Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Will There Ever Be A Chinese Prime Minister?

Written by johnleemk on 8:53:18 pm Mar 28, 2007.

"AC" writes in to comment about the lack of political equality in the country. According to him, we will never see a Chinese in a major Cabinet position:

It is not just Islam that opens doors in Malaysia. It is about race. It is about political background, it is about patronage and connections.

As the dominant race is Malay, and most Malays are Muslims - Islam gets tagged in as well - as a convenient means to package and sell one's politics.

There will never be a Chinese Defence Minister in Malaysia regardless of whether a conversion to Islam have occured; and there will never be a Chinese Foreign Minister, Finance Minister, Deputy Prime Minister or Prime Minister.

And yes, Kufar will be discriminated against for being Chinese no matter how much of Islam he embraces, no matter how he forsake his roots.

I think a terrible irony of all this is that while we condemn the Malays, especially those in the government, for being so obsessed with race, that we ignore our own subtle bias when it comes to ethnicity. After all, why categorically rule out only Chinese? What of the Indians, or of any of those other minorities that our country has decided to reject?

For the question of whether there will be a non-Malay Prime Minister, or of whether a non-Malay will ever hold a major Cabinet portfolio, I personally too am pessimistic. I have decided that our country will not see a non-Malay Prime Minister in my lifetime, and possibly even my children's lifetime. (Although I'm always hoping for a Thatcher-esque coincidence — Maggie Thatcher once swore that a woman would not become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in her lifetime.)

Still, in the true long run (on the scale of a century or two), I believe there is cause to be optimistic. Stranger things have happened, after all. Tan Siew Sin was Finance Minister in the 1960s, in case anyone forgot (I think AC did, since he/she mentions the post of Finance Minister as one that will never be held by a Chinese).

Whatever the case may be, I am not too bothered by the question of what my Prime Minister's skin colour is. What I want to know is how capable he or she is, and how well he or she can run my country. I don't care what race or religion my leaders are — I only care about how well they can lead.

Moreover, if we look at the realpolitik of things, I think if we want our country to be governed and administered efficiently, we have no choice but to accept a Malay as Prime Minister. Even if we had the brightest Chinese or Indian or Dayak political genius leading the country, he would have to muster support from the largest community in the country — and I am really skeptical that an entire generation raised on the racial politics of Mahathir would lend its support to a non-Malay, thus crushing the chance of our non-Malay Prime Minister actually achieving anything meaningful.

I remember reading — I cannot remember exactly who said it, but I think it was Bakri Musa — one commentator's views on changing the country. The Malays, he said, as the largest community, must be the ones who take the lead in change. We cannot afford to believe that an iron non-Malay will alone will be enough to change things.

That is why we have to not just accept, but strongly support a Malay candidate for Prime Minister. If we want there to be a truly level playing field in our country's political future, we must accept a somewhat imbalanced field for the present. If we want to change our society, we must effect change from within.

So, will there ever be a Chinese Prime Minister of Malaysia? I believe there is reason to say yes — but if, and only if, we can find ourselves a capable Malay Prime Minister in the short run to guide our country through a troubled but transitory period of change.

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