In what may well be a prelude to a significant policy shift, Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has taken to warning Malays that they are being left behind, that they are not on par with other races, that they are increasingly confined to the urban fringes where infrastructure is poor.
With rhetorical flourish, he even confessed to an audience at UiTM recently of being ashamed that “in our own country we are left behind….” It is an idea straight out of his ‘Malay Dilemma’ thesis.
But left behind? Is Mahathir really serious?
Go into any government department or university, go to a cabinet meeting or to parliament, go to Mindef or Bukit Aman, go into the nation’s corporate boardrooms or banks, go to Damansara Heights, and you’ll find the Malays firmly entrenched there, and rightfully so, as homeowners, entrepreneurs, bankers, scientists, doctors, vice-chancellors, professors, engineers, architects, civil servants, etc. They are holding their own very well and are second to none.
If anything, it is the non-Malays who are falling further and further behind in many of these sectors as a result of skewered government policies.
Even the notion of urban racial disparity that Mahathir has used to justify not having local council elections, was disproved a long time ago. According to 2010 census data, Malays are in the majority in all but a few urban centres. In Kuala Lumpur, for example, the Malay population in 2010 stood at 49.5%, outnumbering the Chinese population, which stood at 43.2%. It is much higher than that now.
Simply put, a lot of these race-based assumptions may have been true twenty or thirty years ago but not anymore; yet they continue to be bandied around as fact and used as a basis to formulate policies.
Who is to blame?
And if Malay urban areas lack infrastructure, shouldn’t city administrators be taken to task for their failure to serve all the residents of the city? It makes no sense at all to somehow blame others for the unequal distribution of facilities and opportunities when the administration is itself overwhelmingly in Malay hands. Perhaps, if our politicians and city administrators were not so busy exploiting their own positions for personal gain, the poorer areas of our cities might get the attention they rightly deserve.
It is, in fact, mind-boggling that so many Malay politicians continually harp on how poorly the Malays are doing when all the power to correct the situation has been in their hands for more than 60 years. Instead of fearmongering and race-baiting, they should look at their own performance and their own policies and figure out how to do a better job of governing the nation to the benefit of all its citizens.
A political construct
The narrative that Malays are being left behind is, for the most part, simply a political construct that is being promoted to justify the continuation of race-based policies that essentially favour the elites at the expense of the poor and serve the interest of Malay power structures.
Of course, there are many Malaysians who need help – farmers, fishermen, rural and urban poor; no one will grudge them greater support and assistance. But let’s have a targeted needs-based approach that really works, that will make a real difference. A needs-based approach will do more to uplift the disadvantaged Malays (as well as others) than many of the current policies that only benefit the crony-elites.
Building a culture of confidence
Instead of perpetuating a siege mentality – that the Malays are about to be overwhelmed by other communities – the government should celebrate the tremendous advances that the Malay community has made in the years since independence and how Malays have taken their place as leaders and change-agents in every area of national life.
Creating a culture of suspicion, fear, and envy of other communities might be expedient in the short-term but it is ultimately fatal to our nation’s progress. Surely that’s one of the most important lessons we must learn from the past 60 years of UMNO’s racist policies.
[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |15th December 2018]