By Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
1. I have often been asked by foreigners regarding Malaysia’s successful transition from an agricultural country to an industrialised country. Just as often, they wondered how a multi-racial country could stay peaceful and stable, thus enabling the transition to be made.
2. I myself did not, in pre-independence days dream that there could be stability for Malaysia and that it would change its economic base and prosper. I did not dream of this because when we were struggling against the Malayan Union and then for independence, the country was poor and there was a great deal of animosity between the Malays and the Chinese.
3. We have almost forgotten it now but the Japanese surrender saw the mainly Chinese Anti-Japanese guerrillas emerging from the jungles, declaring that they now rule the country. There were clashes between the Malays and the Chinese and several were killed on each side.
4. Anti-Chinese feelings among the Malays ran high. Part of their objection to the Malayan Union was because the British proposed to give citizenship to all including the Chinese.
5. Apart from subsistence padi cultivation and inshore fishing the Malays of Kedah had no source of income. They were very poor.
6. The Chinese were involved in shop-keeping even in the Malay villages. The rice-mills belonged to them.
7. What we in Kedah saw in those days was continued poverty and conflicts between the races. The Malays felt threatened and their reaction was to unite and form a Malay political party – the United Malays National Organisation. It was solely dedicated to fighting the Malayan Union and upholding Malay rights. There was no desire to cooperate with the Chinese at all, certainly not for achieving merdeka.
8. After the Malayan Union was scrapped and replaced by the Federation of Malaya (officially Persekutuan Tanah Melayu), the British misjudged Malay sentiment and persuaded Dato Onn to open up UMNO to non-Malays. His proposal was rejected and he had to leave UMNO.
9. To cut a long story short, Tunku Abdul Rahman, realising that he needed Chinese support in order to achieve independence, came up with a unique solution.
10. UMNO could remain a purely Malay party but it would work with the purely Chinese Malaysian Chinese Association to allay British suspicions that independence would lead to seizure of Chinese properties by the Malays.
11. The cooperation worked so well that the Malayan Indian Congress decided to join it. And so the alliance of racial parties was formed. It was appropriately called the Alliance. Together they obtained independence for Malaya and this same concept enabled Sabah, Sarawak and for a time Singapore parties to join and set up independent Malaysia.
12. But Malay animosity towards the Chinese and Chinese dissatisfaction with the terms of the social contract was still extant, so that in 1969 race riots broke out. Foreign as well as many Malaysians concluded that the fragile coalition had failed. But Tun Razak resurrected it and formed an even bigger coalition, the Barisan Nasional or National Front.
13. Fear of race riots recurring helped to keep the Barisan Nasional parties together. And so from 1971 until today the country enjoyed peace and stability under Barisan Nasional Governments. Unprecedented growth took place and Malaysia became an industrialised country.
14. Admittedly the Barisan Nasional did not do well in 2008. But it is not because of the Barisan Nasional as a concept or as a party failed. The poor performance was due to extremely poor leadership.
15. The essence of this kind of racial parties cooperating is the willingness of every party to make sacrifices. No party should expect to get 100% of what it considers its entitlement. Everyone must give up something in order to gain much more from growth and development.
16. The coalition concept worked so well that the opposition try to copy it. Today Pakatan is a loose coalition of sorts involving the three opposition parties; the PAS, DAP and Keadilan.
17. There is one other element that is needed for a coalition to work. Although it is an alliance of equals, it needs a strong core which can act as the first among equals. The core will act as referee whenever the other components fail to agree with each other. The core must of course be fair at all times.
18. On the other hand the core must not be too strong as to be able to go on its own. If it fails to get the support of the others it will also fail.
19. Clearly the parties of the Barisan Nasional coalition are dependent on each other.
20. However, should the coalition achieve only a small majority, it will be constantly threatened by the possibility of any one of the parties defecting and bringing down the Government. This is its Achilles’ heel. But otherwise the coalition has functioned well in Malaysia.
21. For a country to develop it needs a strong Government that can ensure stability. No one party in Malaysia can provide a strong Government. Certainly the “Pakatan” cannot provide this.
22. The peoples of Malaysia must realise this and choose their Governments wisely. They must not allow racial sentiments to cloud good pragmatic common sense.
23. Malaysia had enjoyed half-a-century of peace and growth under the Barisan Nasional. No one can honestly say that he had not benefitted from Barisan Nasional rule.