MALAYSIA’S BUMIPUTRA CONUNDRUM: AN ELABORATE DECEPTION

By Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 21 July 2017

The Malaysian government is caught in a conundrum over the Indian Muslim community claiming ‘Bumiputera’ status. This is because the term ‘Bumiputera’ does not exist in the Federal Constitution. It was an elaborate plan thought up by the new state capitalists in UMNO after 1970 for the ideological purpose of using the New Economic Policy (NEP) for their own agenda.

The Constitution merely mentions the “special position” (not rights!) of Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. A ‘Malay’ is defined in the Constitution as someone who is Muslim, speaks Malay habitually and practises Malay culture. If the former Prime Minister Mahathir, whose father was Indian, can claim Malay privileges, there seems no reason why Indian Muslims cannot claim similar ‘Malay’ privileges.

Transformation of affirmative action based on race

The so-called “social contract” at Independence was the product of colonial manipulation of the constitutional proposals, from the Malayan Union to the final Merdeka Agreement. Furthermore, it has in fact undergone transformations since Independence:

(i)            After Independence in 1957, the affirmative action policy was sparingly used according to Article 153;

(ii)           After May 13 in 1971, while the country was still under Emergency decree, Article 153 was amended to introduce the so-called “quota system” allowing wider affirmative action policies but still within stipulated conditions.

In the 1957 Constitution, Article 153 was framed simply as follows:

“It shall be the responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to safeguard the special position of the Malays and the legitimate interests of other communities in accordance with the provisions of this Article…and to ensure the reservation for Malays of such proportion as he may deem reasonable of positions in the public service…and of scholarships, exhibitions and other similar educational or training privileges or special facilities given or accorded by the Federal Government and, when any permit or licence for the operation of any trade or business is required by federal law…Nothing in this Article shall operate to deprive or authorize the deprivation of any person of any right, privilege, permit or licence accrued to or enjoyed or held by him…”

Sheridan & Groves commentary on Article 153 (“The Constitution of Malaysia”, Malayan Law Journal, Singapore 1979: 382) is as follows:

“This article had its inspiration in the protective discrimination provisions of the Indian constitution; but it is fundamentally different from those provisions because the largest class in whose favour the discrimination operates in Malaysia is the class which possesses political control, the Malays…”

Bumiputraism as the ideology of the new UMNO elite

The ideology of the new UMNO elite after May 13 is based on “bumiputraism” and this has been imprinted into the New Economic Policy, the New Education Policy and the National Cultural Policy which were raised barely a week after May 13, 1969, as I pointed out in my book on “May 13”. Through the NEP, the interests of the UMNO elite have expanded immensely.

Thus, Article 153 was amended in 1971 (while the country was still under Emergency decree) to introduce the so-called “quota system” which has become a carte blanche for gross racial discrimination in education policy. It is clear that the question of the constitutionality of the quota system as it has been practised since 1971 especially in exclusively Bumiputera institutions has never been tested. We know what the original intentions of the “Malay Special Privileges” provision in the Merdeka Constitution were, but to maintain that it is a carte blanche for all manner of discrimination based on the Bumiputra/ Non-Bumiputra divide is certainly straining credibility.

Since the Eighties, more than 90 per cent of loans for polytechnic certificate courses, 90 per cent of scholarships for Diploma of Education courses, 90 per cent of scholarships/loans for degree courses taken in the country, scholarships/loans for degree courses taken overseas have been given to Bumiputeras; the enrolment of students in residential schools have been 95 per cent Bumiputera; the enrolment in MARA’s Lower Science College, Maktab Sains MARA and UiTM have been almost 100 per cent Bumiputera.

Time to drop ‘Bumiputera’ and race-based policies

The Malaysian Judiciary is the interpreter of the Malaysian Constitution and as far as we know, extraneous concepts such as “social contract” and “bumiputera” cannot be found in the Constitution. The very idea of “Malay dominance” is repugnant to a civilized world united against racism and racial discrimination, in which diverse citizens enjoy an equal right to access opportunities. The abuse of the quota system ever since the 1971 constitutional amendment remains to be challenged in court.

Racism and racial discrimination have dominated Malaysian society for far too long. Now that the UMNO elite already controls the commanding heights of the Malaysian economy, it is high time for a new consensus based on non-racial factors such as need or needy sectors to justify affirmative action. Any ethnic community that has undergone class differentiation can hardly qualify for positive discrimination on the basis of ethnicity alone. This applies to the Malay, Chinese, Indian and even the Iban and Kadazan communities. Affirmative action may be justified for communities such as the Orang Asli and the Penans while they are still fairly homogeneous.

A consequence of the so-called affirmative action policies up to now is that for the poor of all ethnic communities, including the indigenous peoples in Malaysia, the objectives of wealth redistribution for their benefit have not been met. Worse, the poorest community remains the Orang Asli of Peninsula Malaysia, the Original People of Malaysia who, for some strange reason, are not even considered ‘Bumiputra’.

It is time for all Malaysians, including the Indian Muslims who hunger for peace and freedom to outlaw racism and racial discrimination from Malaysian society once and for all and to build genuine unity founded on adherence to human rights, equality and the interests of all the Malaysian peoples. Political parties and candidates in the coming 14th general election must declare if they are prepared to accept non-racial alternatives to national development.

IS NCC2 THE WAY FORWARD FOR OUR NATION?

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 17 Oct 2016

I understand the sentiments of “moderates” who are rightly alarmed at the increasing racism, religious bigotry and corruption in Malaysia and are proposing the establishment of a new ‘National Consultative Council’ (NCC2) like the one that was set up after May 13, 1969. But are they harbouring naïve views about how an NCC type approach can meaningfully address such concerns?

The presupposition behind those who call for unity and good sense and a rational way ahead for the nation is that “racial” discord in our society and the present slide into a banana republic can be solved through a council of eminent persons who will plot the path forward for the nation. But was that what was actually achieved by the NCC after the May 13 riots in 1969?

Who were behind the May 13 incident?

The official version of Malaysian history places the cause of May 13 on an inevitable clash between the “races” because of intractable inequalities between the ethnic communities. ‘Tanda Putera’, the official film goes even further by imputing blame on “provocation of the Malays” by the Opposition after the 1969 general election. My 2007 analysis of the evidence relating to the May 13 incident (‘Declassified documents on the Malaysian riots of 1969’) shows an orchestrated coup by the emergent state capitalists at the time who wanted the Tunku out. And in order to “restore order” and plot the route ahead for this new ascendant class, the National Consultative Council was established to give credence to a “national unity” that was sorely needed after the riots. It comprised of “eminent persons” representing the various ethnic communities in Malaysia.

What did the NCC actually achieve?

The National Consultative Council was headed by Tun Abdul Razak who became the new Prime Minister after the Tunku stepped down. It formulated the ‘Rukun Negara’ which was intended to create harmony and unity among the various races in Malaysia. Although the Rukunegara has often been touted as the panacea for our current problems in the country, I demur on two grounds: Firstly, this so-called “national philosophy” was crafted and promulgated under a state of emergency and not passed through the democratic processes afforded by the Federal Parliament; secondly, the ‘eminent persons’ responsible for it were not inclusive enough for they left out groups such as our indigenous peoples and Buddhists among others when they insisted on “belief in God” as one of the pillars of this state ideology.

The NEP was the game changer

Thereafter, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was launched in 1971. The NEP was aimed at “creating unity among the various races in Malaysia through reducing of the economic gap between the Malays and Bumiputera on the one hand, and the Non-Malays on the other”. It was a social re-engineering action program formulated by the National Operation Council (NOC) formed in the aftermath of 13 May 1969 riots. This policy was intended to be implemented for a period of 20 years but it has since, under different guises, become a Never Ending Policy.

It is important to note that the New Economic Policy that has transformed Malaysian society and also institutionalized racial discrimination all these years was the prerogative of the National Operation Council (NOC) and not the NCC. The NOC was the preserve of the Minister of Home Affairs, the leaders of UMNO, MCA & MIC, Chief of Armed Forces Staff and Inspector-General of Police. The council of eminent persons in the NCC only dealt with the formulation of the Rukun Negara. The National Cultural Policy was announced also in 1971 after a conference at which a token number of non-Malay academics were invited.

So let us be clear about what the NCC actually achieved after May 13. The NCC certainly failed to prevent the numerous amendments to the Constitution which have entrenched inequality since 1971, the most serious of which has been Amendment 8A to Article 153 in 1971, allowing more racial discrimination through the “quota system”. Nor did it prevent the amendment to Article 121 in 1988 which made provisions for the recognition of Islamic Syariah Courts/Laws – since then, the Judiciary has tended to defer its powers to the Syariah courts whenever there is dispute in conversion cases.

A fine mess you’ve got us into!

So how did we end up in the mess we find ourselves at the present and that is troubling the ‘moderates’ and corporate players?

First, we have to thank Dr Mahathir for privatizing most of our state assets when he came to office in 1981 right up to 2003. These were assets that we all owned that were sold for a song to private capitalists. By 1989, the contribution of the private sector to economic growth had exceeded that of the public sector and Mahathir’s mission to transfer state capital to private Malay capitalist hands was well on target. During Mahathir’s tenure as Prime Minister, three main UMNO officials focused their attention on building “Bumiputera capitalists”. This was facilitated after UMNO was declared illegal in 1988 and its assets were required to be sold off. The three were Mahathir himself, Daim Zainuddin who was his finance minister during two phases in Mahathir’s term and thirdly, Anwar Ibrahim who, before his downfall in September 1998, was second in power to Mahathir. All three had their respective corporate connections.

During the financial crisis of 1997, the state provided support for favored firms linked to the “Bumiputera capitalists” after the imposition of capital controls, such as reflationary measures which included cutting interest rates and making credit more readily available to these fledgling firms. Banks were also encouraged to lend more, and to bail out troubled firms – including that of Mahathir’s son – and a new expansionary budget was introduced in October 1998.

Apart from his historic creation of Malay private capital through privatization of state assets and his grandiose projects, Mahathir left a racist legacy that was the result of his populist intention to win over the Bumiputera votes. The racial discrimination implicit in the NEP was continued without any public debate; poverty was racialized as mainly a Bumiputera phenomenon; “Bumiputeras only” institutions were expanded, and racial discrimination was extended to discounts and quotas for housing, access to investment funds, loans and scholarships. This racist legacy included a chauvinistic National Cultural Policy that tried to pander to Malay-centrism with dire consequences for ethnic relations, especially in 1987.

Mahathir’s term in office was marked by sensational financial scandals which were not unexpected of an authoritarian populist who did not pay much heed to accountability and good governance. No one knows about all these scandals better than the leader of the Opposition who must declare if Mahathir can get away with impunity.

Mahathir’s racist paradigm was translated across the board to incorporate political, economic, educational, social and cultural policies and he left a racist legacy that has today been latched upon by a far-right Malay supremacist group of which he is the patron. This Malay-centric ideology they purvey has become increasingly infused with extreme Islamic populism, leaving even “moderate” Malays worried for the future.

Najib has merely extended Mahathir’s methods of rule

At the 13th general election (GE13) held on 5 May 2013, the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition won 133 of the 222 seats in Parliament, preserving its majority, despite the fact that it only received 47.38 percent of the popular vote against 50.87 for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition. Soon after GE13, UMNO decided to punish the non-Malays for their support of the opposition PR by giving only 19 percent of places in the public universities to Chinese students and 4 percent to Indian students even though the two ethnic groups together make up about 30 percent of the student population. Mahathir castigated Najib for wasting election funds on Chinese voters.

The GE13 results signaled a return to Mahathir’s strident racial politics and a U-turn on Najib’s pre-election attempt to reach out to the other races through his slogan “1Malaysia”. As noted above, UMNO’s erstwhile Malay chauvinist credentials have since been farmed out to Malay far-right organisations Perkasa and other groups. The latter will seek to prolong the pro-Malay discriminatory policies and Najib’s pre-election attempts to cut back on ethnic Malay privileges in the NEP now seem politically futile.

While it is the growing trend of many countries to reduce their civil service, Malaysia’s Prime Minister’s Department in particular, has done the opposite. It has more than doubled its number of civil servants from 21,000 to 43,554. In stark contrast, the White House employs only 1,888 staff!  To date, there are ten “Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department” alone, on top of other important agencies or governmental bodies that fall within the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department. These include, among others, the Attorney General’s Chambers, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Election Commission of Malaysia, Department of Islamic Development, Public Service Department, Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, the Judicial Appointments Commission, Economic Planning Unit and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

The oversized bureaucracy and the Bumiputeraist populism have, in turn, created massive leakages in the economy. In 2010, Cuepacs President Omar Osman revealed that a total of 418,200 or 41% of the 1.2 million civil servants in the country were suspected to be involved in corruption The 2009 Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) report revealed that Malaysians generally consider political parties and civil service to be the most corrupt groups, and the government’s anti-corruption drive to be ineffective.

Thus, instead of focusing on remedying the particular needs of the various poor classes in Malaysian society, the state has chosen to blame the plight of the Malay peasantry on “Chinese dominance of the economy”. At the same time, the state’s populist Bumiputera policy is intended to win over the allegiance of the whole Malay community while mainly benefiting the wealthier strata most of all.

The NEP and the state’s authoritarian populism

The state has subverted the democratic process through the proscription of so-called “sensitive” issues which include questioning the special position of the Malays, the national language and the rulers’ privileges. These proscriptions have been implemented through the use of detention without trial laws as well as the Sedition Act. Thus, the demands of workers and peasants, educational, religious and cultural organisations, indigenous peoples and regional minorities have been summarily dealt with through the cynical use of such repressive laws.

The NEP has served to institutionalize racial discrimination and its continuation is crucial to the authoritarian populism of the Malaysian state. This is blatantly practiced in the armed and civil services, education and economic sectors. Communalism, which is an intrinsic part of the state’s ideology, continues to produce tension in Malaysian society today and even more so after the challenge to the status quo at the 2008 general election. Even while Malaysia has been experiencing healthy economic growth rate since the seventies, the Malaysian state has had to rely on continued repression and communalist policies to divide the people.

The movement for genuine reforms

To conclude, as long as pro-Bumiputera policies remain useful in winning Bumiputera votes, it is unlikely that the ruling class in UMNO will want to dispense with this method of rule. Racism has been thoroughly infused in all the national institutions, including racist indoctrination of Bumiputeras in state institutions such as the BTN which recently came to light. Since Prime Minister Najib Razak introduced the slogan ‘1Malaysia’ to try to woo the disaffected non-Bumiputera voters after the 2008 fiasco, strident racism often associated with UMNO Youth has now been outsourced to the far-right Malay supremacist groups. They continue to play the role of storm troopers and disrupt activities organized by civil society to promote social justice, democracy and human rights. UMNO’s competition with PAS has also heightened Islamic populism in the country, with dire consequences for ethnic relations. Above all, racial discrimination facilitates crony capitalism which is essential to UMNO’s monopoly of power. This has not changed since the Mahathir era.

The ethnic Indian working class and the indigenous peoples in both East and West Malaysia are the poorest communities in Malaysia; the former and the Orang Asli cannot rely on “Bumiputera” privileges, while the indigenous peoples of East Malaysia do not enjoy the same amount of state largesse as the Malays in West Malaysia even though they are categorized as Bumiputeras.

So, if there is going to be an NCC2, will the new council of ‘eminent persons’ be prepared to face this reality and join the movement for genuine reforms in order to progress into the future? The road toward uniting the Malaysian peoples is through a concerted effort for greater democracy not only in the political realm but also in economic, educational, social and cultural policies. The state’s ideological view of “national unity” through one language and one culture and the dissolution of Chinese and Tamil schools are intended to fuel Malay chauvinism. The basis of unity rests fundamentally on the recognition of the equality of all nationalities. The imposition of one language and one culture on all the communities will produce only a hollow unity.

The basis for unity among the people has also to embody a commitment to democracy and policies that will improve the living standards of the workers and farmers of all communities and at the same time unite them. These components involve the lifting of restrictions on legitimate political organisation and activity, as well as the encouragement of social and political institutions that ensure genuine popular control.

Thus, the task for all Malaysians is to build a solidarity movement for democracy, fully cognizant of the need for improving the livelihood of the masses and building a society that is progressive, inclusive and truly equal.

IS RACISM THE MALAYSIAN NORM?

IS RACISM THE MALAYSIAN NORM?
Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 25 June 2016

Ever since the news broke about the residents at Waja Apartments in Taman Tun Perak, Cheras openly displaying a banner calling for realtors to refrain from renting condominium units to African tenants (“Say No to African People”), I have waited to see if there would be protests by Malaysians, especially politicians and community leaders against this blatant racism.

I was sadly disappointed. After all this time, it is only former Miss Malaysia-Universe Deborah Henry who has protested against this blatant racism, saying it is unfair to generalise and stereotype a community for the mistakes of a few: “There’s a thin line between racism and discrimination. One bad person doesn’t equate to an entire community.” She criticised the action of displaying racist banners in residential areas as unhealthy, saying that instead, these issues need to be dealt with appropriately. It has been reported that such banners against Africans have cropped up in Shah Alam and the Sunway area as well.

In fact, such blatant racism is not just unhealthy; it is condemned and outlawed by the world community, in particular the Declaration of the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Durban 2001:

35. We recognize that in many parts of the world, Africans and people of African descent face barriers as a result of social biases and discrimination prevailing in public and private institutions and express our commitment to work towards the eradication of all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance faced by Africans and people of African descent…”

Just in case Malaysians feel they are a superior race to Africans, they may like to know that following from this clause of the 2001 Declaration at Durban:

36. We recognize that in many parts of the world, Asians and people of Asian descent face barriers as a result of social biases and discrimination prevailing in public and private institutions and express our commitment to work towards the eradication of all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance faced by Asians and people of Asian descent…”

Living in a ‘Malaysian Bubble’

Yes, for years through the colonial experience, Asians have suffered racism and racial discrimination even in their own countries. However, Malaysians who have lived all their lives in this post-colonial “Malaysia Bubble” have had a different lived experience in which they do not identify as victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The reason the Malaysian government has not ratified the International Convention on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) is because racial discrimination is part of “normal life” in Malaysia where it is disguised as “affirmative action”. For what is the policy that excludes “Non-Bumiputeras” from public institutions such as UiTM but blatant racial discrimination? Likewise, the policy that gives discounts for house purchases, etc. to “Bumiputeras only”.

Time for an Equality Act

Once Malaysia ratifies the ICERD, we would have to introduce legislation to outlaw racism and racial discrimination. In countries that have ratified the ICERD, they have introduced an Equality Act and incorporated Equality into their Human Rights Commission to ensure the implementation of the Equality Act. Furthermore, to outlaw racism and speeches that promote hate crimes, such countries have introduced a Race & Religious Hatred Act to deal with intolerant racists and assorted bigots.

Until such time, this ugly incident is a reminder to each of us to audit our own biases and prejudices, and reflect on how we would feel faced by such discrimination. Certainly Asians who have travelled abroad will have experienced racism at first hand and in different guises.

You’re an African!

Watching all this racism against Africans by Malaysians, I am reminded of this song by Peter Tosh from the Seventies, titled ‘African’ which crystallizes the nature of racism:

Don’t matter where you come from

As long as you’re a black man, you’re an African

No mind your nationality

You have got the identity of an African…

So don’t care where you come from

As long as you’re a black man, you’re an African

No mind your complexion

There is no rejection, you’re an African…

‘Cause if your plexion high, high, high

If your complexion low, low, low

And if your plexion in between, you’re an African…

And if you come from Russia

(You are an African)

And if you come from Malaysia

(You are an African)!”

HAVE NON-MALAYS ALWAYS SHUNNED THE SECURITY FORCES?

HAVE NON-MALAYS ALWAYS SHUNNED THE SECURITY FORCES?
Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 27 May 2016

Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has said there is a need for more Non-Malays to join the police force as they currently make up only 5% of the 133,212-strong force:

“Of the total, 80.23% or 106,871 are Malays, while Chinese make up only 1.96% (2,615), Indians 3.16% (4,209), Punjabis 0.21% (275) and others 14.44% (19,242),” he said in reply to a question by Raja Datuk Kamarul Bahrin Shah (Amanah-Kuala Terengganu).

He added that taking care of the nation’s safety was a collective responsibility and not to be “shouldered by one particular race”.

This has become a familiar refrain by UMNO leaders who pretend not to understand how such a situation has come about. We heard this in 2013 during the Lahad Datu incident when several security force personnel lost their lives and the same aspersion was cast on Non-Malays for not joining the armed forces and defending the nation.

  1. Is it true that Non-Malays are not prepared to defend the nation?

In our nation’s history, the Second World War during which our country was occupied by Japanese fascist forces was perhaps the best test of who were prepared to defend the nation in the event of foreign invasion and to give their lives in the process. Cheah Boon Kheng in ‘Red Star over Malaya’ assessed that,

The Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) – which was made up of mainly ethnic Chinese Malayans – claimed to have eliminated 5,500 Japanese troops while losing 1,000 themselves.

  1. Non-Malays did not shun the security forces after Independence

After Independence, the non-Malays in Malaya did not shun the security forces. While we were at school, my eldest brother applied for a scholarship to the naval academy while my second brother had a passion for the Army. When he became a doctor, he did become an Army doctor for a period in the seventies. In fact, during the Sixties the top sportsmen and athletes in our school also participated in the Cadet Corps and quite a few joined the police and armed forces. The Air Force was definitely the most glamorous of the Armed Forces and the Non-Malays were certainly keen to compete to become pilots in the Air Force before 1969. The statistics for Non-Malays in the Air Force before 1969 will certainly prove my point.

When the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) was first formed in the Sixties, it was made up largely of Non-Malays. I can testify to that since we watched them going through their paces on our way to school. Perhaps the Home Minister could show us the statistics of the ethnic composition of the FRU before and after 1969.

  1. But May 13, 1969 and the NEP changed all that

In my 2007 title, ‘May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969’, we see a testimony to the situation in this British High Commission telegram:

There is no doubt that some of the security forces are discriminating in favour of the Malays. For example, Malay troops are guilty of this whereas the Federal Reserve Unit (ie. riot police) is not. Discrimination takes the form, for example, of not, repeat not, enforcing the curfew in one of the most violently disposed of the Malay areas in Kuala Lumpur (Kampung Baru) where Malays armed with parangs, etc. continue to circulate freely; with the inevitable result that gangs slip through the cordon round the area and attack Chinese outside it. In Chinese areas the curfew is strictly enforced.”

In my 2015 publication ‘Racism & racial Discrimination in Malaysia’ I have produced the statistics for the ethnic composition in the higher ranks of the police force before 1969 to prove the point that the racial discriminatory polices after 1969 changed all that:

Table 8.3: Ethnic Composition of the Police Service, Division I, West Malaysia (in %)

Year          Malay          Chinese          Indian         Expatriate

1957          26.7             9.0                 6.7                          67.6

1962          51.1            29.0              16.7                          12.2

1968          45.1            32.0              22.9          —

Source: D.S. Gibbons and Z.H. Ahmad, ‘Politics and Selection for the Higher Civil Service in the New States: the Malaysian Example’, Journal of Comparative Administration, 1971, 3:341.

Thus, we can see from the table above that before 1969, there were as many as 55% Non-Malays in the top rank of the police force.

  1. Do the Non-Malays shun the civil service too?

The truth is that after 1969, institutional racism has been across the board including the civil service in which Non-Malay composition is also below 5 per cent. In the civil and armed services, racial discrimination applies not only to recruitment but also access to promotion and other aspects of the services.

Thus, the supposed logic of “Non-Malays shunning the police and armed forces” would have to apply to the civil service. And if we apply this logic to the civil service, especially to the education sector, it would be totally ridiculous to likewise maintain that “Non-Malays shun education” would it not?

Conclusion: Only a truly equal Malaysia can reconcile the nation

Only a race-free policy can convince the people that the government is socially just, fair and democratic with a new socially just affirmative action policy based on need or class or sector. The cost and consequences of the racially discriminatory policy in Malaysia have been immense, especially since the NEP in 1971. It has caused a crippling polarization of Malaysian society and a costly brain drain.

If the government is serious about wanting to return to greater participation of all Malaysians in the uniformed services and in the civil service, the institutional reforms to eliminate racism and racial discrimination are actually quite straightforward. The question is whether the government has the political will to carry them out since the Bumiputera policies are a convenient populist tool to keep the ruling party in power and enrich the elite. Such reforms include:

  1. Basing affirmative action on need, sector or class and certainly not on race;
  2. Enacting an Equality Act and establishing an Equality & Human Rights Commission;
  3. Outlawing racism and incitement to racial hatred with a Race & Religious Hatred Act;
  4. Ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR);
  5. Providing non-racial alternatives to national development based on justice, equality and human rights;
  6. Promoting unity based on integration through greater democracy and shared facilities among communities.
  7. Since the civil and armed services are already comprised of more than 95 per cent Bumiputera, recruitment should now be based on merit.

Once we succeed in putting these policies in place, we have a foundation on which to begin the task of national reconciliation and reconstruction. In such a truly equal Malaysia, issues of ethnic composition of the civil and armed services will become history.

MAY 13: HIDDEN HANDS STILL AT WORK

MAY 13: HIDDEN HANDS STILL AT WORK
By Dr Kua Kia Soong, Director of SUARAM, 13 May 2011

When the May 13 Incident broke out in 1969, Said Zahari wrote these lines while under ISA detention in Singapore:

“Once again
History repeats itself
By savage deeds
In a civilized age

Once again
Hidden hands appear
Seeking the blood
Of the poor and the wretched

Once again
Colour, race, religion and language
Become sharp blades
To use in the carnage

It has happened
In every corner of the earth
Where the few eat bread
And the rest sand

It has happened
Where the few clothed in velvet
Sleep in palaces
The rest go naked, squeezed into shacks

It has happened –
Then hidden hands reappear
Spilling the blood of the poor
To cling on to power…”

Said Zahari certainly did not buy the official line that the riots had broken out spontaneously. The thesis of my 2007 title May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969 was that the pogrom was orchestrated by these hidden hands to facilitate the rise of the Malay state capitalist class in UMNO and to topple the aristocratic class headed by the Tunku. This opportunity presented itself after the devastating results for the ruling coalition in the 1969 general elections.

It was not until July 1969 – a lapse of two full months – that the security forces played their expected role of restoring order. It was not as if the Malaysian security forces were inexperienced in the role of maintaining order. They had successfully contained the armed insurgency during the Emergency from 1948 to 1960 under more difficult circumstances. Allowing the riots to continue for so many weeks provided an excuse for the new UMNO ruling class to make use of the state of emergency to implement their agenda for political and economic dominance through the New Economic Policy. In this plan, they received the full backing and connivance of the police and military.

Before the publication of my book, UMNO had all along been using “May 13” as a spectre to frighten voters of another pogrom whenever a strong political opposition had arisen to challenge the ruling coalition. This was seen in various general elections such as the one in 1990 when the public broadcasting media RTM was used to purvey scenes of carnage to remind voters of the consequences.

Even the Tunku could see through the ploy. In 1988, he gave short shrift to the Government’s White Paper on Operation Lalang:

“For the Prime Minister (Dr Mahathir) to repeat (the story of) the violence of the May 13 Affair as a warning of what would have happened if the Government had not taken appropriate action immediately is like telling ghost stories to our children to prevent them from being naughty. This is not a childish matter but a matter of national importance. The tale should not be repeated because it shows us to be politically immature.” (SUARAM, “The White Paper on the October Affair and the Why? Papers”, 1989: 5)

The prelude to Operation Lalang saw the UMNO leaders orchestrating racial tension over the transfer of non-qualified administrators to Chinese primary schools. They held a rally in Kampong Baru at which then UMNO Youth Chief and present prime minister was one of the chest thumpers on stage while banners called for “Chinese blood” and “May 13”.

Since then, UMNO has unleashed its Youth group to harass any groups which question UMNO policies such as the mob assault on the East Timor Conference in 1996; the demonstration against the Chinese associations’ Suqiu appeals and threat to burn down the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in 2000, among others.

Orchestration of the UMNO- Controlled Media
The UMNO-owned and controlled press, especially Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian have been indispensable accessories in the orchestration of communalism and racial tension to justify authoritarian measures such as was seen in Operation Lalang, 1987 and to frighten the voters into supporting the status quo.

I have monitored the way “The UMNO Media Communalises” in Media Watch: The Use and Abuse of the Malaysian Press, 1990, in order to show you how the trick is done . For example, when the Government was being criticized for the BMF scandal in the eighties, Berita Harian (19.9.86) featured the UMNO president, Dr Mahathir’s veiled threat at the UMNO general assembly: KESABARAN MELAYU ADA HADNYA (“There is a limit to the patience of the Malays”). Utusan Malaysia (19.9.86) would not be outdone: JANGAN AMBIL MUDAH ORANG MELAYU (“Don’t take Malays for granted”)

When there was widespread opposition to the Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill in 1986 by all ethnic groups, Utusan Malaysia (6.12.86) chose to feature this headline quoting the UMNO Youth Chief Datuk Seri Mohd Najib: NAJIB INGATKAN ANGGOTA-ANGGOTA UMNO KEPIMPINAN MELAYU SEDANG DICABAR (“Najib alerts UMNO members Malay leadership being challenged”)

During the orchestrated “crisis” over the posting of unqualified administrators to the Chinese primary schools, the banner headline in Berita Harian (19.10.87) read: KEKAL KETUANAN MELAYU – PEMUDA (“Defend Malay dominance – UMNO Youth”)

Then when Tengku Razaleigh was leading the Opposition Front in the 1990 general elections, the editorial headline of Berita Harian (20.4.90) read: POLITIK TENGKU RAZALEIGH MERUGIKAN MELAYU (“Tengku Razaleigh’s politics – Malays lose out”)

One really needs to go further back to the Sixties to monitor how the UMNO media has deliberately communalized issues. It all gets rather tedious to even the most weathered media watcher because they carry on ad nauseum to serve the UMNO agenda for political and economic domination by playing on Malay chauvinism.

As the young generation can see with their own eyes today, the UMNO media have not stopped. The latest caper by Utusan Malaysia alleging a plot to make Christianity an official religion is probably one of the crudest yet in its arsenal of orchestrated untruths.

Yet, has any Utusan Malaysia editor been sacked by their political masters for all these deliberate attempts at stoking racial tensions? So much for Najib’s “1Malaysia” caper! And they wonder why Malaysian professionals are leaving the country…

Demands for the 13th General Elections
Calling upon UMNO and the UMNO-owned and controlled media to be more responsible is like asking a leopard to change its spots. Bumiputraism has been part and parcel of UMNO’s ideology and method for maintaining political and economic power. Demands for social responsibility and ethical standards in the media will not be heeded unless these are enshrined in new democratic institutions.

Therefore, as we mark this 42nd anniversary of May 13, we reiterate the call for:

– A Truth & Reconciliation Commission to honour those who lost their lives in 1969 and to learn the lessons of that dark episode of Malaysian history by pointing the way forward toward national reconciliation;
– An independent Press Council and Broadcasting Authority, whose members and Chair are seen to be truly independent, acceptable and respected by civil society;
– A Race Relations Act to outlaw racism, racial discrimination, hate crimes and other related intolerances and an Equal Opportunities Commission;
– Ratification of the International Convention on the Eradication of Racism, Racial Discrimination and all forms of Intolerance.