This country is at a crossroads. This is a crossroads which we cannot afford to pause for too long to decide which path to take. In the recent weeks, we have seen both coalitions, Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat, making their political agenda public.
Both coalitions are determined to convince the people that they are a better choice to be entrusted with the power to rule and govern this country.
Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's administration has announced its Government Transformation Programme (GTP) which contains more than 7,000 nationwide activities, over 2,000 projects and 100 programmes.
GTP aims to address teething issues such as gaining access to quality and affordable education, crime prevention, reducing corruption, addressing poverty, upgrading infrastructure in the rural areas and improving public transportation.
These are long-standing issues which have a direct impact on the people's standard of living. His administration has asked to be given 12 months to deliver some significant results.
Najib's main concern is the cooperation of the civil service to help implement the vast ranging activities and programmes. Past programmes and plans had hit the brick wall due to a lack of enthusiasm from the civil servants and a poor coordination and management from the executives.
Not to be outdone, the newly minted Pakatan informal coalition has unveiled its common platform which defines the coalition's position on various areas e.g. education, economy, healthcare, women, labour, security, language, culture and others.
Most significantly, the Pakatan leadership has promised to implement the Equal Opportunity Act to address any potential victimisation and marginalisation. The coalition has vowed to move beyond the race affirmative policy.
Ketuanan Melayu vs Ketuanan Rakyat
The New Economy Policy which promotes selective treatment and special privileges based on race is a crucial and serious issue. This issue has not been properly addressed by both coalitions.
While BN has chosen to liberalise certain sectors which are not dominantly controlled by the Malays, it has steered clear of any suggestion to promote meritocracy in the country.
The coalition leader, Umno, believes that there is still some attraction in its propaganda as the anointed protector and defender of Malay supremacy.
The party has been using the federal resources to promote this agenda through the secretive and controversial Biro Tata Negara courses which are purportedly conducted to imbue nationalism and patriotism.
In actual fact, the courses were used as propaganda tool by the party to strengthen its position within the Malay-Bumiputera electorates which it sees as key to its electoral success.
The main problem with BN's approach is that real wealth is not distributed to the vast majority of needy ones. Instead, the NEP has been manipulated and abused to enrich a selected few and fuelled massive corruption within the system.
Pakatan has countered with its pledge to do away with the race affirmative policy and move towards a need based policy. It argues that this policy will eventually help those who really it.
Naturally, its 'ketuanan rakyat' (people supremacy) approach is popular with the minorities.
However, it stops short of explaining how it intends to help build the confidence of Malay community especially the civil servants, rural folks and small business community that they will not be overwhelmed by competition and market forces.
It is rather naïve for the Pakatan coalition to expect their 'ketuanan rakyat' or need-based policy to be successful without successfully addressing the inferiority and psyche barrier of the Malays to accept such drastic changes.
This mindset has been inculcated since the implementation of NEP in the early 70's. The Malay community was mentally prepared to accept, expect and demand for their special rights and social status.
However, this does not mean that members of the community do not want to break away from this shackle. A number of young Malay graduates have spoken out about the humiliation they faced from the society's perception that their community is lazy, weak and genetically inferior.
Addressing the Malay dilemma
The Malay dilemma is nothing cultural or genetics. What is truly needed is a comprehensive strategy to help integrate the community back into mainstream development and the real world.
What they need is real empowerment and not perpetual protection. The empowerment must be guided and administered properly so that the community does not feel humiliated or a need to defend their survival and integrity.
There is a need to build a strong confidence within the Malay psyche that they are as capable as other communities within and without the country to enhance their standard of living and to stamp a mark at the international level.
They must believe that knowledge acquisition, determination, hard work and creativity are what they need to succeed and not endless protection and handouts from the ruling regime.
The most crucial area which requires immediate attention is the education system. The state of national schools is a good indication of the problem which plagued the community. More than 90 percent of students attending the national schools are Malay.
The Chinese community avoided sending their children to national schools because of a low quality perception. With such a perception, are these schools doing any justice to the development, education and character building of the Malay students?
The focus of the BN government should not be mainly about the medium of instruction or gaining prominence for the Malay language and culture solely. Ironically, the government spends more than RM30 billion annually on education sector and yet its executives and officers are not able to ensure quality education at the national schools.
The improvement of national schools is crucial to help the Malay community to acquire the necessary skills, knowledge and self-confidence to compete with others. By putting the national education system in proper order, it will help to improve the enrolment from other communities.
Before the nationalisation of English medium schools in the mid 70's, they enjoyed more than 75 percent enrolment from the Chinese community. This is the best historical evidence which proved that parents put commercial value and good education above cultural consideration.
Crucial questions for both coalitions
A low participation of Malays in the private sector is a stumbling block to end this race affirmative action too. Less than 20 percent of Malay businessmen are participating in the small medium industries. Most of the bumiputera equity shares are being held by government agencies or special purpose bodies created to participate in the private sector or a handful of connected individuals.
This issue had created a raging debate about the real bumiputera equity ownership just before the 12th general election.
The debate has achieved very little to address the problem of gross income
and wealth inequality in the Malay community. Moreover, finger pointing, political interest and racially charged statements had worsened race relations in the country.
The main problem has yet to be adequately addressed by both coalitions. How to enhance, strengthen, promote and encourage Malay entrepreneurship in the country?
How many Malay owned businesses are producing products and offering services that could attract consumers from all walks of life? How many bumiputera companies can survive and prosper in the private sector without depending on any contracts and handouts from the government?
These are crucial questions that both BN and Pakatan will have to seriously ponder and help to answer. Both coalitions cannot survive having the NEP and race based affirmative policy perpetuated. Not in its current form which is riddled with self-interest and abuses.
However, without seriously addressing these serious shortcomings and inferiority complex of the Malay community it will be difficult to see how both BN and Pakatan can be successful in their attempt to convince the majority that we are ready to move forward as a nation and not a nation divided.
BN has to undo and repair the damage it has done to the community with its skewed and irresponsible implementation and abuse of the policy. Its opponent, Pakatan, has to convince the community that it can move forward without the imaginary clutches.
Both must help to connect the Malay community to mainstream development and the international community. Otherwise, the frameworks, proposals and programmes introduced by the two competing coalitions will meet a common destiny – failure.
The main dilemma for the rest of us is time is running out.