Commentary: PM Anwar’s sidestepping of ethnic policies not a way to gain ground in Malaysia
They are easily tarred by PN as meek and passive about Malay interests, and they simultaneously disappoint non-Malays who nonetheless vote for them because PN is viewed as the worse alternative.
(CNA) – Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government is ambivalent toward the vast array of Malay-favouring programmes to avoid antagonising its non-Malay base. This makes it easy for Perikatan Nasional to paint them as meek and passive about Malay interests, says Malaysia expert Lee Hwok-Aun.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim heaved a sigh of relief at the Aug 12 Malaysia state election results. The unity government led by his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition defended its three territories successfully; the other three held by the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition were never within reach.
The unity government’s celebration has been suitably sober. Although they won a respectable 94 out of 132 state assembly seats in Negeri Sembilan, Penang, and Selangor, they previously held a commanding 116.
PN prevailed in Malay-majority constituencies, and having hauled 108 out of 113 seats in the Malay-populated states of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, waxed triumphant. Their call for Mr Anwar to resign rings hollow, but they indisputably command the Malay electorate.
Post-mortem analyses, still ongoing as the data become available, will elucidate the reasons for this outcome. Mr Anwar, however, has already identified one factor that could swing an election – by way of describing a disaster averted.
At an Aug 5 dialogue session with Penang Matriculation College students, he said that promising to abolish ethnic quotas in those institutions would guarantee his coalition’s defeat. (Pre-university matriculation colleges reserve 90 per cent of spots for Bumiputeras, the Malays and indigenous groups of East Malaysia who comprise 70 per cent of Malaysia’s population.)
The issue emerged in a question-and-answer exchange with an inquisitive Indian student – a moment that encapsulates Mr Anwar’s dilemma. His noncommittal stance toward pro-Malay policies induces non-Malay expectations for “meritocracy” to replace ethnic preferences and makes his administration vulnerable to attack from PN.
The unity government, adopting PH’s established position, stays ambivalent toward the vast array of Malay-favouring programmes to avoid antagonising its non-Malay base that cannot access that system. However, when pressed, they concede that the status quo of ethnic quotas cannot be changed.
Thus, they are easily tarred by PN as meek and passive about Malay interests, and they simultaneously disappoint non-Malays who nonetheless vote for them because PN is viewed as the worse alternative.