“Bangsa Malaysia” – has it been abandoned by Cabinet, UMNO and BN?

Bbangsa Malaysia

It is most ironical and tragic that the government’s nation-building objectives had come under a cloud on the occasion of the nation’s 50th Merdeka anniversary — whether the Barisan Nasional government is still committed or has abandoned the objective of creating a Bangsa Malaysia.

After the denunciation of the Bangsa Malaysia concept and objective by the Johore Mentri Besar, Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman at a Umno Johore conference in early November last year – a run-up to the “fire-and-brimstone” Umno and Umno Youth general assemblies the following week — the Federal and State Governments appear to have distanced themselves from the Bangsa Malaysia objective.

Let us not forget history. The Bangsa Malaysia concept was proclaimed in Vision 2020 in 1991 with the objective that it be achieved within three decades in 2020 with the emergence of a people entirely Malaysian in perspective, transcending ethnic, religious and cultural differences

This was how Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who proclaimed Viksion 2020, explained the Bangsa Malaysia concept at the time:
This is the report from the Star (Sept. 11, 1995), which carried the front-page headline “ESCHEW ETHNICITY’, with a secondary headline of “PM: Be proud of being Malaysians”:

“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.”

In an interview with TIME magazine for the December 9, 1996 issue, which carried Dr. Mahathir as the cover story, the then 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 had at the time commended Dr. 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.

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.

The question on the occasion of the 50th Merdeka Anniversary is whether the Johore Mentri Besar Ghani Othman’s rejection of Bangsa Malaysia now holds sway in Umno, Barisan Nasional and the government.

I am quite disturbed that the objective of Bangsa Malaysia has been conspicuously omitted in the Royal Address, which is the government policy speech,

I call on the Prime Minister to explain whether a policy decision has been taken by the Federal Government to acquiesce to the objection of the Johore Mentri Besar who had claimed that there was no justification for the concept and objective for a united and single Bangsa Malaysia or a Malaysian race, when the constitution provides clearly for Malays as “the pivotal race” — or to backtrack from an open commitment to achieve a Bangsa Malaysia under Vision 2020.

Has the Cabinet and Barisan Nasional Supreme Council endorsed the abandonment of the concept and objective of Vision 2020 for a Bangsa Malaysia, cold-storaged it or have they reaffirmed that Bangsa Malaysia remain the unshakeable and unaltereable objective of the government, nation and Vision 2020?

Or is the Cabinet and the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council just hiding their heads under the sand like ostriches, avoiding the issue altogether?

If the Prime Minister, Cabinet and Barisan Nasional Supreme Council are not prepared to reaffirm Bangsa Malaysia as the national goal and Vision 2020 objective, then what is the meaning and purpose of the 50th Merdeka Anniversary celebrations?

I call on all MPs, whether Barisan Nasional or Opposition, to stand up in Parliament in this debate to declare loud and clear their categorical support for the Bangsa Malaysia objective of Vision 2020 and repudiation of Ghani Othman’s subversive thesis to destroy the Bangsa Malaysia concept. Let everyone in Parliament, every political party represented in Parliament, stand up and be counted in full support of the Bangsa Malaysia objective.

I hope we will not end up with a situation where only DAP MPs dare to openly support the Bangsa Malaysia concept and objective for Malaysian nation-building while Ministers and MPs particularly from the Barisan Nasional component parties fall silent on the matter, one by one.

[Speech (12) on Royal Address debate in Parliament 22.3.07]

  1. #1 by willkhoo on Friday, 23 March 2007 - 12:11 pm

    After 50 years of independance, Malaysia have to be more forward looking. Don’t be “katak bawah tempurung” or “juara kampung”. All this self protection, bangsa, issue are very myopic and narrow minded view. We cannot let one person / voice who is irreponsible to create confusions to the whole nation, especially when he do not represent all of us.

    If compare the years since indepandance with human years, Malaysia is entering into a matured age (near retirement), where we should be more mellow, wise, intellectual and have more compassion, most of all most willing to give & take. The current leadership do not seem to the advocating this spirit. So sad to be a part of this…..

  2. #2 by sotong on Friday, 23 March 2007 - 1:57 pm

    Some politicians and their followers see this ” Bangsa Malaysia ” as a threat to their ” entitlements “.

  3. #3 by Winston on Friday, 23 March 2007 - 5:40 pm

    Obviously the BN government won’t change.
    So it is time for Uncle Lim to change it in the next election.
    Boot them out and take over the helm.

  4. #4 by accountability on Friday, 23 March 2007 - 7:54 pm

    uncle kit,

    it’s too late… we now have an entire generation of young malaysians, born and raised in malaysia, who have been brain-washed to believe that the land belongs to one and only one race, while the rest shall remain 3rd-class* citizens, even though we all contribute to the country.

    how do you remove an unbalanced system where the majority race is given priveleges instead, while the few politically-connected cronies abuse the country’s resources at the expense of the entire nation?

    *2nd-class are the migrant labour workers

  5. #5 by k1980 on Friday, 23 March 2007 - 8:07 pm

    “The most obvious victims of this sublime Hollywood trend are Muslims, who have come to represent all that is against the American way of life…Chinese people are now portrayed as hard-working if a little boring in Hollywood movies, a marked contrast to their portrayal during the previous 50 years as poor and desperate immigrants.” Quoted from

  6. #6 by slashed on Friday, 23 March 2007 - 9:18 pm


    I have to disagree: there are few who are actually ‘brainwashed’; rather, imo, more support this idea not because of idealogical agreement but merely because they agree with the result of such ideas if you know what I mean.

    You should not underestimate the young malaysians you speak of. While the older generation shared the same frustrations, they had not the means to express it except via the election polls – which is undoubtedly futile. Without a free press, and without proper forums to express dissatisfaction, and a fear of the powers that be, it is easy to see that the feeling of futility has taken the fight out of most of this generation. How many times have I seen fathers and uncles talking about this passionately in the comfort of their own home, yet never stepping forward to affect change. When freedom is fettered, the ppl are castrated.

    Things are changing. Being a young student in the UK, I can feel it. The young are moving, and the movement is growing. The internet and the dawn of the age of the individual, of expression, is one which all will look back in wonderment just as we look back at the Age of Reason of Paine, or of the Enlightenment of Rousseau & Co. Even the ever powerful government will find it difficult to suppress the voices of tomorrow.

    The same fire that the older generation had is burning today but the means are becoming available. I am not however saying that change will come soon. No, it will not for the tree that was planted has grown roots far too deep to be blown away easily by the winds of change; but at least ppl like Mr Lim Kit Siang may rest easier knowing that their legacy has reached the hearts of many, and where it has not touched, many have found the same enlightenment for themselves. Thank you Mr Lim! We will try our best to carry the torch.

  7. #7 by undergrad2 on Friday, 23 March 2007 - 9:44 pm


    We may be able to learn something from the American experience: the United States has some 300 million peoples from various parts of the world – Irish, Germans, Dutch, English, Polish along with other southern Europens, Middle Easterns, south Asians (meaning Indians), Fillipinos, Vietnamese and Koreans – all proud of their ethnicity, living, working together and dying together for some two hundred years. The country did not have to go through ‘nation building’ with leaders toying with the minds of the masses with terms like ‘integration’ and ‘assimilation’ – terms understood only by self-serving political leaders and too technical to be understood by the layman who care nothing about the different sociological models that they represent, who are too involved with bread and butter issues, raising their families to even care to understand.

    Recently, when the country was in the midst (and still is today as the U.S. Congress continues to debate the issue) of a national debate as to what to do with its undocumented workers who are mostly Hispanic and who number some 12.0 million people living albeit illegally and contributing to the growth of the U.S. economy, there were calls as there are today for assimilation of these immigrants – meaning they learn English and mix more with the local communities. Nobody ever saw it fit to raise the different concepts that ‘integration’ and ‘assimilation’ imply. No nation building theories were bandied about for the consumption of the masses by self-serving political leaders in search of political support in the elections. Ask a passerby who is an American, not only he would be hard pressed to answer your question but he would be wondering why you are asking that when he can easily point to one. Everybody walking the streets, working and living together is an American – be they Polish, Germans, Dutch or a Filipino or Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, south Asians or Mexicans, Peruvians, Colombians, Haitians to name just a few.

    You will not find Mexicans, Puerto Ricans or Cubans responding to the issue of ‘assimilation’ with concepts of their own such as ‘integration’ and it is inconceivable for anybody to feel the need to go around protesting that “assimilation is anathema to us” – though they may appear to be saying just that when they go around with their national flags or bumper stickers proudly announcing the country of origin. Yet many of these same people would enlist in the U.S. Army to fight in foreign wars and dying side by side in defense of their fundamental liberties. That in a nutshell is what it means to be an American – a people living, sharing, working and dying together.

    After almost fifty years why are we still debating the issue of ‘Bangsa Malaysia’?

    We know who Malaysians are. They are people – strangers at home – that you see enthusiastically greeting one another as if they have known one another all their lives, along Oxford Street, London or in Queens, New York or Shinjuku or Nihombashi, Tokyo – and the language you hear spoken may surprise you is not English but Bahasa Melayu. These are the same people you see back home bickering over petty issues. Little do Malaysians realize that they are already Malaysians – having shared some fifty years living and working together and in some cases dying together.

    We do not need leaders of whatever political affiliations to tell us how to behave, live and be a Malaysian. We are Malaysians.

  8. #8 by slashed on Friday, 23 March 2007 - 11:16 pm

    The post (above) was originally directed at accountability (above). :)

  9. #9 by pwcheng on Saturday, 24 March 2007 - 12:23 am

    The only road to unity is to treat every citizen as equal and let the non-Bumis feel that they all belongs to a race call Bangsa Malaysia and not Bangsat Malaysia

  10. #10 by k1980 on Saturday, 24 March 2007 - 9:08 am

    We need people who can speak for the people, not against them. We need people with the highest standards of integrity – not those who speak exclusively on other politicians’ behalf.

  11. #11 by lakshy on Saturday, 24 March 2007 - 9:30 am

    pwcheng, if you read the Quran, you will find that nowhere does the QURAN allow for discriminative practices. Hence such discriminative policies as seen in our education system, in the 30% Bumi equity issue, and selected business being given only to Bumi companies can be seen as going against the Quran, and hence unislamic. Hence Malaysia cannot legitimately claim to be an Islamic nation, moreso one that professes Islam Hadhari. Read Syed Akbar Ali’s “Malaysia and the Club of Doom” for more misleading practices in Malaysia that are actually not found anywhere in the Quran.

  12. #12 by firstMalaysian on Saturday, 24 March 2007 - 4:02 pm

    After 50 yrs of independence, every Malaysian should review and evaluate the performance of the BN government in racial integration and evolution of Bangsa Malaysia.
    From a scale of 1 (very poor) to 10 (excellent), if the BN government is rated less than 5, they should be voted out and give the opposition under the leadership of Anwar and YB LKS a chance to create bangsa Malaysia. They share a common struggle, being put into prison on what they believe and ‘ have gone into the pits and experience emotional suffering and pain like any human being on the phase of the earth. Unlike others who compromise and stay in power and experience luxury etc and have not experience pain and suffering..will they stay on in Malaysia whatever the outcome in the future is or will they abandon Malaysia when there is no more to ‘milk?’ At least I can say YB LKS and Anwar will stay as pain to them is part of life, unlike the ‘privileged politicians’

  13. #13 by DarkHorse on Sunday, 25 March 2007 - 1:04 am

    “Hence Malaysia cannot legitimately claim to be an Islamic nation..” lakshy

    Who says Malaysia is an Islamic state? That is a position taken by Mahathir. The truth is Malaysia is neither a secular nor religious state.

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