Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Alternative messages to the Malay heartland: Will they be heard?

kuli-zaidIn the last few weeks, with the chorus of chest-beating messages on the need for greater entrenchment of Malay rights and privileges growing stronger ahead of the coming Umno general assembly, there have emerged two Malay leaders who are willing to go against the chauvinistic tide to provide a different analysis of what is wrong with Umno and its political ideology and how to correct the Malay dilemma of poverty or stagnation for its masses amidst unprecedented wealth, power and privilege for its elite.
Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah are no ordinary dissidents. They also cannot in any way be seen as traitors or disloyal to the Malay cause. They have been long-time staunch members of Umno with proven track records of dedicated public service and reputations of higher standards in integrity and honesty than most of their colleagues among our elite.
Their messages to the Malay heartland are sombre and brutal. They will certainly be seen as unwelcome and cruel. But in seeking to drive home the many uncomfortable truths that the contestants jostling for high positions pretend to not see or know about, they are doing the party and its followers much greater service than may be apparent.
Their views and the alternatives offered are important not only for Umno members and other Malays to appraise and debate; they are also important for all Malaysians to reflect upon as we search for the right road to ensure a fair and just future for all.
Zaid points out that
“after many years of being ‘special’, the Malays who are successful are never accepted for their ability; they must have received ‘special treatment’ from Umno. This is particularly true if they do not support Umno’s policies. The dispensation of special treatment enables Umno to pick and choose the winners and after 40 years we can see clearly how some Malays are more equal than others. The greed emanating from this group of the ‘NEW RICH’ is shocking. The lower income groups remain untouched by new injection of financial and economic assistance; it is always the Malay Contractors; members of the Malay Chambers, and of course the elite who get the bulk of the special treatment. When will the Malays realized the special treatment formula is nothing special except for some?”
It is the same in education where the concept of a level playing field is an anathema to Umno’s elite, and discriminatory policies have led to woeful standards, the exclusion of non-Malays and a damaging culture of in-breeding and mediocrity.
Again from Zaid:
“The Chancellor of Universiti Teknologi MARA proudly announced that the university is no place for non-Malays. He assumes that non-Malays want to go there in the first place. He also ignores the possible benefits that can come from having a more diverse student body —he is probably oblivious to the fact that we can learn valuable traits, attitudes and values from those who are different from us. It sadly does not occur to him that the presence of non-Malays might actually be useful for the Malays, the people he wants to champion.”
The effect of the New Economic Policy (NEP) and its successor policies on the Malays has also been succinctly summarized.
According to Zaid:
“It’s ironic that these leaders shouted Hidup Melayu to celebrate this pernicious policy, because it is actually a death knell for the Malays. The original policy of 40 years ago has become something else: it’s now a repository of all that is crude, unsophisticated and unthinking. What can be simpler than the idea of grabbing as much as you can whilst you have power? The deleterious and negative effects of this can be seen in the behaviour and values of these Umno Malays.”
Alternatives to the NEP
What then are the alternatives policies and strategies for Malay development and empowerment that can break away from the death trap of another 40 years of spoon-feeding, dependency and the malaise of blaming ‘the greedy Chinese’ that has become the dominant Malay/Umno mindset?
What are the policies and strategies that can go beyond just addressing the Malay dilemma and the needs of Malays but also the plight of the other citizens who do not belong to the thin crust of Umno cronies and non-Malay elite, and who struggle to make ends meet in the same way that the Malay masses do?
According to Tengku Razaleigh, the nation needs a new economic model in the form of a “stakeholder economy … in which education, health, employment and business opportunities are available to all. In such an economy, advancement is through merit in conjunction with a criterion of need for the upliftment of the poor and the marginalized groups affected by the forces of liberalization and globalization.”
To achieve this he argues that “we have to take it outside the NEP. We need to address the social contract frontally, reaffirm the Federal Constitution, and set the NEP into remission. We need to turn the Malay Agenda argument on its head, and treat it as part of the National Agenda.
Razaleigh’s ‘Amanah Malaysia’ plan is still clouded in generalities but my understanding of its broad thrust is that after 40 years of the New Economic Policy and other similar Malay-oriented affirmative action programmes which have mainly benefited Umno and its cronies and sapped the country’s resources dry, it is time for the abandonment of a race-based strategy in addressing the racial and class inequalities found in the country.
Will Zaid’s and Tengku Razaleigh’s views get a hearing at the Umno meetings? Zaid is pessimistic and believes that the coming assembly will be the same as in the past with the limelight taken up by feedback to the latest Bumiputra empowerment policy and with much time devoted to Chinese-bashing and tongue-lashing against “ungrateful Malays”.
New wave of Malaysians
Even if their views are not heard, an increasing number of Malays have begun to speak up against Umno’s dead-end racial strategy. In a letter posted on the Astro Awani portal titled. ‘ Let all races compete on an even playing field’ , Zan Azlee rubbished Dr Alias Mohamed, the president of the National Association of Malay Journalists and Writers of Malaysia who wrote on an elaborate plan which only the simple minded or gullible can believe in that the Chinese have in trying to take over control and power of Malaysia.
In his response, Zan wrote :
I, and many other Malaysians of the new wave, don't believe in the segregation of race in the country anymore. We believe in one Malaysian race. Citizens of the country are citizens. It doesn't matter how many generations were born here or even if they were granted citizenship after they were born.
Chinese, Malay, Indian, whatever. If we're Malaysian, then we're Malaysian. Band together to be stronger together. Not fight with each other. You know what they say. Bersatu kita teguh, bercerai kita roboh.”
Zaid, Tengku Razaleigh and Zan are minority voices and perspectives for now but for how long can the Umno spinmasters and hardliners fool the Malay masses?
~ Centre for Policy Initiatives

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