How to criticize Bumiputera policies 101


Know what you are fighting against. It has nothing to do and should not have anything to do at all with protecting Malay superiority and the sanctity of Islam.

Fikri Fisal

The non-Malays do not receive governmental help while the Malays do. Hence, the non-Malays are hardworking and the Malays are lazy.

Statements like this are growing in social networks. Malaysians are raising the question of affirmative action again. As we all know, the Malaysian government implements affirmative action in terms of Bumiputera policies. Some examples are placement quotas in educational institutes, scholarships, business contracts and so on.

It is understandable why questions like this arise. How would non-Malay Malaysians not be given equal rights as the Malays (Bumiputeras)? Simple; here are the reasons:

Economic inequality

Affirmative action is not something exclusively Malaysian. Some countries that also have implemented affirmative action at certain points of time are the United States, India, South Africa, Brazil and many more. Some of these countries have affirmative action based on racial identity, while others implement class-based or neighbourhood-based affirmative action.

Affirmative action has only one purpose: To provide opportunities to disadvantaged groups of people in an attempt to level the playing field and promote equality.

“Affirmative action is unfair to the deserving, while meritocracy is unfair to the disadvantaged”. Even though there are continuous debates on the pros and cons of affirmative action, governments recognise the occasional need for affirmative action in order to aid those who need it.

In Malaysia, the main controversy arises because the affirmative action is based on racial identity rather than socio-economic wellbeing. The claim is that the Malays were unfairly behind in their socioeconomic status due to the “divide-and-conquer” policies of the British. Hence, helping the Malays is also helping the poor.

As in the words of Tun Abdul Razak, “The NEP incorporates the two pronged objective of eradicating poverty, irrespective of race and restructuring Malaysia society to reduce and eventually eliminate the identification of race with economic functions…”.

Sons of the Soil

This is another point of contention among the Malays (Bumiputeras) and the non-Malays. Before I proceed further, I have to emphasise that the Bumiputera-centric policy has the intention of economic equality. At least, that was the intention.

The notion that the Malays have to be accorded with affirmative action due to the fact that they were the original owners/settlers of the land is not the initial purpose of this well-intentioned policy. From time to time, we will hear professor this and professor that claiming that the Malays were here centuries earlier than the Chinese and the Indians. And this ‘fact’ will be turned into simplistic irrational justification of the Bumiputera-centric policies.

I will point out here the notion that the Malays are masters of the country was never in the intention of the founding father of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman. In August 1975, he said:

There was too much emphasis being placed on Bumiputeras, and not enough on Malaysians. Going about affairs this way makes it hard to instill Malaysian-mindedness in the hearts of the people. All the work being done to inspire patriotism among our polygenious population is being eroded as a result of this wrong approach.

It was only after the end of Tunku’s reign that the New Economic Policy and this unfounded notion of Malay superiority rose.

Adding to this misguided perspective, now we even see the name of Islam used to defend the Bumiputera-centric policies.

The last Umno general meeting produced this statement by Haniff Koslan: “More Malay millionaires needed to protect Islam”.

They would back this by proclaiming how in an Islamic state, Muslims have to be in power and no matter whatever comes, a Muslim has to be in power, in order to protect the sanctity of the Islamic faith.

What now?

This piece is not arguing the relevance of Article 153 of the Malaysian Constitution. If it still exists as a legitimate article in the Constitution, then it has to be honoured. That is part of democracy.

What this piece is trying to argue is that Bumiputera-centric policies like the NEP and the New Economic Model (NEM), was done in order to reduce socioeconomic inequality. It has nothing to do and should not have anything to do at all with protecting Malay superiority and the sanctity of Islam.

For the passionate critics of Bumiputera-centric policies, know what you are fighting against. If it’s Article 153, then it’s an unreasonable fight. It is part of the Constitution of the Federation of Malaysia. Are you against honouring the Constitution of a democratic state?

If it’s the notion of Malay/Muslim superiority that you are against with, then I am on your side. These are notions created by bigots and shrewd politicians. These should not be used as reasons to be against Bumiputera-centric policies because these were not even the reasons behind the implementation of the policies.

If it’s the implementation of affirmative action that you are against for, is it because it is a racial-based one? Or are you against the idea of affirmative action?

Lastly, if you are against the NEP or the NEM and those similar to them, do you have an alternative of a better affirmative action policy? Or are you against any form of social justice?