In recent days there has been an avalanche of comments on whether the government should recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) issued by the 61 independent (private) Chinese schools that still survive.
Currently, it is not recognised by local public universities as an entry requirement though local private institutions and some foreign universities do. Both Umno-BN and Pakatan Harapan (PH) had promised in their respective manifestos to recognise it albeit with conditionalities (Bahasa Malaysia, for example).
Malay rights groups are now working themselves into a frenzy warning that UEC recognition would endanger national unity, jeopardise the existing harmony in the country, endanger the Malay race, undermine sovereignty, and even impact civilisation (whatever that means).
Pawn on a chessboard
Listening to all these shrill warnings makes you wonder if they are referencing some weapon of mass destruction rather than a simple examination certificate. It is mind-boggling that a simple examination certificate issued by a declining number of private schools (comprising less than 2.5% of the total number of secondary schools in the country) has the potential to do so much damage.
But let’s be honest: this whole brouhaha over UEC recognition is not really about national unity or even education policy but about Malay supremacy.
The truth, the ugly truth, is that the UEC issue is merely a pawn on the chessboard of a much wider battle that has assumed fresh urgency in the wake of Umno’s defeat in the last election. Malay supremacists see the election defeat as a setback for the so-called Malay agenda and are pushing back.
In essence, it is an argument about the kind of nation Malaysia should be: a nation built on equality and justice for all or an apartheid-like one based on Malay exceptionalism.
Malay supremacists tend to see everything as a zero-sum game. They don’t see the appointment of non-Malays to high office (Chief Justice, Attorney-General) as a plus for national unity and inclusiveness but as a setback for Malay power. They don’t see the non-Malay faces in Cabinet as a welcome reflection of our diversity but as an assault on their right to rule exclusively (sans some tokenism to belie their racism).
They’d rather have dishonest men of the ‘right’ race in key positions than good men of the ‘wrong’ race. In their calculus, every step forward for the non-Malays is a step backward for the Malays, every concession made, a threat to their very existence.
With them, there is no compromise, no common ground, nothing left over to share. Even their definition of terms like national unity and harmony differs from its common usage –unity means respect for Malay supremacy; harmony means non-Malay acceptance of their inferior position.
Of course, it is also a fight for the right to plunder the nation’s resources and enrich themselves at the expense of the very people they claim to be fighting for.
They have fed on their own bile for so long that it has blinded them to reality and taken them to new heights of hypocrisy.
And so, they look the other way while the country’s sovereignty is progressively imperilled by indebtedness from dubious deals with China but get worked up by imaginary threats to sovereignty posed by a mere examination certificate.
They protest about foreign interference when the US Department of Justice investigates MO1 for the largest action ever undertaken under the US Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, but have nothing to say about recent revelations that the former government had secretly appealed to the US for help to cling to power in the event they lost the popular vote.
They make a fuss about Chinese education but don’t seem to notice the rising number of international schools in the country offering British, American, Australian or Arab national curricula. They have no problem accepting foreign curricula but get their knickers in a knot over the curriculum of a declining number of local Chinese schools. They howl and scream against Chinese education at home but quietly send their sons to China to study.
A sham construct
Their whole argument against UEC recognition (as well as related issues) is simply a sham construct, a fig leaf to cover the racism that lurks behind it.
To be sure, they themselves don’t really believe all the allegations they tirelessly throw about, but it is useful to stir up the masses and generate the outrage they need to pressure the PH government into acceding to the so-called Malay agenda while plotting their own return to power.
After all, who really believes that the Malays are about to be “bastardised” in their own country as former Prime Minister Najib Razak warned recently (and this from the very man who did more to “bastardise” the nation than anyone else). Or that Christianity is about to become the official religion of the country, as Umno Supreme Council member Lokman Noor Adam claims.
They know its all fake news but they are more than willing to spread it to fuel fears and exploit insecurities for the sake of power; national unity be damned.
How will PH respond?
Undoubtedly, Malay supremacist groups now pose the biggest challenge to the PH government and the reform agenda. How PH responds to this challenge will determine not only the very character of our nation going forward but, quite possibly, the outcome of the next election.
For a start, PH leaders need to go on the offensive to rebut the unfounded and nonsensical allegations being made by Malay supremacists. Fabricated allegations and false charges must not be allowed to stand.
As well, they need to do a far better job convincing the rural heartland that, far from weakening race and religion, the reforms now under way will benefit them more than anyone else, that having a clean government staffed by capable, honest and accountable leaders dedicated to enriching the nation instead of themselves is in the best interests of all Malaysians.
Ultimately, the biggest contribution that the PH government can make to the future of our nation will be to moderate a national conversation on how our nation will be defined and the steps that must be taken to get there. After decades of racism and bigotry, it won’t be easy, but ignoring it is no longer an option.
Dennis Ignatius is a former ambassador.
First published in FMT