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Look, there’s no other way to put this, no more polite or diplomatic way to say it: Mahathir’s comments following his admission as a member of Putra – a party on the lunatic fringe of Malaysian politics – are nothing but the racist rantings of a deeply delusional man, the last hurrah of a man resoundingly rejected by the vast majority of Malaysians.

Like a broken record, he continues to insist that the “Malays are now left behind after giving way to foreigners”, that the Malays are not “getting their share in our country, as now they do not control the economy and politics. If we do not save the Malays, our country will be beset with problems”.[1]

It is no secret, of course, that ethnic Malays form the majority of those in the B40 group[2] – the group that is at the bottom of the economic pyramid – but Mahathir is being entirely disingenuous in ascribing blame for this sorry state of affairs to “foreigners” (which we know is code for “non-Malays”).

This year Malaysia will celebrate its 66th anniversary of independence. In that time, we’ve had 12 Malaysia Plans and 63 national budgets. At the same time, hundreds of different federal and state agencies have been set up with the sole purpose of helping Bumiputeras. All in all, more than a trillion ringgit has been spent in uplifting the economic condition of the Malays.

And yet, Malays still comprise the vast majority of the B40 group. The median EPF savings of Malays is about RM5,500, down from RM16,900 before the pandemic.[3] Things have become so bad for so many that government has been forced to introduce RM5 meals[4] to help the poor get decent meals. They’ve also launched a program to provide free sanitary pads to help alleviate what is now being called “period poverty.” [5] How has it come to this after more than half a century of economic development and affirmative action?

Who is responsible for this appalling situation? Mahathir and others of his ilk like to point their fingers at the non-Malays. They lament that the non-Malays control the government and dominate the economy. They imply that the non-Malays have deprived the Malays of their fair share. They insist that until the Malays take back control of the country, they will continue to languish.

But that is nothing but a monumental deception, a flight of fantasy, a grand fabrication perpetrated on a massive scale; racism at its worst.

For decades now, both the government and the economy have been firmly in Malay hands. Since independence, Malaysia has been ruled by ten prime ministers – all Malay. Mahathir himself has ruled for about a third of the time we have been independent. Malays have also been overwhelmingly in the majority in every federal cabinet since independence and in the majority of state executive councils (exco) as well. 

If anyone must be held responsible for the continuing plight of the Malays, it must, therefore, be these political elites who have ruled since independence. It is their deeply corrupt and incompetent leadership together with the misguided policies that they pursued that have impoverished so many.

As Mahathir knows full well, the real causes of Malay poverty are not because the Malays lack political power or economic control but because those in power have abused their position to purloin the wealth of the nation for themselves, their families and their cronies. Stories about the humongous wealth of some of our politicians and their families – Mahathir’s included – are legend.

Billions that could have and should have been used to help lift all Malaysians out of poverty have been plundered or abused by the same political elites who now endlessly complain about how unfairly the Malays have been treated. 

Until the Malays themselves wake up and demand greater accountability of their own leaders, nothing will change. Men like Mahathir can demonise the non-Malays and blame them for all the ills of the nation, but it will solve nothing because it is Malay leaders, more than anyone else, who have let down the Malays and robbed them of their dignity. 

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 3 March 2023]

[1] Malays will have bleak future, Dr Mahathir says after joining Putra | Malaysian Insight | 01 March 2023

[2] Malays make up 73.61 % of the B40 group. |Bumis majority of top earners – but disparity widest, too | Malaysiakini |26 Nov 2015

[3] Stop exploiting EPF for political gains, says analyst |The Sun Daily |22 Feb 2023

[4] Ministry: ‘Menu Rahmah’ for the poor with RM5 meal sets to be sold in 15,000 diners nationwide |Malay Mail |31 Jan 2023

[5] Health ministry launches initiative to combat period poverty |FMT | 12 Dec 2022