by Donovan Lee Shyun Hyn
There are always pros and cons to an Act of Parliament. The notion that one cannot have the best of both worlds is indeed true and is applicable in this situation as what is good for the Executive may not go down well with the rest of the population. The proposed Race Relations Act is one fine example. Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, the Minister of Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage in his interview with the New Sunday Times, contended that the proposed Act is specific in which it would be able to deal better with issues of religion and sensitivities of race as compared to the Sedition Act or Internal Security Act which is too general, thus creating loopholes to prosecute alleged offenders.
One might think why do we need to formulate such Act after having achieved 51 years of Independence? Wouldn’t the world community laugh at us for the failure to govern race relations despite the existence of various policies and bodies which were meant to instill unity among Malaysians of all races and religions? I certainly have my reservations for that.
Great Britain was formed in the year 1707 with the passing of the Acts of Union which merged the two parliaments of England and Scotland while Canada was formed in the year 1867 by virtue of British North America Acts. They have both enacted Race Relations Act in which the former was established in 1965 and the latter in 1991. These countries were created way before Malaysia was born but the Legislatures see the necessity of enacting the Act which makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin. Hence, the issue of humiliation does not arise here.
Perhaps the main issue revolves around the effectiveness of this particular Act in the process of fostering unity and integration. Will it be punitive or deterrent in nature? It may discourage some people from uttering racist remarks or such but what about the majority of urbanites who have liberal thoughts? They will only view it as another draconian law intended to curb their rights and freedom which are enshrined in Part II of the Federal Constitution. Therefore, it will only be redundant if it were to be enacted.
The construction of Race Relations Act alone will not suffice to foster racial harmony. The education system needs to be seriously restructured as in whether or not to continue with the current system of having different co-existence schools i.e. national, vernacular and private schools. Apart from that, parents equally play a vital role by instilling toleration and the respect for the other races and religions in their children since upbringing will determine the conduct of the future generation of Malaysians.
Personally, I am supportive of the proposal by Datuk Professor Dr. Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, the founding director of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Stidues that the government to have a referendum on what is the exact state of ethnic relations in Malaysia before they introduce the motion to be debated in Parliament. I don’t think that the ethnic relations in Malaysia have reached a critical stage to see the creation of Race Relations Act. The culprits behind the racial issues are actually mala fide politicians who want to gain political mileage by playing to their respective galleries. They are the ones who should be dealt with first.