Guest Editorial: Assimilated Bumiputra and Skeletons in the Closet

Lim Teck Ghee

“No, I’m not an Indian. I’m a Malay because I do not know the Indian language, and that was a long, long time ago”

“I’m now 100 percent a Malay, I speak Malay and practise Malay customs and traditions”

Dr. Mahathir Mohamed

A good friend who worked on urban politics in Malaysia for his Ph D dissertation, Dr. James Anthony, provided a comment which is food for thought on why the controversy of assimilation will continue to be in the forefront of political discourse for the ketuanans and born again and new Bumiputras;

“The likes of Mahathir, for all of their alleged gifts and “breadth” of vision and paper thin, offensive ideas about assimilation on their terms and on and on, what they really want is collaborators. The Mahathirs look for, and embrace, collaborators in their quest for consolidation of their own power and the consolidation of “their community’s” religious/ethnic/cultural hegemony. Their disguised mantra: you (infidels that you are) come join on us on our terms. Remember now, say the Mahathirs, you are guests in our country: we, Malays, are the true sons of the soil. You have a place here in our country but only as hewers of wood, carriers of water and (in the case of Indians, as rubber tappers, cheap labor). There are openings for some of you as collaborators — you will be selected by us on our terms. As collaborators you will be put on display to lend legitimacy to the national effort to move our country forward. And part of your job as collaborators is to recruit more collaborators”.

Dr. Mahathir Mohamed’s latest and most provocative media appearance in Thanthi TV, a news channel in Chennai produced a firestorm of fierce criticism. Leaders of the Indian community, the main target of his interview comments, took strong exception to his claim that Malaysian Indians were not completely loyal to the country as they were inexorably tied to their country of origin.

A kind response came from S.A.Vigneswaran, MIC president.

“Just ignore him if he talks about loyalty; we have other work to do.”

“Loyalty is a concept alien to Tun M because he was not loyal to Umno, not loyal to Bersatu and not loyal to Pakatan Harapan, which appointed him Prime Minister in 2018”

Gobind Singh, DAP national deputy chairman, noted:

“The Federal Constitution clearly recognises … that except as allowed explicitly by the constitution itself, there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the grounds of religion, race, descent, place of birth, or gender in any law.”

Gobind added that it was widely accepted that many citizens of the country spoke more than one language, with most being fluent in Bahasa Malaysia and their mother tongue, including Chinese, Tamil, Iban, or Kadazan.

Former Minister of National Unity in Dr. Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan cabinet, Waytha Moorthy, in his party’s open letter on “Pendatang or Rakyat: Assimilation or Acceptance” provided this rebuke:

“Assimilation was never in the slightest imagination of the Malay Rulers, the British colonialist power and our founding fathers. Please peruse the parliamentary debate of the Federal Legislative Council Malaya that approved our Constitution in 1957. There was a great atmosphere of acceptance, coexistence, and determination to develop Malaya further as a genuinely united Malayan race and prosperous nation. There were no objections from any races to these arrangements laid before the Constitution to ensure the continued prosperity of Malaya.”

Perikatan and MUDA Response

No prominent Bersatu or PAS leader criticised Dr. Mahathir or expressed willingness to debate his contention that only fully assimilated non-Malays could be considered as loyal. This indicates possibly their agreement that two classes of loyalty and citizenship based on racial heritage should be expounded to capture the support of the Malay constituency. This may also be their own thinking.

Perikatan Nasional (PN) member, Gerakan, despite expressing disappointment and disagreement, argued that Dr Mahathir’s stand would not sway public support for PN. Party president Dominic Lau reaffirmed that the opposition coalition would continue seeking Dr. Mahathir’s advice for the four states governed by PN.

According to the nation’s youth oriented Malaysian United Democratic Alliance party deputy president, Amira Aisya, Dr. Mahathir should apologise for his comments. To her, accusing the Indian community of being disloyal to the country could be misused by extremist groups.

The response from lower level government party leaders has been generally equally condemnatory. A PKR division leader went on record to say that the party intended to lodge at least 50 police reports against Mahathir’s “hate-filled rants”.

Other Ripple Effects of Dr. Mahathir’s Interview

While no follow up is likely to arise from the police reports and other expressions of concern on Dr. Mahathir’s interview, other ripple effects have emerged.

For one, it has prompted renewed public scrutiny of Dr. Mahathir’s record of leadership and the legacy that he is leaving the country. The English language social media has been especially critical of this possibly last hurrah of Dr Mahathir in his attempt to influence the direction of the nation’s politics and future development.

Commentators have gone to town to upbraid Dr. Mahathir for the toxic culture of rampant corruption, cronyism and privatisation/piratization which damaged the nation’s economy after he became Prime Minister in 1981.

Also prominent in the critiques is Dr. Mahathir’s alleged personal responsibility in the financial scandals and losses that provided the backdrop to Malaysia’s crash during the 1997 financial crisis and the steady decline in the nation’s economic rating when compared to other Asian countries.

Given his style of imperial leadership, belief in his superior knowledge of economics and disdain for any form of dissent, the list of Dr. Mahathir’s financial and economic mismanagement and malfeasance, according to some critics, covers every major financial setback that took place during his two decades as prime minister.

Maminco, Bank Bumiputra Finance, Forex Market Gambling, Perwaja Steel, and others – the billions of ringgit losses of these Mahathir follies was the tip of the national fiscal iceberg meltdown which Dr. Mahathir is accused of being responsible for; and for which he has not admitted to partial culpability and regret.

Another ripple effect is the attention which Dr Mahathir has generated on what can be best described as the skeletons in his family closet. These range from his dealings with Daim, reputed to be the richest man in the country, who is now under investigation for alleged corruption and money laundering; and the extraordinary wealth of Mahathis’s children, with Mirzan currently being investigated by the MACC authorities, and asked to declare his assets within and outside the country.

Recovering Illicit Funds

Malaysia has long been identified as amongst the world’s biggest exporters of illicit money. Hence the pursuit by prime minister Anwar Ibrahim of grand corruption by individuals in the attempt to recoup some of their illicit gains to shore up the national treasury is regarded by many Malaysians as long overdue although there are sceptics who see it as selective political play.

The campaign against grand corruption has a long way to run its course but if scrupulously and diligently pursued, it could shed light on the dark secrets of how the alleged enormous ill gotten wealth accumulated by a few individuals during Dr. Mahathir’s time of office has come about.

Lim Teck Ghee PhD is a Malaysian economic historian, policy analyst and public intellectual whose career has straddled academia, civil society organisations and international development agencies. He has a regular column, Another Take, in The Sun, a Malaysian daily; and is author of Challenging the Status Quo in Malaysia.