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Ketuanan-Melayuism has also spawned a parasitic, politically driven, rentier-capitalist class of indolent individuals who live off the hard work of ordinary Malaysians. Through an elaborate, secretive and well-disguised system of licencing, cronies take a cut of everything we pay for – from the food we eat to the pharmaceuticals we rely on. It distorts prices and pushes up the cost of living for the rest of us. It is nothing more than a vast government-sanctioned extortion racket disguised as affirmative action. And it has flourished unchallenged for decades, enriching the few at the expense of the many. 

It is nothing short of scandalous that after more than half a century of independence, after 11 Malaysia Plans, some 60 national budgets, the creation of hundreds of bumiputera empowerment agencies and trillions of ringgit spent, so many people in this land of ours – Bumiputeras especially – are still struggling to earn a living or to put aside enough money for their retirement. Only 3% of Malaysians, for example, have more than RM250,000 in their EPF account. Median savings of all EPF members below age 55 stands at just RM13,000; that translates into RM54 a month for their retirement years.[1] Going by these figures, the majority of Malaysians will spend their retirement in poverty. 

Is it not vulgar that so many people are struggling in a land overflowing with multimillion-ringgit apartments, Louis Vuitton stores and Porsches? Is it not obscene that the CEO of a failing corporation should earn a billion ringgit (over a ten-year period) while the average Malaysian takes home no more than RM2,500 per month?  

Look behind the glittering skyscrapers and cut through all the talk about becoming a developed country, and the reality of the social injustice in our nation will hit you like a ton of bricks. That too is one of the legacies of Ketuanan-Melayuism.

If all the money that was plundered or misspent in the name of Ketuanan-Melayuism had been put to productive use, we would, by now, possess one of the finest most dynamic economies in the world. And our people would be enjoying one of the region’s highest standards of living. 

If Ketuanan-Melayuism-sanctioned racism and discrimination had not driven so many of our brightest and best abroad, Malaysia would today be a great hub of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, on the cutting edge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

If Ketuanan-Melayuism had not destroyed our potential for national unity, respect and tolerance, we would be among the most harmonious nations in the world.

But all that is lost to us now. The floods are but a tolling of the bells, a requiem for a nation that might have been if not for the evil that was allowed to fester in our midst – the corrupt, indolent, self-centred, immoral, power-crazed men and women who seized control of our nation in the name of a fascist and racist ideology. 

None of this is, of course, secret or new. We see the injustice all around us. We bear the brunt of the distorted economic system whenever we go grocery shopping. We read the reports of scandal and corruption in the media. But still, we rush to kiss the hand of those who steal from us and bow and scrape before the ones who abuse us. We can’t complain about the sad state of our nation if we continue to vote for our tormentors, if we keep looking to convicted criminals, racists and extremists to save us.

There’s no point grumbling about the sorry state of our nation if we allow them to manipulate and distract us with racist narratives or get us worked up by religious non-issues. It is not our fellow Malaysians who are the enemy; it is the Ketuanan Melayu politicians and their crony elites who are.

What has happened to our sense of right and wrong, our common decency that we should tolerate all the wrong that is being daily perpetuated against us? As a Filipino rights activist asked forlornly, upon learning that the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos was surging in the polls, “What has become of us? …. Our culture, our psyche has been perverted, to the point where many of us do not see reality, even when faced with fact”.[2]

It is a question that we too should be asking ourselves. Nations don’t go downhill because of bad leaders alone; they end up that way because its citizens don’t care enough to stop them.

Corrupt politicians keep on doing what they do because they are convinced that we have an infinite capacity to suffer the indignity, the floods, the rising costs, the inconvenience, the abuse of power. They know they can keep distracting the electorate with all that ‘bangsa, agama dan negara’ nonsense and get away with it.  And we continue to prove them right and, of course, kiss their hands for the handouts they throw at us. They have no honour; we have no dignity.

There’s a saying: if the people lead, the leaders will follow. In the end, we are the custodians of our nation. We must go to bat every time we see something egregious, morally wrong or unjust. It is tiresome. It is burdensome. It often seems like a futile battle.  But we must not give up because it has fallen to us – young and old, Malay and non-Malay, Muslim and non-Muslim – to fight this battle. 

The judges must continue to judge wisely without fear or favour. The lawyers must stand to defend the constitution and march too when the judiciary is under attack. The writers, cartoonists and artists must stay the course no matter the intimidation. Good men and women must stand for election. The people must vote and vote wisely. 

And we must call out the corrupt politicians who have ruined our nation along with the racist ideology that they have crafted. If they insist on a divine right to rule, then we have every right to point our fingers at them for all the vile deeds that have been perpetrated in our land under their watch. 

Most of all, we must recognize that Ketuanan-Melayuism is a cancer that is gnawing away at the soul of our nation. It cannot be reformed or modified; it must be excised completely. Until we are ready to accept that, until we are ready to totally repudiate the obnoxious notion of a nation premised upon racial superiority and privilege, and the politicians who sustain it, there is no hope for Malaysia.

Another election fast approaches. The days of evil men are upon us; it’s time for good men and women to renew themselves to the struggle for a better Malaysia. 

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 22nd May 2022]

[1] The State of the Nation: Putting old-age security within reach of Malaysians without public pension, RM1 mil savings | The Edge Malaysia, 06 December 2021

[2] Victims voice disbelief, anger as Philippine dictator’s son nears power | Malaysian Insight, 08 May 2022