By Joachim Ng
Ipoh-born Vicky Treadell, former British High Commissioner to Malaysia, remembers fondly her childhood days playing with Malay, Indian, and Chinese schoolmates at Tarcisian Convent near Maxwell Road where she lived. Back then, Ipohites were Malaysians unsegregated into racial categories except in the official statistics.
Till now this remains the street reality, as open-air marketplaces and commercial workspaces display much inter-ethnic friendships and customer relationships. But in the realm of politics and governance, we have become a race-based society. At every by-election, and in the next general election to come, we are counted by our separate racial identities, and not our common Malaysian identity.
It’s more than just a race for victory. Every political party sets up a war room to prepare for battle at the polls. And believe it or not, on March 13 during a Dewan Rakyat session, some parliamentarians actually said loudly that they would welcome a war. Is democracy a war game to be fought by our elected reps at taxpayers’ great expense?
Over the past 10 months there have also been calls for elections at local authority levels. If this wish is granted, the race mania will grip every town and city with neighbourhood fences turned into racial fault-lines. Vicky’s childhood multi-ethnic mosaic will disappear in a fiery blaze forever. Don’t let the rabble-rousing party vote-catchers turn every neighbourhood into a racial precinct. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is right in fearing that local council elections will churn up racial conflict, as the race card will obviously be played.
The street where you live and the park where children gather for games are the sole surviving spaces for non-racial democracy that focuses neutrally on everyone’s well-being in the locality. Never surrender them to the politicians, as the best neighbourhoods in Malaysia are those with active residents associations or management corporations.
Do you care whether your neighbourhood chairman is a Malay, an Indian, or a Chinese? All you care is whether he is actively serving the neighbourhood. This is non-racial democratic governance, and it ensures a better life for all dutiful residents.
Their only problem is: residents associations and management corporations have to raise every ringgit from members, as they get no financial help. All the money collected in the form of assessment tax levied on property owners goes to the town or city council. But it’s not the council that can effectively look after you. It’s the dedicated volunteers who sit on residents or owners committees in your neighbourhood.
NEXT: High Time for Neighbourhood Self-governance