MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Monday, February 27, 2023

Bumiputera agenda: The grim reality behind it

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

American author James Baldwin

Columnist Mariam Mokhtar in her piece “The farce and tragedy of the word bumiputera” concluded that this was not solely a Malay problem but a Malaysian one.

I wish this was so but unfortunately, it is not. First of all, there is no such thing as “Malaysian”. I know people get upset when I say this but everything from the Constitution to the political system is not reflective of a unified polity.

Someone like me - and I am sure I am not alone - understands what it feels like to be “Malaysian”. I served king and country at a time when the polarisation was less severe. When there was this feeling, this post-Merdeka feeling, that we were all in this together.

I served alongside Malays and non-Malays who understood we were part of nation-building and we worked alongside a civil service apparatus which not only complemented our mindset but was staffed by a diverse group of bureaucrats who believed that the country came first.

There were problems, of course, but they were radically different from what it is today.

Today, what it means to be a citizen of this country is defined by what it means to be Malay and non-Malay. We can talk about the colonial legacy and post-1969 realignment of mainstream Malay politics but all this is water under the bridge.

What we are left with, as Mariam coherently argued in her piece, is a system predicated on sustaining a voting polity along certain groups – the middle class, government servants and finally rural polities each attempting to profit from the system based on their racial pedigree.

I am not saying that the non-Malays, especially non-Malay power structures, are not part of the problem. They are, but the non-Malays are not part of the solution. So, you ask, how are the non-Malays part of the bumiputera agenda problem?

Well, the answer to that is simple. The “running dog” narrative has morphed into the “don’t spook the Malays” narrative.

To be fair, we are dealing with a complicated history of compromise, subservience and yes major successes for the non-Malay community, but all of which did nothing to address the problem of the bumiputera agenda, and instead made the problem worse.

In those days, the opposition, especially the DAP, was vilified by mainstream voters for advocating for reform ideas that would lay the foundation for a Malaysian identity.

To be part of the solution is more than just religious cosplay and political kool-aid. The solution demands nothing less than the dismantling of the divisive elements within the political system, including repealing certain statutes and dismantling power structures which enable the bumiputera agenda.

For non-Malay power structures to do this would be political suicide. Not in the sense that non-Malays would not vote for them, but rather, no Malay political power structure would even touch them to form any sort of governing alliance.

Besides, the base likes to complain about the bumiputera system but they really do not want their political operatives to address them for fear of greater political evil.

I am not unsympathetic to this. Right now, a virulent form of religious extremism defines the mainstream opposition. An opposition that is not only willing to dismantle Malay establishment sacred cows but also has made it clear that with electoral legerdemain, they intend to remain in power forever.

Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy

We have an opposition which has learnt the lessons of the fall of Umno extremely well and is unabashedly supremacist and fascist in their agenda because they believe they have the electoral support of the majority community.

So in this climate, to be part of the solution is extremely difficult. That is not to say that there is nobody speaking the truth to the powers that be.

Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy dared to bell the cat and what happened? The opposition is fighting for funds from the federal government – which they claim is illegitimate - goes ape manure.

Not only that, Ramasamy is left out in the cold because what he said drew the ire of Malay power structures within his own coalition. Welcome to Malaysia Madani and please remember the fault is not solely Saudara Anwar’s.

The Malay uber alles elites in this country want the Malays to remain stagnant while they plunder the country in the name of race and religion.

Remember when Pakatan Harapan came to power with Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the helm? The establishment, especially the judiciary, breathed a sigh of relief because they knew “their thing” would resume.

The reality is that it is up to the Malay political apparatus to solve this “bumiputera problem”. In my piece previously, I mentioned that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim needs a bumiputera agenda.

Anwar needs to step up

I wrote - if Anwar defines his bumiputera agenda as a class-based agenda (dissonant as it sounds) and reforms the system, aid actually goes to the majority, especially the disenfranchised as opposed to the elites, and this would be the start of cultivating a base, and more importantly, less compromising in the name of unity.

There is a reason why I always reference PSM whenever I talk about these issues. After all, the bumiputera agenda is a “class” issue.

Perikatan Nasional is very well aware of this, which is why they want to concentrate on the racial and religious aspects of the bumiputera agenda. Nobody in the Malay establishment wants a class dialectic.

This is why foundational religious dogma states that it is better to be poor under despotic Muslim rulers and be rewarded in the afterlife than to be led by honest non-Muslim leaders. Everyone from PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang to preacher Dr Zakir Naik pushes this narrative.

While the opinion of this writer is that electoral reforms are paramount, the Malay agenda should be about reforming institutions that supposedly uplift the Malays but in reality, a part of the ecosystem of government patronage that sustains a kleptocrat class, petty bureaucrats and of course, fiefdoms in the state security apparatus which are a reservoir of dark money.

Non-Malay power structures should scrupulously run their spheres of influence minimising corruption and attempting to cultivate that spirit of “Malaysianness” that is easy to say but difficult to put into action.

This means not avoiding the hard issues that come up and presenting a unified front with their Malay allies when addressing hot-button issues.

Ultimately it is in the hands of the Malay political elite to reform the system or hamper such attempts. I know where PN falls in this equation. It remains to be seen if Malaysia Madani advocates carrying the first part.

As the great James Baldwin wrote (and this applies to all of us) - “People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.” - Mkini

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum - “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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