12 Jul 2013 11:19

This is the last of the two-part interview with Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, a former politician and currently a social activist, on Malaysian unity and national integration in the aftermath of the 13th General Election (GE13).

KUALA LUMPUR, July 5 (Bernama) -- Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye continues to share his views on the state of racial unity in the country and things that can be done to bridge the racial divide.

BERNAMA: Certain parties have suggested the establishment of a special school to deal with national unity; what do you think about this, Tan Sri?

TAN SRI: I was asked this question many times, including why we still have Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools and talk about racial polarisation.

Firstly, I must state that the government is committed to maintaining vernacular schools, and they are enshrined under the constitution.

I would also like to inform you that there is nothing new about establishing such a school as we had established the Vision School (Sekolah Wawasan) sometime back to foster national unity through the school system.

Though vision schools were envisaged with a noble aim of addressing the racial polarisation issue, their purpose and function were not clearly defined. This gave rise to suspicions that the concept was a hidden agenda to eliminate vernacular schools.

In fact, according to the concept of vision schools, Chinese schools will continue to operate as Chinese schools, Tamil schools will continue to operate as Tamil schools and the National Schools will continue to operate as National Schools.

Based on the concept, they only share common facilities such as the field and this provides an opportunity for students to mingle with their peers of different races. They can also participate in sports and related activities together.

The Malay school can hold Sports Day and invite Chinese and Tamil schools to participate. In fact, the three schools can take turns to hold the sports day.

I propose that the government restart the concept of vision schools and clearly define its purpose.

The government should start a new pilot project for vision schools and highlight the results. At the least, this effort could help to overcome racial barriers that stand in the way of development. There is a saying by a Chinese Taoist philosopher: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step."

BERNAMA: What is the people's contribution in fostering unity?

TAN SRI: I believe that each and every Malaysian should have the determination to take the first step by making friends of different races.

I call upon Malaysians to not just mingle within their own community but to go out and start interacting with people of other races.

While this may not be a problem in the office environment, it is a different story outside the office environment and in neighbourhoods.

Neighbours can foster close ties through Family Day activities or Gotong-Royong (community undertaking), and these should involve all races.

One should take the initiative to conduct community programmes. There is no need to wait; such programmes should be conducted in the spirit of neighbourliness.

In crime prevention activities, all the races should be involved as anyone can be a victim of crime.

In the present context, I feel that crime prevention and educational activities serve as ideal platforms to bridge the divide between different races as crime is public enemy number one in Malaysia.

Crime neither favours nor discriminates anyone and fighting crime effectively calls for the participation of all races, and thus, this could effectively help reduce racial divide.

BERNAMA: What else can be done by Malaysians to help the government with regard to communal integration?

TAN SRI: More importantly, we have to accept the fact that we live in a multiracial country and a multiracial society.

Based on this premise, we should focus on inter-racial harmony. Malaysians should play a meaningful role in ensuring that peace and harmony prevail in the society.

If there is chaos due to inter-racial conflicts, Malaysians will be on the losing end.

We have seen people in many parts of the world suffering from racial or religious conflicts, and this is something we don't want to see in this country.

Regardless of the party that is in power, when there are shortcomings and problems, we have to see things in a rational manner instead of being overwhelmed by emotions.

If one goes overboard emotionally, it will give rise to an unhealthy situation that will ultimately lead to conflicts.

BERNAMA: The GE13 is over but there are parties that are still dissatisfied with the outcome. What is Tan Sri's take on this?

TAN SRI: The election is over and this is the time to reconcile and assist in the progress of the nation.

The Prime Minister has mentioned that he is the leader of all races.

This is a good and a positive step. The cabinet ministers too should take the same stand as the prime minister. Civil servants too should be ready to serve everyone. We don't want those who don't walk the talk.

All those who have contested have to accept the outcome with an open heart. There are many avenues available for parties that are aggrieved, including courts, to address any shortcoming in the electoral process.

We have to eliminate racial sentiments, and we have to think about ways to enable Malaysians to act and think as Malaysians.

We have to identify ourselves as Malaysians first, and then, associate ourselves with our racial group.

BERNAMA: Tan Sri, do you practise this?

TAN SRI: I'm proud to say that I'm a Malaysian, and I have many friends from the Malay, Chinese, Indian and other communities.

All of us should think and act as true Malaysians, and our origins and race should be secondary.

We must love our country. All Malaysians must have this patriotic feeling.

Speaking of Sabah and Sarawak, I see more cordial inter-ethnic relations there. With regard to this, I advise parents to encourage their children to mingle with people of other races.

I'm also aware that there are parents who prohibit their children from befriending people of other races.

We are certainly facing a lot of challenges in staying united in a multi-racial nation.

BERNAMA: What is the role of social media that is said to have a strong influence on the society, especially the younger generation?

TAN SRI: Today, information travels fast. At times, information is untrue, which leads to confusion and unwarranted reactions. My only advice is that when one receives a suspicious message or information, he/she should ponder over its authenticity before accepting it.

Use your discretion and verify with the source. However, the problem is that many of us are emotional and take the information's authenticity for granted; this is something to worry about.

We have to see things objectively and not just follow our hearts.

My concluding remark is that we have nowhere else to go. This is our country; this is our motherland. So, let’s see and do things as Malaysians and not according to race or ethnicity.