It’s an election handout
FEB 28 — I was in Nevada when I woke up to the news that the Malaysian-born Thai community has been assured that they are still entitled to Bumiputera benefits and everything that it implies. Though this is something that has been decided since the Tunku’s time, the timing of this reiteration still struck me as somewhat odd.
According to The Star, it has something to do with recognising their unquestionable loyalty to the country. Being someone who is writing his senior-year research on national loyalty, I was naturally curious.
After all, what could possibly warrant them such privileges when the Chinese, Indians and a whole host of other non-Bumiputera counterparts are passed up for such consideration? If indeed admission into the Bumiputera club is based on one’s undying loyalty and contribution to the nation, certainly we could safely assert that they would not be on top of the list.
But just like all other mainstream media in Malaysia, the things that are not reported or severely downplayed are the real elephants in the room. In the article was this: “He said when the political tsunami hit the country and the state in 2008, the community’s support for Barisan Nasional remained strong.” How is that loyalty to the nation?
Since it was still early in the morning, I thought I’ll check up what Utusan had to say about this. It gets better: “Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak memberi jaminan bahawa kerajaan akan terus membela nasib masyarakat Siam di negara ini sebagai menghargai sokongan mereka kepada Barisan Nasional (BN).” Wow, at least The Star tried to downplay the BN part. But hey, considering this is Utusan, I doubt it surprises anybody.
Dishing handouts and making populist overtures during an election year is nothing surprising. Every democratically elected government does it, one way or another. But the scary thing about the incumbents in Malaysia is that they think this country is theirs to keep. There is still this deeply embedded sense of entitlement, and at times a litany of Freudian slips that equate the country to the ruling party. It may come off as flogging a dead horse, but there are still those who would vote for the incumbent only because they think it’s disloyal to Malaysia if they did otherwise.
Loyalty is not the villain here. There are numerous virtues that are associated with it, from marriage, friendship to country. However, like many other things, misplaced loyalty can be very detrimental. Political parties come and go; politicians too! But Malaysia stays. National loyalty is an emotional attachment to something that’s larger than the sphere of politics. Even when our politics may seem so petty and dysfunctional, we are all still members of the same “imagined community.” A nation binds us to a common destiny. Politics may not.
From an academic standpoint, loyalty is still a relatively nebulous concept. Invoked so often in popular discourses, it has been used to refer to so many things that it is so hard to place a precise definition to it. But even so, we can be sure of one thing: this specific announcement has nothing to do with it. Dragging national loyalty into the fray as a scapegoat for short-term political returns is cheap. Worse still, it pisses off those who have been toiling all these years in the name of our nation without commensurable recognition.
It’s an election handout, plain and simple.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.