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The Obama paradigm

FROM 1 to 7 Nov 2008, the Chinese media highlighted the historic victory of Barack Obama, and the controversy over the appointment of a non-Malay as the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS) head. Additionally, the media kept up its coverage of the New Era College dispute between the academic staff and its directors.’s 5 Nov editorial said many leaders of democratic countries were from the dominant ethnic group. Hence, the chances of African Americans, who comprise about 10% of the US population, to become president are indeed very slim. 

“When we compare the election of the first African American president with Malaysian racial politics, Malaysia is clearly still stranded in racism,” the editorial, titled Examine Malaysia’s race relations from Obama’s victory, said. 

As examples of racism in Malaysia, the editorial cited the controversial penumpang remarks made by an Umno division leader, and the objections towards opening up Mara to non-bumiputeras. It also cited Kedah’s 50% housing quota for bumiputera, and the protests against Low Siew Moi’s appointment as PKNS acting general manager.

“Low’s appointment triggered strong protests from six in-house PKNS trade unions. They are not protesting because she is incompetent. They want PKNS to be led by a Malay Muslim. It is most regrettable that race and religion have become the standard criteria for appointment,” said

The editorial argued that while the government helps bumiputera via affirmative action, it should also be fair to other races. Competence should be the criteria for appointments to high-ranking posts, it said. 

“Our country has many policies that benefit all races. However, enforcement of these policies by some narrow-minded civil servants or politicians is biased and unfair. The government should take a serious look at this problem, and should not let it escalate.”

The editorial noted that the majority of Americans have shown wisdom in selecting a leader based on competency, and not race. It hoped that Obama’s victory as the first African American president would be a model for the development of Malaysian politics.

Sin Chew Daily‘s Tay Tian Yan, in a 6 Nov article titled From Obama to Malaysia, said Malaysian political parties and politicians should not focus on race politics.

“Racial politics has no future after 50 years of independence. Malaysia needs to explore a new paradigm. Both the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat should embark on fair and open politics to fulfil the people’s aspiration,” said Tay.

He said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had claimed that it was possible for any minority in Malaysia to become prime minister here, just like in the US.

Tay added that Americans broke the glass ceiling after more than 200 years of independence, but Malaysia still has a long way to go. He said Malaysia could hope for an ethnic minority to eventually become prime minister, but this should not necessarily be the country’s objective.

“The race of the prime minister is not important. Any political leader should look beyond his or her own race, and be a leader of all races,” said Tay.

College battle

Oriental Daily continued, last week, to highlight an ongoing dispute in New Era College (NEC). On 4 Nov, it reported on its front page that five senior staff and department directors had resigned to protest the decision by Dong Zong to axe college principal Dr Kua Kia Soong.

Dong Zong, the United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia, make up the college’s board of directors. In an emergency general meeting (EGM) on 2 Nov, Dong Zong voted to discontinue Kua’s contract, which will expire at the end of 2008. 

The report, titled Five NEC department directors fight back, said Kua would be leaving the college, and his deputy Mo Shun Zong had also resigned in protest. It added that the resignation of five senior staff would further weaken the college’s administration.

In another Oriental Daily report on the same day, titled Dr Kua: Truth is distorted to kick me out, Kua was quoted as asking the Chinese Malaysian community to take the crisis in Chinese education seriously.

Kua also said Dong Zong’s EGM resolution showed that the college directors do not respect the concept of justice. “They did not invite me or the college management for an enquiry during the EGM,” said Kua.

Kua said in the series of actions to kick him out of the college, truth has been distorted and the college’s image tarnished.

“I urge the Chinese community to examine the Dong Zong leadership’s way of running the college. Previously, a cheque has to be signed by both directors and the college management. But now, a cheque can be signed by the directors alone, and the college principal cannot sign anymore,” said Kua.  

He called for an independent committee to look into the college’s financial status since the directors had announced that its status was “not clear.”

Kua also opposed any move by Dong Zong chairperson Dr Yap Sin Tian to transfer the college’s funds to the Dong Jiao Zong Education Centre. “If Yap insists on going ahead with the plan, can anyone check and balance him?” asked Kua.

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