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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Challenging Umno orthodoxy


“In Malaysia, everybody knows that Malays are the masters of this land. We rule this country as provided for in the Federal Constitution. Anyone who touches upon Malay affairs or criticises Malays is [offending] our sensitivities.”
- Former Umno Youth information chief Azimi Daim
COMMENT So at this recent forum about where the "Malays are at", various political operatives who claim to represent the “Malays” did a whole lot of chinwagging about the state of the Malay union. See what I did there? Never mind.
Anyway, the Umno representative Razlan Rafii made two banal observations which best define Malay supremacy which was (1) “This is our struggle, we should press on without stopping. When do we stop? When the New Econnomic Policy (NEP) achieves 30 percent (equity for Malays)” and (2) "This is our country, if we want to talk about the struggle for Malays, then the special privileges should not be questioned and it should be granted to Malays indefinitely."
I have read the Malaysian constitution a few times and nowhere does it state that “Malays” are masters of the land and only they should rule it. But why bother even pointing this little fact out? As the Umno rep has made it clear with his two contradictory statements, the NEP defines the ‘ketuanan’ concept and should be enforced indefinitely even though its supposed targets have been achieved.
Thirty percent equity for Malays is Umno dogma brandished by party’s high priests as the means to encourage the perception that there are somewhat noble underpinnings to overtly racists’ policies and rhetoric. It is not as if this orthodoxy has not been challenged before.
Malaysia’s leading public intellectual and academic Dr Lim Teck Ghee challenged this years ago when he resigned from the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) after Asli withdrew a report that claimed that “that bumiputera ownership of corporate equity in the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange had exceeded the 30 percent target.”
The Asli report is not the only research that made this claim. A university research paper by Universiti Malaya academician Dr M Fazilah Abdul Samad claimed that “30 percent bumiputera equity ownership as targeted under the government's New Economic Policy had been achieved about a decade ago.”
Whenever orthodoxy is challenged, the cottage industry of aggrieved Umno/Malay supplicants respond, attempting to outdo one another with proclamations of bruised sensitivities. While the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi regime attempted to present the findings as flawed because of suspect methodology, there was no rebuttal in the form of methodologies used by Umno which determined that the magic number had not been achieved.
However, as Lim eloquently put it, “It is understandable why Perkasa and similar parasitic groups are raging away at the corporate equity issue. The ultra-nationalist movement badly needs issues that can burnish its credentials as the protector of Malay interests and derail the structural reforms the country needs to flourish.”
Is fear the main motivation?
PKR's Siti Aishah Shaik Ismail, meanwhile, claimed at the forum, "There are many things that were used to frighten the Malays. Malays are sensitive when it comes to issues of race and honour but certain people use this to gain votes.” Which begs the question, how have parties who claim that they want an egalitarian system dispelled these so-called fears of the ‘Malays’?
To wit, if something is holding you back, if you realise that your fears are a barrier from reaching your true potential, then surely steps should be taken to address the root cause of these fears. What are those fears? That the ‘Malays’ will lose control? That Islam will be supplanted as the religion of the federation. Is fear the main motivation of ‘Malay’ supremacy?
As the ever reliable James Chin argued last year in The New York Times - “Promoting Malay supremacy not only undermines government accountability; it makes for unsound economics. Take Proton, the national car project that was started in 1983. For years, a slew of tariff and nontariff barriers have been applied to foreign cars in order to keep the made-in-Malaysia Proton comparatively cheap.
“But Proton, the car, is of poor quality and its production has yet to reach an economy of scale. And Proton, the company, has asked the Malaysian government for some $700 million in subsidies. Yet Mr Mahathir, now the chairperson of Proton, argues that the state must continue to protect it because it buys parts mostly from Malay vendors and employs almost only Malays.”
If the so-called oppositional Malay leadership, aided and abetted by mendacious non-Malay powerbrokers, continue to shovel the same horse manure to the people who have not benefitted from these so-called privileges, then I would argue that Malay supremacy is not really about the oppression of the non-Malays but rather the continued oppression of the Malays. As I said and will keep saying, “I would argue (and have) that there is not really a sense of ‘ketuanan Melayu’ in the general Malay community but rather a ‘ketuanan Umno’ that has been the dominant expression of ‘Malay’ nationalism.”
In addition, it is not as if Umno has not realised that the system could go into a cascade effect which would be bad for everyone, especially the base that sustains the Umno behemoth. Over the years, various Umno potentates have attempted or at least mooted various recalibrations to the system to ensure the country’s survival and Umno’s continued dominance.
Even Umno under Chairman Najib Abdul Razak made a go of it before descending into the 1MDB rabbit hole. From the same article by Chin, “When Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak came to power in 2009, he convened a group of economists to devise a new economic plan. The panel recommended replacing the existing racial preferences with need-based policies that would help any Malaysian, regardless of ethnicity, at the bottom 40 percent of the population in terms of household income. After encountering strong opposition from within Umno, Mr Najib dropped the idea and instead established yet another agency, Teraju, to encourage bumiputera participation in the economy.”
It would not surprise one bit if the strong opposition not only came from Umno but also from various quarters of the Malay opposition, who saw it as an opportunity to bolster their Malay credentials and from non-Malay opposition operatives who saw it as just another opportunity to question the sincerity of Umno and engage in a little bit of pragmatism.
This brings me to Bersatu’s Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman who said that there needed to be a revival of ‘Malay’ identity. I take this to mean besides the stereotype of the Malay as a rent-seeking Islamic bigot, that the Malay community needs to stop parading about in Arab drag and reclaim those cultural practices that are deemed anathema to Umno/Malay culture.
The question is what kind of new political environment does Saddiq envision? As far as I can tell, the goal of removing Najib seems to be paramount instead of actually sparking off a Malay reformation.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. -Mkini

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