politically bankrupt politicians in Malaysia usually do to attract attention – play the race card.

In response to a statement by Lim Kit Siang (DAP) on the current state of race relations in Malaysia,[1]Mukhriz took to Facebook to opine that “before we can even entertain the possibility of a non-Malay becoming prime minister, we must first eliminate the factors that divide us as a people.  Only then can we hope to see a non-Malay as nothing other than a Malaysian, not coloured by their ethnic background.”[2] He also seem to imply that vernacular schools had to go before a non-Malay could be accepted as prime minister. 

Mukhriz’s remarks cannot be allowed to go unchallenged because it goes to the very heart of our identity as Malaysians. Mukhriz seems to suggest that somehow non-Malays are not quite Malaysians yet because non-Malays are “coloured by their ethnic background”. 

In other words, no matter how deep their roots go in this land, no matter how much they have sacrificed in blood, sweat and tears for their country, they will never be accepted as equal citizens with equal rights and responsibilities because they are not Malay enough.

This, of course, has been at the heart of the Ketuanan Melayu narrative. Over the years, we have heard complaints that non-Malays are not patriotic enough[3], that they can’t be trusted because they don’t swear on the Quran,[4] that they tend to resist converting to the predominant religion, that they preserve their own customs, that they still speak in their respective vernaculars and even that they still use chopsticks instead of eating with their hands like Malays.[5]

This is the ugly reality of racism and bigotry that is at the back of everything that goes on in Malaysia despite more than half a century of so-called nation-building. 

Racists like Mukhriz will talk – zombie-like – about democracy, about the importance of meritocracy, about giving everyone an opportunity to serve irrespective of their race or religion but will, at the same time, caveat those grand sentiments with conditionalities that make it impossible for non-Malays to actually participate in the governance of the nation as equal partners.

The fact is no matter how good or qualified a non-Malay candidate may be – not just to be PM but AG or Chief Justice or Vice-chancellor or Chief Secretary or even other lesser positions, the racists in our midst will always find a reason to oppose it. 

That is what racists do; that is how racists behave. They are driven by their own fears, prejudices and insecurities. They can make the most appallingly bigoted remarks and still insist that they are not racist. They are phonies too; they send their own kids to the finest English schools and then complain about Chinese schools. 

But here’s my message to Mukhriz and all the other racists and bigots out there: like it or not, non-Malays are equal citizens under the Constitution. They don’t need to prove their loyalty or abandon their respective cultures just to conform to somebody else’s view of what a Malaysian should look like, particularly if that someone else is a failed and fading bigot. 

At this critical juncture when our nation is beset with humongous problems arising out of a gross failure of leadership, what we need are good, honest and capable politicians, people who will not steal or use their positions to enrich themselves, people who seek to unite not divide, people who strive to serve all Malaysians with equal fervour and compassion, people who believe in Malaysia and want to see it rise to become the great nation it can be. 

Haven’t we had enough of people who talk loudly about ‘bangsa, agama dan negara’ and then go on to steal and abuse their power while tearing apart the fabric of our nation to cover up their misdeeds?  

Until we are ready for a Malaysia where race and religion don’t matter as much as character, integrity and selfless service to king and country, our nation will always be in distress, never able to fulfil its potential as one of the truly great nations of the world. 

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 07 March 2023]

[1] Dare to dream if Malaysia is ready to have non-Malay PM By Lim Kit Siang | 03 March 2023 | https://klse.i3investor.com/web/blog/detail/savemalaysia/2023-03-03-story-h-296534459-Dare_to_dream_if_Malaysia_is_ready_to_have_non_Malay_PM_By_Lim_Kit_Siang

[2] Eliminate factors dividing people, before non-Malay as PM can be considered – Mukhriz | NST | 06 March 2023

[3] Lack of patriotism among reasons for lack of non-Malays in the armed forces | The Star |09 Nov 2010

[4] ‘Non-Malay should not be AG’ remark reflects Malay sentiment – Nazri |Malaysiakini | 25 Feb 2019

[5] Dr M uses chopstick example to lament challenges in assimilating non-Malays | Malaysiakini | 12 Dec 2021