Let's rise above racial rants: The Star

Foreign tourists and Malaysians visit the popular Jalan Alor food street in central Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sep 25, 2015.
Foreign tourists and Malaysians visit the popular Jalan Alor food street in central Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sep 25, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

Malaysians must stick together to face challenges of the new year.

By Wong Chun Wai

The Star/Asia News Network

It's wishful thinking, perhaps, but then it's still a wish that many Malaysians, we are sure, would cherish for Malaysia.

Wouldn't it be nice if some of our politicians would stop talking about mono-ethnicity and in some cases, openly saying the community, which they claim to represent, should just disregard the interests of other races?

When these politicians sow distrust and suspicion among Malaysians, using race and religion, it can only spell trouble.

Worse, when low-level party apparatchiks stir these racial rants, and actually get away with it, without even a slap on the wrist, then we know that the wrong signals have been sent.

Something is fundamentally flawed when we cannot differentiate between right and wrong.

When public institutions of higher learning are allowed to hold seminars questioning the faiths of other Malaysians and no convincing explanations are forthcoming, can we be blamed if we feel there is a sense of injustice, and for that matter, lack of protection for the minorities?

For sure, we can do without such issues in the coming months when Malaysians need to come together, as one nation and one people, more than ever.

Malaysia needs the reconciliation of all races, all religions and all cultures. We need to pull back and ponder the meaning of power sharing - the very basic political principle that has glued this wonderful nation together.

The majority community has to reaffirm the plural fabric of Malaysia and to reemphasise that a multi-racial society is an asset. The continued push for mono-ethnicity and mono-religion will destroy this nation.

On the flip side, the minority Malaysians have to appreciate that power sharing is two-way. They have to accept the political reality. The fact is that the Chinese and Indian communities are shrinking fast while the Malays have grown swiftly.

To put it bluntly, the day will come when the Chinese community drops to 20% and less. When this country achieved independence, the number stood at over 35%.

With 222 parliamentary seats, there are only 35-38 Chinese-majority seats, and no Chinese tsunami is sufficient to overthrow the ruling party.

Without Malay support, any plan to dump Umno will never work, and anyone harbouring that hope should just wake up.

That could be clearly seen at the Bersih 4 rally when the majority of Malays stayed away. Those who strenuously pointed out the presence of Malays were merely lying to themselves, with their unconvincing spin.

Without PAS, the harsh reality is that PKR and Amanah could not rally the Malays. That is certainly telling how these parties would fare, except perhaps for Selangor and Penang, in the coming year.

And when the Chinese voters chose PAS candidates, including even personalities with extreme stands, they probably did not expect PAS and Umno top leaders to sit together on the same stage.

How can Chinese leaders in the Barisan Nasional now tell Umno not to work with PAS when in the 2013 general election, a huge number of Chinese voters supported PAS, at the behest of the DAP?

After kicking PAS out of the now defunct Pakatan Rakyat, PKR is scrambling to woo PAS in the presence of DAP.

Both Umno and PAS are now looking inward at their core supporters, and the other communities are now perceived as being less impactful in the numbers game where Muslim voters will increase in the coming years.

The country could well become more conservative and Islamic, let's be frank, and certainly for liberal and progressive Malaysians, it is a disturbing trend.

The moderate forces have to step up to push back the waves of right-wing nationalism and religious forces.

It may seem like a paradox but Umno leaders are saying they have no choice but to look for alternate political support elsewhere, if they are spurned, and this can only lead to a more fragmented plural Malaysia.

If the political trend is gloomy, many of us are looking at the coming economic year with some apprehension. After all, we have been cautioned that the challenges for 2016 would be even tougher.

The price of oil has already dropped below US$40 (S$56) and this certainly spells trouble. The Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Wahid Omar has said the Government will review Budget 2016 if oil prices continue to stay low.

The Government had planned for the Budget based on the assumption that Brent Crude would average at US$48 per barrel for next year but at midday on Thursday, it was trading around US$37 per barrel.

"The Government will need to optimise the country's expansion plans if oil prices continue to stay low," Wahid said. That includes reviewing some of the projects it has announced.

I remember asking a top official in October when Malaysia would be in trouble, and he said, if the price of oil reached US$43. Well, we have now gone below that.

To put it simply, if you are the head of the household, you now have less money to spend. Obviously, you have to review your family needs and that is precisely what the nation is going through. We cannot live like we used to, whether at the level of a family or as a nation.

Malaysia won't suffer an economic crisis but we are in for a tough time as we face the impact of the continuing oil price slide and its effect on the value of our ringgit.

Most companies in Malaysia have remained operational and people continue to have jobs but operating costs have to be cut as revenue and profits tumble.

Employees can help to keep their jobs by postponing demands and being more productive. We all need to help ourselves.

All this may sound gloomy, as we celebrate this holiday season, but we need to keep our wishes in check.