The New Malay Dilemma

Premier Najib needs an economic policy that unfortunately will offend a major part of his constituency

The country has also been afflicted by both a problem with capital flight and a brain drain as reported by Asia Sentinel, with Najib acknowledging that anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 professionals are working abroad, about 40 percent of them in Singapore, which actively recruits ethnic Chinese students in Malaysia.

Asia Sentinel

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak apparently has decided that taking the wraps off his long-awaited New Economic Model, as he calls it, is politically too dangerous for now. According to local media, although Najib who doubles as Malaysia’s finance minister, had been scheduled to introduce his new policy at the end of March, it is apparently off til June and he may not even introduce it himself, letting someone else take the heat.

Najib appears to be caught in a trap of his own, with a widening gap between what he would like to do as an economist and what a major chunk of his United Malays National Organization constituency wants. What they want is not only to not forward but to repeal the limited reforms he has already put in place, and they are increasingly angry about it. That is playing havoc with his so-called 1Malaysia campaign, designed to bring the country’s fractious ethnic groups together and rebuild the flailing national ruling coalition.

One pessimistic aide to a prominent UMNO politician told Asia Sentinel it is even possible that UMNO could be superseded by a growing organization of 80-odd Malay superiority non-governmental organizations cobbled together in recent weeks under the title Malay Consultative Council, which is seeking to push the government to maintain so-called ketuanan Melayu, or Malays first, a slogan embraced by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who remains active at age 84 and despite his endorsement of Najib is a growing thorn in the prime minister’s side, as he was with his predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whom he helped to drive from power.

Mahathir appears to be shifting to the right to make an alliance with the righists, according to longtime political observers in Kuala Lumpur.

In order to modernize, Malaysia, a country of 28 million people, needs to do away with a wide variety of subsidies and perks to ethnic Malays that are enshrined in the New Economic Policy, an affirmative action plan for ethnic Malays that was put in place in 1971 in the wake of disastrous 1969 ethnic riots that took the lives of hundreds of people on both side of the racial divide. The NEP supposedly ended in 1991 and a new National Development Policy was put in its place. It was largely the NEP under a different name. The NDP initials never took off. It is still called the NEP.