Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Under Threat? What Threat?

Brave New World (The Star)
17 April 2008

"Since the recent general election, voices have risen up in a shrill warning cry that the Malays are now ‘under threat’. But perhaps the real threat is the threat to Umno hegemony.


And so it begins. Race-based rhetoric has raised its ugly little head in response to a democratic process. Over 49% of the people of Malaysia have voted for parties that have rejected race-based affirmative action in favour of a needs-based platform.

It did not take very long for voices, both common and royal, to rise up in a shrill warning cry that the Malays are now “under threat”.

“Under threat” from what, may I ask? Let’s take a bit of time to look at this so-called “threat”. Firstly, Malays are given special protection under Article 153 of the Constitution.

Article 153 is titled “Reservation of quotas in respect of services, permits, etc, for Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak”. Article 152 states that Malay is the National Language. The Supreme Head of the Federation, according to Article 32, is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, a Malay ruler.

This is the foundation of Malay “special privileges”.

None of the Pakatan Rakyat component parties, including the DAP, have said anything about removing Articles 153, 152 and 32. They remain safe and secure with no sign whatsoever of any sort of threat.

Besides, in order to change it, you would need a two-thirds majority in the lower and upper houses of Parliament plus the support of the Conference of Rulers. The last time I checked, no one has a two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

Secondly, due to simple demographics, it is unlikely that a totally non-Malay party is ever going to win absolute control of the government. Of the five state governments in the hands of the Pakatan, four are led by a Malay Mentri Besar.

Penang is an exception, but Penang has been led by non-Malays since the 60s. Why was there was no outcry before this?

Thirdly, the proposed doing-away with the NEP (or whatever it is called nowadays), I suppose, can be seen as a threat to the Malays.

But how it can be a threat is beyond me, because the replacement suggested by the Pakatan is not some sort of laissez-faire capitalist economy. Instead, it is an economic system with affirmative action promised to those in need.

If the Malays are the largest group of people in Malaysia who are in the most need, then they will get the most help. If they are not in the most need, then why on earth do they need help then?

This is the point where I will get angry letters about how the NEP is needed; because in the business world – the real world which I know nothing about because I am just a lowly-academic trapped in my ivory tower – Malays are discriminated against by the Chinese. So we need a policy like the NEP to provide some balance.

I disagree.

If there are racist business policies being conducted against the Malays, then you face it head on with anti-discrimination laws.

If some person feels he is being discriminated against, no matter what his race, then let there be a law to help him, and let us punish the racists with a hefty fine or jail term.

You do not meet racism with racism; you challenge it by destroying all traces of it.

The problem with the NEP, as I see it, is that it breeds a mentality of entitlement based on race and not merit. This mentality seeps into governance, and it creates an atmosphere of mediocrity. One example of this is how the Constitution has been disregarded in relation to employment issues.

The Federal Constitution states that you can set quotas at the entry points of government services, for example, the civil service and public universities. However, this is counter-balanced by Article 136 that says all federal employees must be treated fairly regardless of race.

This means that once inside a service, everyone is to be treated equally based on merit. In such a situation, only the cream will rise to the top.

However, since the introduction of the NEP, the practice in government services has been to promote Malays mainly. This has in turn led to a drop in the number of non-Malay actors in the service of the public.

Taking my profession for example, the closeted unrealistic world of academia, I look down south and I see that 30% of the staff in the National University of Singapore Law School are Malaysians.

How come these clever fellows who are good enough to teach in a university that is among the top 20 in the world are not here in the land of their birth? Why are the blinking Singaporeans enjoying our talent? Is it because that talent is all non-Malay and they feel they have better opportunities there than here?

This is a complete waste, and in the end this loss of talent means a loss for the university, the country and the people of this country, including the Malay students who miss out on the best possible teachers.

Perhaps the real threat is the threat to Umno hegemony, in which case my answer to that is this: clean up your act, live up to your promises and listen to what the people are saying.

Make yourself electable by proving that you can create good government.

That is called democracy.


Anonymous said...

It was a very well written article. Very objective. Spoken like a true Malaysian. I aplaud you.

ferr said...

Hi! OMG! I was looking for one of Prof Azmi's previous articles and came across this site. All I can say is "Thank you thank you thank you". I keep missing his column, being too busy with work and all. So now I'll be visiting quite frequently to catch up on those i'd miss. Thanks again for the effort!!

Zaharan Razak said...

Yep, Malays are their own worst enemies and critics. Their history from murky mention of Langkasuka through the Lost City of Champa to the story of how Umno Lost its Cawat is replete with pandirisk missteps and oversteps. Now and then however you get a Hang Nadim to set things right only to be bumped off into the barohs.

zcer said...

Something as specific as the reservation of quotas for Malays/natives should not ever have been in the constitution. It's like "the right to beat arms" in the US constitution.

Either that or the constitution should not be considered to be sacred. This is not to say it is violable. But we have to keep in mind the objectives behind the clauses.

Thinking that "if Malays are those most in need, they will get the help anyway" shows how pervasive racism is that even those who are supposedly against it also fall into the trap of distorted perception.

There are the poor, and there are the rich. The poor don't enjoy as high a material standard of living as the rich. Therefore we want to help the poor. Ok now let's extend this to race. There are poor races and rich races. But is poorness or richness experienced by such a fantasticaly abstract entity as race? Does race have consciousness to experience wealth or poverty?

You are right to say if discrimination against Malays is the issue, then it is discrimination that should be tackled directly.

But saying "oh but the opposition wont have a 2/3rds majority anyway" simply weakens your stand. Because that is not what ppl have to worry about. All you have to show is that their fears of losing out due to discrimination once the NEP is removed are unfounded. But then discrimination affects individuals, not races. We need to make SURE there isnt discrimination. Not that there arent racial differences in average income.

But looking at racial differences in income wasnt about using it as a proxy to detect discrimination was it? It was always about race. Malays are losing out. As if there was such a superindividual suffering from lower standard of living compared to its peers The Chinese and The Indian and The X let X be whatever arbitrary groups you have in Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

I think this Malay and Umno under threat makes perfect sense.

This is what happenes when you blend race and religion into politics.A race is like the evolutionary tribe,each tribe(race this case Malay) will tend to out-compete other tribes(races i.e chinese,Indian etc.)

So when you mix race into politics,each race will have the tendency to make messy interventions so that their own race prevail.And now,we all know Malay was the original tribe in this land,while Chinese and Indian came later,so it will make perfect sense that like high IQ people will expel low IQ people into their society, as a result, Malay found it very hard to be friendly with Chinese and Indian !

That is why you see the news today for example:Malay have NEP as the defense line of Malay tribe,Education Minister(sorry i will certainly spell wrong his name..) raise keris symbolizing their Malay tribe supermacy over other tribes;Chinese fight for own race education;Chinese adapt to intolerant environment,they do business,because they know money is another tool,the means,to survive which is the ends... ;Minority Indian becomes fierceful err.. Indian is the most fierceful race in Malaysia,right?and desperate to survive,they are marginalised and etc...

In this case,Malay people as the tribe members and the UMNO as the tribe leader should indeed feel under threat.

So indeed,race and religion in politics will always make decision-makers irrational,biased towards own race UNLESS we think beyond this evolutionary 'curse'.