By Yin, Letters from Ward 5, T.R.
Background – Demographic Changes
Malaya was founded on communal considerations – each community fighting its own corner. But then there was no Malaya and Malaysia was not even an idea.
In 1947 the Non-Malay population (2,490,200) was more than the number of Malays (2,427,800). The fact that “Malay” was constitutionally defined as “anyone who speaks Malay, practise Malay customs and is a Muslim” is for a reason. This was to boost the number of Malays in the country by including anyone however tenuous his connection with the Malay community. This is the first case (anywhere) where race is not determined by science but by politics.
Probably due to the larger birthrate and the entry of Indonesians, by 1957 the number of Malays grew to 3,125,00 while that of the Non-Malays stood at 3,155,300. There was still a Non-Malay majority, but this would change quickly.
Muslim Indonesians, Pakistanis and others were allowed in. Then there is the infamous Operation I.C. (some called it Operation M for Mahathir’s alleged hand in the matter) which turned a native Christian majority in Sabah to a Muslim majority almost overnight by allowing large numbers of Filipino Muslims into the state.
Over time it was the policy of the government (written or unwritten) to encourage Muslim immigrants into the country while others were discouraged. Even Non-Malays born in the country were not conferred citizenship.
Since 1957 over two million Chinese and others have left the country because of the racially discriminating policies of every government to date.
All this boosted the Malay majority.
With majority comes power to interpret statutes, rewrite history, legislate laws, amend the constitution. With its vast government resources those in power can sell a narrative that suits its political agenda.
Racial majority has led to abuse of power by Malay Conservatives/Nationalists who were not interested in a Malaysian nation of equal citizenship.
The Origin of Article 153
Malays were concerned that they would be unable to compete with the others economically. Largely rural people they did not participate in the urban economy which was driving the country forward. They were less sophisticated in business than the Chinese and professionally, Indians were prominent (both in the private sector and in government).
To “protect” the Malays, Article 153 was put in the constitution. It essentially gave Malays certain privileges. These were quotas for entry into the civil service, public scholarships and public education. This comes with the caveat that the “legitimate interests of other communities” were to be protected.
Abuse of Article 153
Article 153 was intended to help the Malays and is not a tool to be used against the interests of other Malaysians. It was not intended to be permanent. Imagine the Chinese and Indian leaders of that time signing away the rights of their respective communities in perpetuity? Surely they are not that naive. Stands to reason no leader would have done that. Initially the “Special Privileges” of Malays was for 15 years. This later changed to “when Malays attain 30% of the corporate equity”.
A 2005 report by the Centre for Policy Studies of the Asian Strategic and Leadership Institute (Asli) under the stewardship of Dr Lim Teck Ghee showed that Bumiputra Corporate Equity ownership has reached 45% , surpassing the government’s self-imposed level of 30%. The government challenged this but refused to reveal the Economic Planning Unit’s (EPU] data or methodology when it claimed it has reached only 18.9%. Rather than discuss it openly the government considered it as a closed subject.
Surely this would be cause for celebration that the government has built a strong Malay middle class (35% then and surely much higher now). That it has chosen to refute Asli’s findings shows that the government had no intention of relinquishing Malay privileges any time soon.
Now the New Economic Policy (in different disguises) looks like giving Malays “Never Ending Privileges” – in essence conferring a two tier citizenship of the privileged Malays and a second class Non-Malays. Malay leaders claimed that it is “affirmative action” to help Malays.
We can argue on figures and semantics and lose the whole point of Article 153. The purpose of Article 153 is to help Malays catch up with the others. It is very specific in its intent. It is not a license to rob the other communities of the fruits of their enterprise or to prevent them, or at least put obstacles in their way to free enterprise. But this is exactly what successive governments did.
It is an abuse of Article 153 when the government take away the licenses of rice millers, bus operators, etc who have been providing service for generations. When Razak demanded shares in Robert Kuok’s shipping company at par Kuok complied but when Razak repeatedly demanded the same Kuok pulled up stakes in Malaysia.
The banking rationalization exercise, a thinly disguised attack on Chinese banks is another example of the abuse of Article 153. Where is the protection of the legitimate rights of Non-Malays?
There are other instances where “gangster methods” were used by Malay leaders to extract what they want from Chinese businesses.
How does taking away Chinese businesses and giving them to cronies help the Malay poor? How does giving monopolies to one person lift the Malay poor out of poverty? How does giving discount on house purchases etc to those who can afford several houses benefit the Malay B40. Such acts benefitted only a few corrupt Malay leaders and their families and cronies and the Malay Upper Middle Class. The Malay poor remained poor.
Malay corporate equity does not help the Malay poor. They cannot participate in discounts in purchasing ASN and ABN shares. They struggle to buy even one low cost house never mind taking advantage of discounts in buying houses in Bukit Damansara, Mont Kiara or any of the enclaves of the rich Malays.
Poor Malays want better pay, opportunities they can partake in, not corporate equity they cannot access.
Abuse of Article 153 is not only in business. It also affected ordinary Malaysian workers seeking a job in the civil service or in government agencies.
Article 153 gave special quotas to Malays concerning civil service appointments but it made clear that up to that point, the legitimate rights of the Nons must be safeguarded. In short, after one is accepted into the civil service one must be judged on merit. In other words, promotion must be on merit – not on race.
But this is not happening is it?
Does Petronas’ recruitment of an almost entirely Malay staff, or that of the GLCs infringe on the legitimate rights of the Non-Malays (as per Article 153)? Most certainly they do.
What exactly is the quota for Malays in government service or GLCs. Is the near monopoly of Malay employees in such services in the spirit of Article 153?
Article 153 has been distorted and now serves as a dividing line between those citizens who are “special” and those who are not – a “them” and “us” situation.
If we accept that Article 153 is about helping Malays “catch up”, then the question is why after six decades of robust racial discrimination the government is unable to lift a few million Malays out of poverty when China could lift 800 million in three decades.
Short answer – Abuse of Power, Greed and Corruption by Malay leaders and the elite. The corollary of this is the discrimination of the other races. In many cases the abuse of their legitimate rights.
I am not saying that Malays in general did not benefit from Bumiputraism, but the benefit has been disproportionate. Typical of Mahathir’s “trickle down economics” the lion’s share of the goodies went to those Malays at the top and whatever trickled down the Malay poor had to be satisfied with. Perhaps there is a logic to this madness. Keep them poor and hungry. Blame the Non-Malays, especially the Chinese. Tell them they must support you otherwise these greedy Non-Malays will take everything. Divide and rule at its most basic.
If the Malay B40 did not benefit as much as they deserve by “Bumiputraism ” why have they not rebelled? Why have the Malay poor not rebelled against this open kleptocracy and abuse of power by their leaders which affect them directly?”
Propaganda is information of a bias or misleading nature used to elicit a certain outcome. When Malays have been taught that they are “special”, that the country belongs to them, taught to loathe and fear the other races (espy the Chinese); and when they are indoctrinated from a young age by history books written with a racial slant, taught to be wary of the kaffirs every Friday, and have it drummed into them by government agencies like Biro Tata Nasional, the outcome is to be expected – A Divided Nation.
Against the government machinery the evidence-based opinions of well- meaning comments by Malaysians of all races and hues do not stand a chance.
“You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic” says Robert Heinlein and so it has proved.
Motivation and Means
Two Ms drive the Malay political leaders and the elite mercantile class success at hoodwinking the Malay masses.
Motivation – it’s about power and money. It serves the interests of the power and wealth elite to spin a narrative about the Chinese wolf at the door, about their special rights as “owners” of the land, about protecting Malay culture and Islam in a fast-changing world.
Who are those who stand to lose most if the wealth of the country were directed to helping the poor and the means of creating wealth be made more efficient? Uber Rich Malays who became rich because of crony politics, family connections and those with their hands on the levers of power. How has the creation of Malay billionaires (who probably have their money stashed overseas), benefitted ordinary Malays?
Malay power and wealth elite are highly motivated to maintain the status quo.
Means – with political power in the hands of the Malays they have all the means to enrich themselves. Every lever of government is in the hands of this Malay power elite. Their symbiotic relationship with their wealth cronies (including Non-Malays), the compliant (some would say suppliant) junior partners in BN’s heyday, and a generally apathetic public has given the Malay power and wealth elite a blank cheque.
The Attacks on Article 11
Article 11 guarantees Malaysians the freedom of religion (except to propagate other religions to Muslims); but this has not stopped those in power putting obstacles in the way of the practice of other religions. When it takes nearly thirty years to get permission to build a church because of bureaucratic hurdles, the spirit of Article 11 is not respected. Difficulties in obtaining permission to build churches has led to the mushrooming of “shop-house churches”. When there is no allocation for Non-Muslim burial sites, or when grossly unfair spatial allocations are given to other religions compared to Islam then the spirit of Article 11 is undermined. When attempts are made to interfere with the celebration of Christmas openly, or Christmas caroling is banned or that Muslims cannot extend Christmas greetings to their Christian friends, it makes a mockery of Article 11.
The abuse of Article 11 occurs when churches or mission schools cannot display symbols of their religion. It gets more absurd when anything that resembles a cross is removed because it might confuse Muslims.
Malays in general are religious. The mosque plays a big part in their lives.
This gives unscrupulous politicians another wedge to keep the races apart.
PAS has come up with lies like “the Christians are out to convert Muslims”. Even muftis have got into the act. Remember the mufti of Perak screaming about the conversion of Muslims in a church in Ipoh? He was crying wolf not because there was one but to stoke the fear of Malays about the evil plans of the kaffirs.
Now Anwar Ibrahim says that Malaysia cannot be a totally secular state. Its like saying that one can be a half-virgin. Either we are secular or we are not. Racial numbers have been a factor in the politics of the country from the very beginning. Onn Jaffar’s (the founder of UMNO) attempt at multi-racialism was rebuffed by the Malays. After 63 years we have not moved an inch to a proper nation of Malaysians, instead we have grown further apart largely due to the narrow vision of Malay leaders who want a Malay nation. Mahathir’s claim, however unfounded, that it is unconstitutional to have a multi-racial Malaysia is an open confession of what many Malays feel.
Anwar in the face of the “green wave” is trying to appease the Muslim ultras when he should be strong in defending the constitution both in letter and spirit.
Race, Core of Our problems
Remove “Race” and deal with our problems as a social-economic one which is what they really are. Only then can we deal with the issue of the poor (both Malay and Non-Malay).
Poverty is not a racial monopoly. There are also poor non-Malays. Sadly, for sixty years our politicians have used a racial solution to solve what is a socio-economic problem. But that is what unscrupulous politicians bankrupt of ideas do – appeal to the baser instincts of their respective communities.
At sixty-three, surely our country is mature enough to debate on who is best able to deliver – 1. A better life, Social Economic Justice where prosperity is shared equitably based on needs.
2. Better education that is based on best practices and best outcome, not on bigoted views of the race and religion mongerers.
3. Meritocracy should be encouraged. Using our best talents for the country irrespective of race or religion. Having a Non-Malay heading one of our GLCs, if indeed he is the best candidate for the job, should be viewed as getting the best outcome for the tax payers’ money. This is the duty of any government – to get the best outcome for the country.
Giving our brightest students scholarships is an investment in our future. We drive away our “brains” when we discriminate against them.
Anwar Ibrahim is between a rock and a hard place. His government depends on appeasing or at least not upsetting UMNO. Then there are the Ultras – PAS, Bersatu and Mahathir.
But at some point, Anwar has to make the call.
Do we continue down the slippery slope of race and religion or do we have a proper country based on equal citizenship where policies benefit all Malaysians and affirmative action is only to help the poor.
Unlike Anwar’s half virgin, we are either Malaysians or we are not, we cannot be half Malaysians.
(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)
By Yin, Letters from Ward 5, Tanjong Rambutan