More than six decades after independence from the British, Malaysia continues to struggle to weave an inclusive social fabric for its racially diverse citizens.
Every right thinking Malaysian should give strong support to the National Unity Policy (NUP) and National Unity Blueprint 2021-2030 recently launched by the prime minister for they seek to promote racial harmony and foster a national identity.
The noble vision and aspirations outlined in the NUP are much needed. The policy and blueprint provide a long overdue opportunity for an honest conversation among us about the obstacles standing in the way of national unity.
In his address, the prime minister warned of political actors who serve their own agendas by exploiting racial sentiments for political gain. He, like many fair-minded citizens, is very much aware of this dangerous trend. But the key question is: what actions will be taken against the politicians and others who do so?
After all, most of us recognise that much of the country’s ongoing political turmoil is fuelled by the efforts of a few to consolidate power by using race to divide the citizens. Is the NUP drawing a line in the sand and saying there will be zero tolerance of racism?
It is time for all Malaysians, but especially the Malays who control political power, to reject all forms of racism.
Why? In the midst of a global pandemic, the squabbling among the political elite has adversely affected the social and economic lives of millions of Malaysians. The nation seems drained of inspiration and resigned to poor governance, much of which is drenched in issues arising from racially divisive politics.
There is also growing distrust and lack of confidence in the administration of the country, fuelled by the loss of jobs and inconsistent and confusing economic and social policies. Ironically, Malays in the low income groups are the worst affected by the economic stagnation.
Already dubbed as the new “sick man of Asia”, Malaysia is facing significant economic uncertainties and a decline in foreign investor confidence.
Data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development illustrate distressing figures of a 68% fall in foreign direct investment inflows to Malaysia in 2020. The country fared much worse than neighbouring Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.
The search for a way forward thus requires an honest inquiry into how we arrived at this low point. We can point fingers at the effects of the pandemic or the volatility of the global economy or even use the resource curse argument. But that would be a denial of the realities.
An honest examination of the nation’s current malaise will lead to one conclusion: the failure of our governance systems and its link to our highly charged race-based political landscape.
While undoubtedly successful in the early stages as it uplifted millions of poor Malays who had been disenfranchised by colonial rule, the NEP is now failing to fulfil its purpose, as any fair-minded observer can see.
Today, a large segment of the Malay population continues to struggle economically, while at the other end of the spectrum, an elite and privileged class has been lulled into a culture of entitlement. The latter, in not speaking out against a system that has become racist in practice, is guilty of tolerating and even supporting it.
As Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu famously said about those who were quiet during South Africa’s apartheid era: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
The fact is that the Malaysian political architecture is dominated by Malay politicians who have used race to consolidate power for more than 50 years.
Race has been deeply embedded into all key policies and all Malaysians have thereby been racialised.
This has in turn legitimised institutionalised racism across all spheres of public life. Malaysia today stands out as perhaps among the most chronic global examples of institutionalised racism.
Recognising the power that elite Malays have in shaping the politics of the country is by no means denying the adverse role that the elite of every other ethnic group plays in entrenching this racist architecture in the political economy.
Just as the government-linked companies are dominated by Malays, large Chinese businesses are dominated by Chinese and Indian businesses by Indians, thereby deepening the racial divide.
In a multicultural society like ours, unity is a complex pursuit that cannot be built without everyone tackling this source of disunity. It is time to recognise that institutionalised racism is the elephant in the room and that it has been accepted as the norm by the majority of Malaysians. This must change.
But the reality is also this: it is the elite Malays who have influence and control over the political architecture of this country and it is they who have to lead the change.
All the other races have to accept their fair share of the blame, and there is a lot to go around. They must do everything in their power to eradicate racism in the midst of their communities. But it is also true that they do not make the laws and regulations that have legitimised racism.
These go well beyond the need for affirmative action to help the segments of the Malay community that are the most disenfranchised and most needing of assistance.
The outdated and entrenched national policies only deepen the cracks between the races and are the root cause of disunity.
Calls for unity which do not address these issues are therefore superficial and merely paper over the cracks.
Race-based policies that are discriminatory and used by the political and business elites to enrich themselves at the expense of others are the reason we have become a racially divided nation. It is also why the poor among the Malays are the most disenfranchised Malaysians and regressing in more ways than one. They are the most affected victims of a racist system which uses them to enrich elites.
These policies are no longer helping poor Malays and it is time to realise whose interest they actually serve.
Policies that provide special rights and privileges to a particular race and divide citizens of a country along racial lines are not unique to Malaysia. Such policies exist in some other parts of the world, often to address injustices through affirmative action.
However, in Malaysia, these policies have been hijacked and have dangerously seeped deep into the psyche of the various ethnic groups, but particularly the Malays, including the urban and educated Malays. Apparently, they too, despite their wealth and privileges, believe they are entitled to scholarships and discounts on home purchase.
The product of the entitlement attitude and racially-skewed policies is the rent-seeking economy which pervades the country.
Rampant corruption in all aspects of public life is another result of these policies.
In this regard, the prime minister’s keenness to introduce the national unity agenda is a welcome step forward. But we would be naïve to think it is a magic-wand solution capable of rectifying years of normalising racism.
The current crop of leaders the country is turning to for answers are ageing politicians steeped in racial politics. We need a new generation of political leaders, from all races, to make the rejection of racism their primary platform and thereby help Malaysia enter the 21st century. If not, we will continue to wallow and stagnate in the 20th century backwater.
If you want unity, reject racism. If you want the economy to flourish, reject racism. If you want to fight rent-seeking corruption, reject racism. If you want to build a modern education system, reject racism. If you want a strong and competent civil service, reject racism. If you want the poor and struggling Malays and non-Malays to improve their standard of living, reject racism.
If you understand that every citizen has equal rights – and they do despite what some may say – then do not discriminate citizens by race.
We need a new generation of political and business leaders who eschew race-baiting in order to fight the torpor of a rent-seeking economy that breeds corruption and has wrought havoc on the economy.
Meritocracy and integrity need to be the foundational values that will define the country’s future success, not race. We also need laws that ensure those who promote racism are prosecuted without fear or favour.
The country needs an injection of new ideas and strategies that will build its collective capacities to meet the challenges of the new era.
This is the task for the next generation and the sooner it can displace the old, the better the chances of the country making progress.
The key, however, lies with the elite Malays, those who wield the most power and privileges and have benefited the most from the existing systems. They, particularly the young millennials whose parents and grandparents have reaped the rewards of the NEP, must take stock of their privileges and reject the racist foundations. In that way, they will contribute to the restructuring of a more united and non-racist Malaysia.
Such an endeavour calls for the cultivation of true moral courage. It is indeed a formidable task. After all, those who oppose the status quo will be attacked by fellow Malays who will resort to the usual accusation of betrayal of the race. This is the ultimate weapon to silence Malays who disagree with the racism. Are fair-minded Malays who desire a progressive and inclusive society up to the task?
Therein lies the real Malay dilemma for the 21st century. As they are the main beneficiaries of the current system and as they are now economically independent, they must actively reject racism, get involved in fighting against it and help foster a united and progressive Malaysia.
It is equally a dilemma and a challenge for the non-Malays who have bought into the system.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. These cookies ensure basic functionalities and security features of the website, anonymously.
|cookielawinfo-checbox-analytics||11 months||This cookie is set by GDPR Cookie Consent plugin. The cookie is used to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Analytics".|
|cookielawinfo-checbox-functional||11 months||The cookie is set by GDPR cookie consent to record the user consent for the cookies in the category "Functional".|
|cookielawinfo-checbox-others||11 months||This cookie is set by GDPR Cookie Consent plugin. The cookie is used to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Other.|
|cookielawinfo-checkbox-necessary||11 months||This cookie is set by GDPR Cookie Consent plugin. The cookies is used to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Necessary".|
|cookielawinfo-checkbox-performance||11 months||This cookie is set by GDPR Cookie Consent plugin. The cookie is used to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Performance".|
Functional cookies help to perform certain functionalities like sharing the content of the website on social media platforms, collect feedbacks, and other third-party features.
Performance cookies are used to understand and analyze the key performance indexes of the website which helps in delivering a better user experience for the visitors.
Analytical cookies are used to understand how visitors interact with the website. These cookies help provide information on metrics the number of visitors, bounce rate, traffic source, etc.
Advertisement cookies are used to provide visitors with relevant ads and marketing campaigns. These cookies track visitors across websites and collect information to provide customized ads.
Other uncategorized cookies are those that are being analyzed and have not been classified into a category as yet.
Karim joined GIFT in 2010 after participating in the Global Leaders Programme and has since designed and facilitated dozens of experiential programmes for high potential executives and government officials. In his current role Karim leads the ASEAN office and is responsible for GIFT’s regional activities and programmes across Southeast Asia. Prior to GIFT Karim spent a decade in Mainland China where he was a partner in a successful nationwide food and beverage business. Karim’s articles on insights gathered through GIFT programmes have appeared in a range of publications. He has an MBA from the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing and is a proficient Mandarin speaker.
In addition to leading GIFT’s dynamic team and business, since 2008, Eric has facilitated more than 50 experiential leadership programmes in fifteen countries. He is well versed in introducing new ideas on governance, business and sustainability and coaching participants to think critically about their role as leaders. Before joining GIFT, Eric spent several years managing multi-stakeholder partnerships between global brands and civil society groups in the United States and China. He writes and speaks regularly on topics related to leadership development and the changing role of business in society. Eric is an alumnus of Standford University and holds a Masters from Hong Kong University.
For more than three decades, Chandran has advised governments and MNCs on strategic management, leadership issues and sustainability, and is often invited to facilitate for top corporate education providers including Duke CE, INSEAD and NUS. He was previously Chairman of ERM in Asia Pacific, helping establish it as the world’s leading environmental consultancy. Chandran is on the Executive Committee of the Club of Rome and is a member of WEF’s Global Agenda Council on Governance for Sustainability and Experts Forum, where his thought leadership is sought for its fresh insights and intellectual honesty. He is the author of the best-seller – Consumptionomics: Asia’s Role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet, and The Sustainable State: The Future of Government, Economy and Society.