‘Social media has worsened race relations in Malaysia’

The National Unity Policy and National Unity Blueprint 2021-2030, which was launched virtually on Monday, is building on older policies that failed to eradicate racism in the country.

Prof Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong, a principal research fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies and Institute of Malay World and Civilisation, said there were many such policies, including setting up a specific government department to deal with race relations following the May 1969 racial riots.

He, however, feels the timing of the National Unity Policy and National Unity Blueprint is spot on as there has been a rise in racial tensions which he believes is partly due to the rise of social media and the anonymity it allows.

“We have to acknowledge that there has always been racial tension in the country,” said Teo.

“We had our first national unity minister in 1972 and now the policy and blueprint. This shows that race relations have not improved at all.”

The Department of National Unity under the Prime Minister’s Department was set up on July 1, 1969. In 1972, the government introduced the National Unity Ministry with Tun V.T. Sambanthan being the minister.

The ministry was reduced to being a board two years later and in 1980, it was renamed as the Department of Rukun Tetangga and National Unity under the Prime Minister’s Department. It remained a department up until last year when Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced the formation of two new ministries: National Unity Ministry and Environment Ministry.

“It has become even worse in recent times. This is because many can freely say what they want on social media.

“Social media has its good points but it also gives a voice to many who can abuse it.”

Teo added politicians must also set the tone by watching what they say. He suggested stronger laws to combat this.

“We seem to be united but we are not that united.”

He suggested education be used more to reinforce the spirit of unity.

“I have always said we need one schooling system instead of national vernacular schools,” said Teo.

“There are pros and cons to this. Sadly this now means the races are segregated with many Chinese and Indians going to the vernacular schools and Malays attending national schools.

“But national schools have become too religious. We need to look at how we can improve on this so that the other races would want to go to national schools,” he added.