Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Will Malaysia Ever Be Color-blind?

In Malaysia, a promise to continue a race-based affirmative action policy will only entrench racism


The Guardian

After South Africa and Rwanda's harrowing experiences, it might be expected that no country would want its citizens governed racially lest it be torn asunder. But Malaysia considers itself an exception. Its leaders just gave race-based policies a renewed stamp of approval.

Last month, prime minister Najib Razak vowed to continue an unpopular affirmative action policy that favours the nation's Malays (who make up for slightly more than half of its population) over the Chinese and Indian minorities, who account for about 26% and 8% respectively.

The New Economic Policy (NEP), as this racialised national programme is known, was introduced nearly four decades back to raise the Malays' share of the nation's wealth from a meagre 1.5% to a more equitable 30% and create a Malay middle class. To this end, the government imposed racial quotas in such spheres as education and business.

The quotas resulted in civil service scholarships being granted to Malays over more deserving minority candidates, and the same could be said of government jobs. Meanwhile, businesses must meet a minimum level of 30% ownership for Malays and other indigenous people.

While Malaysia's Chinese and Indian minorities were at first agreeable, the prolonged implementation of NEP-type policies has today left them feeling like second-class citizens. Many, especially the affluent Chinese, left Malaysia to seek opportunities elsewhere. The largely working-class Indians were not as fortunate.

Ironically, a sizable segment of the Malay population – from the middle and working classes – also began complaining about these policies on the grounds that they benefited only a select group of well-connected Malays.

Such discontent has led to Malaysians registering their protest during last year's general election by voting overwhelmingly for the opposition instead of the ruling coalition that comprises a hotchpotch of race-based parties headed by Najib's United Malays National Organisation (Umno). Although the latter still won the polls, it took a severe hammering – losing its two-thirds parliamentary majority and the control of five states.

Little wonder that Umno which fashions itself as a party championing Malay rights since its inception in 1946 has now decided to tone down its racial policies through a slew of reforms this year. Among others, it launched the "1Malaysia" concept to unite the nation's racially-fractured citizens. Najib also announced that a merit-based scholarship open to all races will be introduced next year.

While many analysts are quick to proclaim that Umno is now a transformed political entity, evidence that it has moved past racialism is sparse. For one thing, the tenets of "1Malaysia" are still nebulous at this juncture.

Yet the most telling sign could be gleaned from the rhetoric of its up-and-coming politician Khairy Jamaluddin who wants the party to discardits ideology of "Malay dominance" for "Malay leadership". Herein lies the crux of the problem. The pith of the "Malay leadership" ideal is no different from "Malay dominance" – Malays are to reign supreme over other races. In its basest form, "Malay leadership" resonates of the "Hutu Power" ideology in Rwanda and the white supremacist slant of South Africa's apartheid where one race dominates over others.

Instead of eradicating Malaysia's decades-long racialism, its ruling elites look set to entrench it further into the system by making it subtle. However, driving racialism underground has its social costs. To understand this, Malaysia needs to look no further than neighbouring Singapore where racialism is understatedly exercised in the way the city-state maps educational performances and social ills by race.

Doing so has put its minority Malays, largely from the lower income groups, in an unfavourable light. Official statistics show that this group which makes up about 14% of Singapore's largely Chinese population are overly represented in terms of social problems such as teenage pregnancies and divorces. This has the entrenched stereotypes that the Malays are a problematic lot – oversexed and irresponsible.

So much so that some have hinted of racism. One journalist, for instance, likens being a Malay Singaporean to feeling "like the least favourite child in the family". The Singapore example suggests that subtle racialism gives rise to a population trapped in a worldview that hails race as their primary identity marker.

But Malaysia is probably in a worse quagmire. Two years back its capital, Kuala Lumpur, was the scene of a racial protest by lower-class Indians that saw the police clamping down on demonstrators.

If Umno leaders are serious about reforms, then they must seriously consider eradicating racialism in all its manifestations. An alternative proposal mooted by Malaysia's opposition calls for a needs-based affirmative action policy which dishes out aid by income group to replace the government's pro-Malay stance.

Still, the real litmus test of Umno's commitment to inclusivity is a controversial one: disband race-based parties altogether. This would mean outlawing Umno and their partners, supplanting in their place a political entity that is colour-blind. Perhaps only then could Malaysia truly claim itself to be one.

The Guardian


eddy said...

Will Malaysia Ever Be Colour Blind? Looks like we are a very far away from being NOT-colour blind Bro.

As long as we have race based parties like UMNO,PAS,MCA and MIC and the DAP and the supposedly multiracial parties dominated by one race only like the DAP, Gerakan and PPP etc and of course PKR made up of disgruntled ex UMNO,MCA,MIC and NGO activists we will always be colour blind. We will always be reminded of our race first and our nationality or religion second.

Add to that many Malaysian citizens still refuses to integrate their children and have a One National School System but instead insisting on being segregrated in the vernacular, religious and international schools from young.

Add to this concoction Malaysians are always reminded by IRRESPONSIBLE partisan POLITICIANS OR REPORTERS/PRESS that when an incident happened to an Individual or group of people like the killing of violent criminals shot by the police or the death in custody of the police or MACC, its because he or they are of a particular race being harassed and harmed by a Malay dominated Police force.

I do not see majority Malaysians being color blind unless all parties based on race or religion or dominated by one race or religion are first dissolved voluntarily to be replaced by a truly multiracial-religious parties as a first step. Otherwise I humbly think it is just an "audacity of hope" at best.

Hantu Laut said...


The guy who wrote the article is living on the dark side of the moon, he can only see one side of the coin.What about the oppositions aren't their parties race-based too.I have many times called on Pakatan to dissolve all their components and form one multi-racial party and guess what they do, the same as the BN, coalition of the willing.

eddy said...

Ya Bro, this Bahrawi guy is real tricky isn't he. The NEP is for Bumiputras who make up 65% of the population but instead he chose the word "Malay" who make up slightly more than 50% of our population. He is being provocative while being very subtle. He did not see it fit to really understand how and why the NEP was developed after the May 1969 racial riots.

Yes sure the NEP has been misused by some elites but it has benefited almost all Malaysians of all races in one form or another, in education etc. All it needs now is to evolve the NEP to ensure that the poor of all races will get assistance from the Government. I think the Najib Government is slowly but surely doing just that.

The Pakatan Pact of Parties are just hypocrites, to move forward and regain their lost momentum they now have no choice but to officially form a coalition and guess what? like their hated BN, where they still keep their race based and religious political parties. Talk about the kettle calling the pot black.

This is where their hypocrisy will be exposed for all to see when they have to FINALLY sit down to appoint who will be the man to lead the official coalition and by extension the Prime Minister of Malaysia if god forbid they win the next GE. PKR's Zaid and Anwar are making all the noises on who shall be the uno numero but do we hear anything coming out from the dominant DAP and the Islamist PAS? No not an official squeak even, silence does tells a thousand words.

I think I know what they are going to announce...there will be no number 1, instead there will be a Top Committee General with members elected from DAP,PAS and PKR. Only when they win the election will they announce who will be the No.1(basically because they are not confident they can win and that they cannot decide among themselves who would be the Boss).

The fact is in in Pakatan everybody from Hadi to Kit Siang and of course Anwar wants to become the PM.

Hantu Laut said...


Look at Selangor,why the need to appoint Anwar as economic adviser, a slap on Khalid Ibrahim's face.It can only mean one thing, Anwar doesn't trust him and think he is incapable of protecting the state from being taken over by BN.

Najib, should by hook or by crook,get back Selangor.They should not be too bothered by talk of undemocratic mean because Anwar is doing the same, the only difference,Najib succeeded, Anwar failed.If Anwar has succeeded, his supporters would have showered him with endless accolades and praises.

Perak is a case in point,Anwar and PKR is not as sore as DAP.Perak for all intents and purposes is a DAP government,Nizar is just a DAP's stooge.

I have nothing against the Chinese or Indians in particular,I have lots of Chinese friends.In fact, most of my close friends are Chinese.I am only against hypocrites and I see hypocrisy rampant in the Pakatan camp.

I also have nothing against DAP running the Perak government, what pissed me off is their endless trouble making,especially that bloody speaker,whatever his name is.

They should respect the Sultan's decision and wait till the next elections to retake the state.