29/04/2014 - 18:00
KUALA LUMPUR: Sometime at the beginning of March 2014, the 30 millionth Malaysian was born. In all likelihood, the baby that made history was a Malay boy. The conditions in favour of the Malay boy are just short of overwhelming – boys outnumber girls at birth by a ratio of 107 to 100, and because Malays form the largest segment of the population.
This little fact will have a big impact on our population demographics and, as we will see later, on the politics of this country.
According to the Statistics Department, Malays now make up more than 60% of the population while the ratio of non-Malay population continues to dwindle. This would have seemed impossible when Malaya gained independence in 1957. Then, Malays made up only 45% of the population, and the Chinese were not far behind at 40%.
If the rate of change continues unabated, Malays will likely make up 70% of the population in the next 20 years, and in 30 years perhaps even 80%.
As the proportion of one race rises above all others in the same population, it can be safely assumed that this dominant race will also become more politically influential and more powerful. In Malaysia, the possibility – or some may refer to it as a threat – of an overwhelming or unchallenged Malay political power has not escaped the non-Malays.
The spectre of all political power falling into Malay hands is no longer a what-if, and the numbers lend a lot of credence to this speculation. Already, the Malays are overwhelmingly dominant in one apolitical arm of the government – the civil service. At the end of 2009, they made up 78.2% of the 1.3 million strong civil service. The Chinese and Indians accounted for only 5.8% and 4% respectively – an all-time low since the 1970s.
The military and police force are also overwhelmingly Malay.
If there is one party that will dominate Malaysian politics, it is Umno – the senior partner and most powerful component of the Barisan Nasional, the coalition that has been ruling the country without a break since independence but has seen its strength sapping in the past decade or so.
However, the weakening of the Barisan should be attributed more to the inability of the Chinese-based MCA and Indians-only MIC to garner support from among the communities they claim to represent rather than Umno losing ground among the Malays.
Granted Umno has lost a lot of support among the urban Malay voters but the party continues to wield wide influence in the rural areas, where political power is concentrated.
To keep its power base intact, Umno has become increasingly nationalist, with its members taking the right-wing Malay-Muslim extremist stand on many issues. This has come in the form of attacks against non-Malays – a phenomenon that, sadly, has become more commonplace.
Umno-linked Malay rights groups such as Perkasa are thumping their chest to demand that Malays be declared unimpeachable, their rights unquestioned and their special position unchallenged.
Perkasa founder and leader Datuk Ibrahim Ali has emerged as one of the more divisive characters in Malaysian politics in recent years. He has accused the Chinese, whom he claimed already dominated the nation’s economy, of being greedy.
Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has also lent his support to Perkasa, by becoming its advisor. Mahathir himself has been accused of being racist, once referring to the Chinese and Indians as “pendatang” or immigrants, a term he was later forced to retract in the midst of strong resentment against him. He has even accused immigrants, again in reference to non-Malay citizens, of trying to take away the special privileges accorded to the Malays.
But Mahathir and Ibrahim are not the only factors that are driving a wedge between the Malays and the non-Malays.
Almost every day, Muslim non-governmental organisations that pop up like mushrooms after a wet day declare that one offence or another has been committed by non-Malays against the Malays. Given that all Malays are Muslims, the alleged slight extends to Islam as well as the Malay rulers.
The attacks have been relentless. There have been protests in front of churches over the use of the word “Allah” by Christians and Molotov cocktails have been hurled into these places of worship. Of course it has not always been a one-sided affair – mosques have also been desecrated with meat believed to be pork.
Are these factors taking us on a one-way route to one-race rule? Views differ according to political affiliation. Pakatan Rakyat sees it as inevitable if Umno’s rise is not challenged, but Umno has dismissed it as a “stupid argument”.
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