by Lim Kit Siang - Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong
in Penang
on Friday, 3rd January 1997

Mahathir’s open acknowledgment that assimilation had not and cannot be a successful nation-building policy a vindication of the DAP’s political struggle for a Malaysian Malaysia

On Sept. 11, 1995, STAR carried a front-page headline story under the banner “ESCHEW ETHNICITY’, with a secondary headline of “PM: Be proud of being Malaysians”. The report reads:

“Kuala Lumpur: Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysians should reduce their strong sense of ethnicity in order to achieve Bangsa Malaysia.

“He said citizens should be proud of being Malaysians and work together instead of being preoccupied with ethnic origin.

“’Bangsa Malaysia means people who are able to identify themselves with the country, speak Bahasa Malaysia and accept the Constitution,’ he said at a dialogue with the Malaysian Students Executive Council of the United Kingdom here yesterday

“The Prime Minister said to realise the goal of Bangsa Malaysia, the people should start accepting each other as they are, regardless of race and religion.

“ Dr. Mahathir said certain quarters may condemn him for wanting to achieve Bangsa Malaysia and not struggling for the Malay cause as he did during his early years in politics.

“He said when he was fighting for the Malay cause per se, he was young and his thoughts were that of an inexperienced politician.

“Dr. Mahathir said, in future, there would be no nation in the world which would have a single ethnic group as its citizen.

“’People have a high degree of mobility and no nation will have the purity of a singular race with the exception of probably Japan and Korea.”

“Dr. Mahathir said while a citizen of a nation may associate himself with the country, he would not be readily prepared to give up his culture, religion, or language.

“’Previously, we tried to have a single entitybut it caused a lot of tension and suspicions among the people because they thought the Goverment was trying to create a hybrid.

“’There was fear among the people that they may have to give up their own cultures, values and religions. This could not work, and we believe that the Bangsa Malaysia is the ansswer,’ he added.”

On 7th August 1996, in an interview with the Editor-in-Chief of with the Utusan Melayu Group, Johan Jaafar, on race relations in Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir said:

“PM: Zaman berubah. Kalau dahulu tumpuan ialah kita kepada asimilasi. Di mana-mana negara juga tidak ada lagi usaha untuk ‘asimilasi’, bahkan di Amerika Syarikat mereka sering bercakap berkenaan dengan ‘roots’ asal-usul mereka. Jadi kalau kita sudah terima bahawa itu tidak mungkin, kita perlu cari jalan lain untuk merapatkan perhubungan antara kaum ini. Seperti kata De Bono, Lateral Thinking, kalau kita tidak boleh merentas satu jalan maka kita pergi ke jalan lain untuk sampai ke matlamat yang sama.”

Most recently, in his interview with TIME magazine for the December 9, 1996 issue, which carried Mahathir as the cover story, the Prime Minister said:

“TIME: You recently said that efforts to assimilate races have not been successful and it was time to try something else.

“Mahathir: The idea before was that people should become 100% Malay in order to be Malaysian. We now accept that this is a multi-racial country. We should build bridges instead of trying to remove completely the barriers separating us. We do not intend to convert all the Chinese to Islam, and we tell our people, the Muslims, ‘you will not try to force people to convert’.”

I commend Mahathir for the evolution of his thinking on nation-building for Malaysia, for this was one of the cornerstones of the DAP political struggle when we were formed in 1966, to establish that Malaysia is a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation and that the only viable and successful nation-building policy must be one based on integration and not on assimilation.

Many DAP leaders had to pay a heavy price in terms of loss of personal freedoms or being persecuted in courts for courageously defending and upholding the rights of all races, languages, cultures and religions in a multi-racial Malaysia.

In the sixties, seventies and eighties, when there were political forces trying to impose and implement a “One Language, One Culture” nation-building policy, the DAP was the only political voice and force in Parliament and in the country to declare its uncompromising opposition.

There is no doubt that if there had been no DAP in the last three decades, the attempt to impose a “One Language, One Culture” Policy in Malaysia would have been taken to extreme lengths with disastrous results both for national unity as well as development.

For instance, if the “One Language, One Culture” Policy had not faced strong opposition from the DAP, forcing an eventual abandonment of the policy of assimilation, Malaysia would not have created the conditions to vie to become a “little dragon” registering over eight per cent economic growth for over eight years.

Mahathir’s public acknowledgement that assimilation had not and cannot be a successful nation-building policy is a vindication of the DAP’s political struggle for a Malaysian Malaysia.

It is a fallacy, however, to believe that because Mahathir has been courageous enough to make such an acknowledgement, that such acknowledgement had permeated and pervaded all levels of government nation-building thinking and policies.

This is why there has to date been only “minor liberalisation” in government nation-building policies and programmes on language, education and culture, and not a “Full Liberalisation” - or the application for the establishment of the New Era College by Dong Jiao Zong would not be encountering one obstacle after another.

The nation-building battle to create a Malaysia where all Malaysians, regardless of race, can be a full and integral part and do not feel that there are different classes of Malaysian citizenship, is not yet over - and this is why we must press for the expansion of the “Minor Liberalisation” policies to “Full Liberalisation”.

However, with the open and public acknowledgement by Mahathir that assimilaiton had not and cannot be a successful nation-building policy, the DAP can now give greater attention to other cornerstones of party principles and objectives, as in creating a free, democratic, just and equitable Malaysian order, with a good government which is clean, honest, efficient and accountable to the people, in order to position Malaysia in the very forefront of the Information Technology age to become a world-class nation.