Monday, October 16, 2006

Is the BN Partnership An Equal Partnership?

I stand by my previous view on the BN partnership model. Over the years, UMNO has grown more intolerant and dominant. Its partners, fearing the wrath of UMNO, have grown meek and weak. Is this a reflection of our society?

BN a model? US should think again

Karen Hughes, the United States under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, hailed the Malaysian power-sharing government as an outstanding model for Iraq. She said that while the BN coalition is led by a party representing the countryŠŐ» majority ethnic Malays via Umno, minority Chinese and Indian parties are represented in the cabinet and parliament.

This statement is an apparent attempt by the US government to legitimise its political approach for the Iraqi people by trying to draw support from a seemingly moderate Muslim majority country, Malaysia. The statement by the under secretary is not consistent with the previous US government criticisms hurled at Malaysia for its discriminatory race-based policies and draconian laws (such as the Internal Security Act).

In fact, the BN structure mirrors that of the United Nations. There is a clear dichotomy which exists in both structures. In UN, the Americans dictate the direction of the international body. Any decision taken by the institution cannot contravene the US government's interest. Unilateralism is carefully defended and promoted as a tool to justify the US as the only super power - domination of the international body.

In BN, the dichotomy exists between Umno and the rest of the component parties. Policy decisions are made by the dominant party, Umno, and then it uses the other component parties to legitimise its decisions. Other political parties in BN, which represent the minority races in Malaysia, do not have a direct input in most public policies.

The formulation of the Ninth Malaysia Plan is a good example. Parties such as MCA and MIC have to submit a special memorandum on behalf of the Chinese and Indian communities to the government for consideration despite being part of the ruling government and the power-sharing pledge. Such an irony is a common occurrence in Malaysia.

Second, on the rights to mother-tongue education, cultural preservation and the freedom of religious practice, both the Chinese and Indian communities have to find their own resources to support these activities. Many of the vernacular schools are self-funded by the communities although more than 30 percent of all students in Malaysia attend these national-type schools which conduct teaching in either Mandarin or Tamil. These national-type schools received less than four percent of the total allocation made for the education sector under the Eighth Malaysia Plan.

The Malay domination of the policy-making machinery, of the public sector which implements these policies, of the country's key resources and of other strategic institutional mechanisms in the country is undisputable. Power-sharing and collective governance is superficial in Malaysia. As such, a precursory evaluation of the BN power-sharing model is inadequate in shaping the US decision to implement a similar model in Iraq.

The Malaysian society however, although unhappy with the weaknesses of the BN power-sharing model, does not resort to violence or civil war to resolve the issue, unlike the more volatile and aggressive environment in Iraq. Any marginalisation of the minorities in Iraq will not be taken peacefully. The US government should seek the opinions and views of its large numbers of thinkers before making any decision on Iraq. It may find itself out of the pot and into the fire for making an unscrupulous, politically-motivated decision.

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