Ivanpal Grewal

Lawyer & political activist


As we celebrate the 52nd Anniversary of the formation of Malaysia, let us rededicate ourselves to the founding precepts and values of this country.

In 1963, dealing with a confrontational Indonesia and a skeptical former colonial master, Malaysians led by Tunku Abdul Rahman, Temenggung Jugah Anak Baering, Tun Mustapha Harun, Tun Donald Stephens (later Fuad Stephens), Stephen Kalong Ningkan, Tun Abdul Razak and many others fought against the tide to build a nation.

To quote Tunku Abdul Rahman as he read the proclamation of Malaysia: “Malaysia … forever be an independent and sovereign democratic State founded upon liberty and justice, ever seeking to defend and uphold peace and harmony among its people and to perpetuate peace among nations.”

As we take stock of 5 decades of material progress we find ourselves at a crossroads and there is a wide held view that race relations and relations between the regions of east and west Malaysia have actually deteriorated.

I for one believe that building and sustaining a diverse nation is tough business. I would not for a moment pretend that it is easy to balance the competing demands and interests but the key to Malaysia’s success has always been growing the economic cake and focusing on creating wealth for all Malaysians while addressing historical antecedents such as inequality and poverty.

Malaysia today has grown by leaps and bounds and we are no longer a sleepy agrarian state but an industrialised country with superb infrastructure, high levels of education and urbanisation.

The Barisan Nasional government, despite vehement protests from its detractors, managed to transform Malaysia in under a generation and this is no mean feat. With policies specifically targeted to uplift the native population whilst sufficiently providing for the advancement of other communities; a recipe for success has been engendered especially when dealing with stubborn socio-economic problems like inequality and wealth distribution. Every Malaysian, regardless of ethnicity or background, can proudly say they are better off today compared to 30 or 40 years ago.

However, as we step into the second phase of the growth of the nation, more development eventually leads to call for greater democratisation. Malaysians who find themselves content with material wealth and a relatively high standard of living now find a new calling in the form of greater freedom and democracy.

Tun Abdullah, the 5th Prime Minister, opened the doors of democracy after assuming power in 2003 but little did he realise the level of pent up frustration. While I accept that democracy is indeed a messy business but we must always remain vigilant against rabid and unbridled openness because we have not, as a society, reached a level of political and social maturity capable of accepting some of the harsher aspects of democracy such an open critiques on issues such a ethnicity and religion.

Our current Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak went a step further and abolished the Internal Security Act, the emergency ordinance and other acts of parliament that we antithesis to contemporary democratic values.

I find myself back again at the Bersih 4.0 rally over the Merdeka weekend where the reprehensible actions of a number of protesters who stepped and pretended to defecate on the picture of the Prime Minister and created mock funeral processions has now led to a counter demonstration by a group who have now dubbed themselves “Red Shirts.”

Bersih has tested the limits of democratic and institutional patience. From an organisation calling for free and fair elections they have morphed effectively into a political party. By demanding the resignation of a Prime Minister who commands a majority in Parliament they have clearly overstepped the boundaries of political decency in the Malaysian context.

As a direct response to this provocation, motley of Malay organisations lead by PESAKA arranged a rally on 16th September 2015. I am principally against any rallies that are racial or contrary to democratic values. I do not support the “red shirts” because it is against my political values. Furthermore, our national days are sacrosanct should not be pilfered by any organisation.

The organisers of the “red shirts” rally must remember that two wrongs do not make a right. As angry as one may be with Bersih 4.0, assembling in the very way that one was critical of does not inspire confidence.

What pains me is the overtly racial stands that have been taken by the “red shirts” initially but after much criticism a lot of it has been tempered but the rally is already tainted and despite open invitations to Chinese and Indians to be part of the rally, the initial actions of the organisers have created irreparable damage. But the racist utterances that were made by certain rally goers are not only wrong but very disheartening.

To quote eminent Canadian author, Pierre Berton, “racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy.” Malaysia is big enough for every Malaysian and we must work cohesively with the national interests entrenched as our overriding objective to propel the nation forward.

After 5 decades as an independent and sovereign people, we find ourselves trapped by the racialist thinking that is regressive. It is painful to see so much of distrust as we are stronger when we are together. There is a need for soul searching and Malaysians must ask themselves: where do we want to go as a nation? What kind of country and society we seek to build? A house divided against itself cannot stand, Malaysians must learn to trust and respect one another and development and progress is not a zero sum game instead we all gain when the country does well regardless of our ethnicity or religion.

We can only succeed in building a Malaysian nation if we all think and act as Malaysians first. Our ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic identities must complement our Malaysian identity and not supersede it.

I am proud that my party has taken a principled stand against Bersih and the “red shirts” rally Even though it is painful sometimes to be hit by both sides, it is a necessary price to pay to ensure there are enough moderates and balanced thinking Malaysians.

Originally published on The Star on Thursday September 17, 2015 MYT 3:28:00 PM