By Lee Wei Lian
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 18 — Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin was put on the defensive on the issue of race at a forum last night but deflected some criticism by acknowledging that race-based politics could hurt the country.
Khairy said in a response to questions about 1 Malaysia, which aimed to strengthen unity among the different ethnic groups in the country, that there was no conflict in having Malaysians adopt several identities but that a Malaysian identity should be the ultimate goal.
“If you put a gun to my head, I will answer I am Malaysian first,” he said at a forum on economic development organised by the Chevening Alumni of Malaysia here. “That is the aspiration.”
He also said in response to another question whether racial baggage will drag Malaysia down that Malaysia was “crying out” for a true multi-racial party.
“The more entrenched ethnic parties are in politics, the more ethnicity will figure in policy making,” he said.
Khairy added that while parties that are based on policies and ideologies were the way forward, the current dominance of race-based parties could reflect Malaysian society.
“It could also be how society looks at themselves,” he said.
Khairy found common ground on some racial issues with DAP lawmaker Tony Pua, who was also at the forum, and crossed swords on others.
Pua had said that government assistance should be based on need and not race as it mainly benefited the elite of the privileged race and led to the brain drain of those who felt discriminated against.
He also pointed out that the gap between the rich and poor was highest within the Bumiputera community as the Malay elites grew wealthy on government assistance.
“We must get out of the mindset of providing help based on race,” he said. “The more you define policies based on race, those who benefit are the elites who are in the best positioned to exploit the policies.”
Khairy said however that while he agreed that poverty eradication should be based on need, he saw a “gray area” where government assistance was required to nurture a Bumiputera business community.
“It’s about restructuring society,” said Khairy.
He added that he was against non-deserving Bumiputeras getting loans and contracts.
“When you talk about there being no non-Malay secretaries-general in the government, you’d also be hard pressed to find a Malay CEO of a non-Malay company,” he said. “There are silos and divisions in society.”
Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, who was also a speaker at the forum, said that the previous tactics of pitting non-Malays against Malays over economic issues will no longer work.
He noted that the government, which is controlled by Umno, was in charge of not only the federal budget but also GLCs (government-linked companies) which when combined accounted for between 60-65 per cent of the country’s GDP.
“Sixty to 65 per cent of Malaysia’s economy is controlled by the Malay elite,” said Jeyakumar. “The Malays in the kampungs are not stupid. They know it’s about bad governance and not about non-Malays.”