I had an interesting discussion with a government officer today about the relevance of race-based politics and the Special Position of the Malays in the Constitution. Here is what Tun Dr Ismail said according to a book written by Ooi Kee Beng:
"I regard the special position of the Malays as a handicap given to the Malays with the consent of all the other races who have become citizens of this country so as to enable the Malays to compete on equal footing for equal opportunities in this country. That and that alone is the only aim of the Special Position of the Malays. But unfortunately the Malays themselves have tended to give the impression consciously or unconsciously that the Special Position of the Malays is a sign that the Malays are placed superior to the other races in the country. The biggest mistake that the Malays made of course was to coin the term "Bumiputra" because this term tended to convey an entirely different meaning to what was intended for the Special Position of the Malays. By coining "Bumiputra" the non-Malays suspected the Malays of wanting to classify themselves as first-class citizens while they were relegated to second-class (Letters 23 February 1970)".
"An UMNO man complained at a meeting that despite Malay rights, the Malaysian contingent preparing for the Munich Olympics was made up mainly of Chinese. "Where are Malay rights there?" he asked. No one knew what to say, and it fell on Ismail to answer: "Special rights are only in the field of economics, not in sports," he ventured. "Do you mean to say we should use strings to make Malays good at high jump?" At that he burst out laughing. That was one of the few times I saw him laugh so heartily (Interview with Tun Ghafar 16 Oct 2005)".
I argued that the dynamics of Malaysian politics have slightly shifted into a new direction since the last election. Race-based politics may or may not be relevant, if it's not relevant, it's a matter of time. Like-wise, if the other races want equality, all should compromise. If not, it is a big stale mate. I think we are seeing the start of the transition in the cities. It would be a long time until the rural folks would start thinking about it. Having said that, I still think that our country will remain a country with Islam as its official religion and the king is recognized as the Head of State. As long as that remains, the Malays will be in a slightly "privileged" position. That's just an opinion.
He also argued that we were never invaded by the Brits; we were merely consulted on administrative advice. The word he used was 'jajah' (conquer) and that the Brits never conquered us. I said, if you were right, somebody needs to change our history books and what we're teaching our kids.
For those who are second-guessing me, this is my stand: The Special Rights are there to allow the Malays to compete on a level-playing field. When that day happens, i.e. Malay has 55% of the economic pie (the term economic pie is also subject to discussion), the handicap should be removed, like the game of golf.