Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Segregation, Idealism, Singapore and the US Presidential Horse Race

Written by johnleemk on 10:47:59 am Feb 8, 2007.

It's been a while since we did a round-up of the comments that have been pouring in about the site, so it's about time we dealt with this backlog. A few of the comments being posted here have already had replies emailed back to their authors, while many others are being responded to directly here. If you have a comment, you can always send it — immediately without needing to register — via the form at the end of each article.

Segregated schools

Quoted from: tanstaafl
John, I agree with your contention that the vernacular schools do in fact contribute to the segragation of Malaysian society by race.

However, as a parent and under the current circumstances, it would be criminal of me to choose to send my children to national schools. I made a very carefully considered decision to send my children to a chinese school at least at the primary level.

Firstly, based on my own past experience, I strongly believe that as a general rule, a national school would not provide the kind of competitive environment that would inculcate the necessary discipline and desire in my children to excel. This is clearly not the general case in chinese schools and although this is sometimes carried overboard, it is up to me as a parent to monitor and moderate this as necessary.

Secondly, I strongly believe that (and I note that you concur) a solid grounding in Mandarin is an absolute necessity for the future success of my children. Whilst this could also be obtained through private tutoring, this factor when combined with 1 above make the choice of a chinese school a given.

Insofar as tuition is concerned, I strongly disagree with you that it is just a matter of economics. From my personal observations, I have noted that generally Chinese families will make the necessary sacrifices to ensure that their children have the best education possible.

Conversely, while some non-Chinese families place the same priority on education, many others are not prepared to make these sacrifices. They say that they would like to send their children to pre-school/special classes/tuition, etc but can't afford it. In one particular case, this is the excuse given even though they make more than my wife and I and drive much better cars. It does not seem to occur to them that the RM100s they spend monthly on weekend outings would more than pay for the fees involved.

I'm not contending that this is a cultural matter but clearly there is a factor at work here that leads to these differences.

In rural areas, the Malays have no problems organising religious classes. My question is why these classes cannot be used to teach other subjects. Is it a matter of costs or different priorities? If it is cost, why are there no petitions from the rural areas for grants to hire tutors, etc? Lack of teachers cannot be a reason for this since there are clearly government schools in many rural areas whose teachers would probably be willing to make a few extra bucks.

On a closing note, I would say that I have issues with chinese schools that trumpet the "superiority" of the Chinese race or culture. For this reason, in choosing which school to send my children to, I avoided chinese schools in certain areas.

Based on my experience, actually, I think the more important factor in our education system is not which school you go to, but rather where you go for tuition. The most competitive students have invariably attended tuition on a regular basis, regardless of what school they came from - and I found this to be true as well in secondary school. (There are some rare exceptions such as myself, but I found most of these succumbed to the tuition bug as well in secondary school.)

Having said that, I of course recognise that many parents feel uncomfortable with the choice they are presented with, and prefer Chinese schools. That's acceptable, given the terrible state our national schools are in, and I certainly would not blame anyone who sent their child to a Chinese school for the sake of competitiveness.

I agree that different priorities are another possible factor that I did not consider. Nevertheless, as I said, the fact that tuition is required to succeed academically in this country is an indictment of our education system as a whole, and not any particular school system or ethnic community.

Furthermore, the correlation between income and urbanisation and academic performance has been found almost invariably in societies where tuition does not play a major role in academic success. Most studies that have confirmed this link were conducted in Western countries with strong public education systems like the US. The reason is that from young, those of a privileged background are exposed to many more self-advancement opportunities than those from a less advantaged one. I personally think I could be cited as an example - I found many of my classmates in college who came from elite public national schools were exposed to a much wider range of educational and extracurricular opportunities than I ever had, and thus felt I had been a bit robbed of my potential when I was in school.

At any rate, I find it depressing that so many factors have converged to divide our society and widen disparities between our different communities. This should not have happened, especially given all the money we've been able to blow on useless megaprojects like the Twin Towers.

Opposition are not castrati

Quoted from: Outsider
When I was 16 I also was idealistic like you, though I spent more time chasing girls than chasing dreams. But I admire your spunk. And maturity for so young a person. But I take issue with your calling the opposition castrati. Some opposition figures have been incarcerated without trial, tortured and had their human rights grossly violated - just because they chose to expose and oppose the government's misdeeds. They suffered for Malaysians as a whole but got nothing but mental and physical scars to show for it. The simple fact is, Malaysia is not yet ready for a political change of seismic proportions, as on your wish list. Not for so long as the Malays are in their comfort zone (government jobs for the taking, ease of entry to universities, bumi discounts for this and that, etc). The rakyat (and that must include the Malays) will have to go through much more suffering before they decided that they have had enough then they will the ones to make the change. But that, unfortunately, might not happen within my lifetime - and yours. That's because Malaysia is a country rich both in in natural and human resources, possessing a resilience which will buffer the country from descending into a basket case like the Philippines. Meantime we might like to consider giving our vote to Anwar Ibrahim He is arguably the best person to set up a meaningful opposition party to BN, thus leading to a two-party system with all its checks and balances.

I think we have committed the fallacy here of measuring people by ideals and aims, rather than results. I have the utmost respect for anyone who would go to jail, so many times and under the most trying of circumstances, to stand up for the ideals they believe in. But if this does not do anything to advance your cause, what good is it going behind bars? How have any of the various jailings under our draconian laws led to a more free and open society?

Unlike Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi, the opposition leaders have not been able to effect meaningful change through their imprisonment. Like Mandela and Gandhi, they have very strong ideals — but what good are ideals and good intentions if you cannot follow through on them and effect change through them? If you do the same thing over and over expecting a change in the result, you are called insane. If the opposition does the same thing over and over expecting a change in the result, it's called principled leadership.

I respect the iron will, passion and patriotism of men like Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng. I especially think the elder Lim deserves more acknowledgement for his strong belief in his ideals, and his willingness to go to jail for them. But most unfortunately, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I think it's high time the opposition evaluated its tactics, because it's becoming more and more apparent that human rights concerns don't resonate with our society. If the opposition leaders want their ideals to become a reality, they have to actively work towards this, instead of hoping their good intentions and passion will be enough.

If someone cannot achieve their goals, despite all their good intentions and their hard work, they still have to be called a failure. It's really as simple as that.

As for a "change of seismic proportions", I look to the long run. We cannot achieve radical change in terms of years, or possibly even a few decades, but if we start now with implementing slow, incremental moves in the direction of our long term goals, these steps will add up, and one day we will find our goals for change were achieved, without anyone ever realising it.

In a follow-up to Death of Malaysia (perhaps appropriately titled Resurrecting a Dead Malaysia), I provided an example of this. We cannot abolish the Bumi privileges under the NEP overnight. What we can do is to first abolish them for those with a net worth above RM10 million. Just cancel all their subsidies, all their opportunities to gain shares at discounted prices, all their unfair advantages in scholarships, bidding for contracts, etc. Nobody can seriously contest this — who wants to give the obscenely rich such a grotesque upper hand?

Then, we pour the money gained from this into aiding the poorest Bumis with programmes that can make a real difference. As time goes by, we slowly lower the net worth bar, and one day, the Bumis will decide they don't need their privileges under the NEP anymore - just as Tun Dr. Ismail envisioned. This is what should and would have occurred naturally under the NEP, if it had been implemented properly instead of being corrupted and used to advance the elite Malay class.

And I have to say that those thinking we can escape the fate of the Philippines have not thought things through. Where does our development stem from? Where do we get all our money from? The biggest companies in the country are those with close ties to the government - and where does the government's revenue come from? Hint: they ain't called the Petronas Twin Towers for nothing. Our country is founded on a finite resource.

Once this supply is exhausted — something which could happen as early as 20 years from now — unless we have other opportunities lined up, we will be very soon headed for "basket case" status. Considering the useless state our education system is in, and that we don't have many other meaningful natural resources, I think we're doomed unless we start planning for gradual change now. We have to get serious about upgrading our human capital, because even if we have all the bounty in the world, if we don't have the people to take advantage of it, it will all come to naught.

As for voting recommendations, I think most people can tell I recommend voting for anyone but Barisan Nasional. If the alternative is wholly unpalatable (e.g. PAS), then stay home or spoil your vote. I don't recommend any specific parties at the present, because I find the opposition isn't very focused.

Singapore as an example of a level playing field

Quoted from: Philip Lam
The statement:
"It can even be justifiably argued that Singapore systemically marginalises the Malays."
as appeared in your article is certainly untrue. The Malays in Singapore have achieved success on a level playing field. Owing to their achievement, they feel superior to their Malaysian brothers and sisters, who are served whatever they have on a silver (or golden) plate.
I am not a Singaporean who takes sides. I am a Malaysian who is privilleged to see things on both sides of the causeway with a good helicopter view.
In the Singapore uniform services and the civil services, one can see Malays holding senior positions, including that of fighter pilots! I challenge anyone to find a Chinese Malaysian who holds a senior position in the Malaysian uniform services today.

One thing I like to say about Singapore is that if they are discriminatory, they're so damn bloody smart that they know how to cover it up. (In contrast with our country, which goes about very blatantly in treating non-Malays as second-class citizens.) It is certainly undeniable that the Malays have been given a relatively level economic playing field, and that Singapore has had a number of quiet affirmative action programmes aimed at upgrading the skills and education of the Malays there.

However, the fact is that racial tensions exist on a quiet level in Singapore. This comment is one example. Another example is the veritable trove of quotes from top Singaporean leaders, including (especially?) Lee Kuan Yew about how they cannot trust Malay soldiers because they may have divided loyalties if Singapore ever goes to war with Malaysia. Singapore has its own problems, although they are much less significant than those in Malaysia, and have been significantly ameliorated by a lack of racial politics and a unified public school system.

Singapore is an excellent role model for Malaysia in numerous respects, but we have to be careful about assuming that everything it has done is right. As the commenter I linked to noted, a number of overt measures such as quotas are still in use for things like public housing, and it has been argued in some forums (namely Malaysia Today) that Singapore quietly marginalises the non-Chinese through a non-transparent system of awarding public scholarships. Whatever the case may be, I do not think we can describe Singapore as an unqualified success in terms of race relations.

Questionable candidacies

Quoted from: tanstaafl
I follow the American political scene closely as well and mostly agree with what you've written. However, I have reservations about HR Clinton.

While I have not done extensive research, I have noted on a few occasions comments, views and positions taken that lead me to think that she is a consumate actress. She is saying and projecting what is needed for her to get elected and not necessarily what she believes.

Also, while Clinton may be the a strong contender as the Democratic candidate, I have to wonder given the demonstrated conservatiness of the US voters in the 2000 and 2004 Elections, whether her gender will be a major problem should she be the Democratic presidential candidate.

From the global perspective, I expect HR Clinton, if elected, to be more of the same i.e. "the democratic arm or the single party state" (I'm sure you know what I'm alluding to by that) and she will consequently hew to the US interest comes first policy.

Obama on the other hand offers hope of true change not just in the US but also, in the US position vis a vis the rest of the world. However, I'm not certain whether he is just a dreamer or has actual practical plans for change. Nonetheless, he is an attractive candidate for those who desire something different.

However, I'm getting the feeling that Obama is going to fizzle out over the next couple of months. The US MSM seems to be marginalising him as a serious contender regardless of the initial hoopla.

Edwards doesn't stand out much to me. He's just the male version of HR Clinton but his gender is probably an advantage.

Questioning Clinton's electability isn't really anything new. However, most of those who would not vote her probably wouldn't vote for any other of the Democratic candidates — especially not Edwards the overt leftist, and probably not Barack Hussein Obama the black with a Muslim name. Furthermore, Clinton has a huge advantage in that she has no more skeletons in the closet; all her black marks and dirty laundry have been aired. The media won't bother publicising old issues, so she's quite safe in this regard, unlike Obama and (to a lesser extent) Edwards.

I wouldn't begrudge any American President holding a "US interest comes first policy". It's an unfortunate fact that even in the era of globalisation, the nation state still reigns supreme as a political institution. It's every country for itself, and I'm sure our own leaders (assuming they have the country's interests at heart) take a "Malaysian interest comes first policy" in diplomacy.

Obama, I think, will suffer from, as you say, marginalisation from the mainstream media, and possibly also from his lack of major experience. (Then again, it's very difficult for long-time Senators to win Presidential elections, because the complicated Senate voting system practically ensures you can have something to whack them on the head with, as Kerry was whacked in 2004.) Whatever the case, I really hope he is the Vice-Presidential candidate, along with Clinton. It would be a very balanced (albeit a bit too "historical") ticket.

Edwards gave a very inspiring speech at the recent Democratic National Committee meeting. I watched the video online, and it sounded to me like a bunch of treacly trite "feel good" stories that seemed too calculating to be true. I still don't know if Edwards can be trusted to refrain from things like extreme protectionist stands.

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