Friday, May 20, 2011

1Malaysia—A Dream Within A Dream

SHORTLY after becoming the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato' Sri Najib Tun Razak propounded the concept of 1Malaysia—an ambitious dream of equal treatment to all Malaysians irrespective of racial background.

It's hard to say if the 1Malaysia notion is merely a political ploy to win back the confidence of voters who voted for the opposition in the last general elections; or whether the Prime Minister truly means to give equal treatment to all Malaysians, but I would say it's probably a bit of both. If indeed the Prime Minister means what he says, then I'd say he's dreaming the impossible dream. For I can't see Malaysia transforming into the so-called 1Malaysia—at least not anytime soon.

In many ways, the non-bumiputeras of Malaysia have always been the less-privileged citizens. In terms of government projects, it is always the bumiputeras who will secure them. And in many cases bumiputeras are partners in major companies strictly because they can secure government contracts. In terms of important posts in government establishments, e.g. the police force, banking industry, universities, administrative bodies, these are overwhelmingly given to the bumiputeras.

No wonder when the Prime Minister first announced the 1Malaysia idea to the nation, many non-bumis were somewhat skeptical. But after a while some were convinced of the idea, and allowed themselves to indulge in dreaming the impossible dream too; hence a dream within a dream.

A year or two had since elapsed since the first time I heard of the 1Malaysia announcement, but I still see it, for the most part, as an ambitious—if not impossible—dream. Many, many government policies do not accord well with the 1Malaysia concept; and I don't foresee them to change—ever.

In the housing industry, for example, 30% of new houses are still reserved for the bumiputeras at discounted prices. If the policy is a matter of helping poor bumiputeras to own houses, I can accept it. In fact, I would welcome that policy. But it would be more reflective of the 1Malaysia concept if the 30% discounted prices are given to poor people from all races, as opposed to only the bumiputeras. Even more baffling is that the 30%-for-bumiputera rule extends even to high-class properties of, say, condominiums worth above RM500,000 each. I think it's pretty safe to assume that if an individual can afford a RM500,000 house, he is not exactly poor.

On the other hand, if policies are really changed in line with the concept of 1Malaysia, would it work? I'd say it's doubtful at best. Policies can be changed in a heartbeat, but the people who are supposed to put those policies into operation can't be changed overnight. If, for example, there is now a new policy that says government contracts should be awarded to companies based on merits, and not on race, would the people actually doing the selection process obey that policy? What do you think?

If, for example, there is a policy that says scholarships are to be awarded based on merits, and not on race, would the people actually sitting in the selection committee obey that policy? What do you think?

No—the 1Malaysia concept is just too far-fetched to ever become a reality. But it is a romantic idea, and many people would dream that it would become a reality one of these days.


AlmostClever said...

I agree with you completely on this, in fact, hubs and I were just talking about this the other day with each other.

We went to a "Talent Corp" event where people from Malaysia came and gave a presentation to Malaysians living in America, trying to find out why they stay in America and don't go back to Malaysia, and also offering this new program of incentives for people who do decide to go back. Since we are planning to go back eventually, we thought this would be an excellent program to apply for.

After the presentation we walked to our cars with a Chinese Malaysian man and his wife. Deep into our conversation he suddenly asked my husband what his race is. My hubby told him he is Bajau. The man smirked and asked him if he is "one of those JPA kids," meaning: you got a scholarship you didn't need and failed to ever pay it back.

My husband was polite about it and said no, in fact that couldn't be further from the truth as far as my husband's story, but this guy automatically saw him as a stereotype of what bumiputeras are.

Needless to say, hubby was offended, but it brought about a good conversation about race in Malaysia and racist policies in Malaysia.

Even we have seen Malay students on scholarships who come from extremely wealthy "oil" families. Do they need scholarships? HELL NO!

The system is definitely in need of reform, and I too think it should be reformed to class issues, not race issues. Anyone who is poor deserves a chance at a scholarship and decent housing, not just bumiputeras.

Same with the whole housing loan issue, that is such a ridiculous policy they are enacting.

Again, as I have said in the past, I think it boils down to political parties being divided by race. Any time a policy is passed by a certain party, it has the special interest of race involved, this is a bad thing.

I think the government needs to enforce it's belief in 1 Malaysia by having political parties based on the issues they believe in, not what race they are. Then maybe the people can start believing 1Malaysia is a possibility.

The whole reason that Chinese Malaysian guy is in America is because he is bitter about race politics in Malaysia, to the point that he had racist assumptions about my husband soley based on the stereotypes about bumiputeras that the Chinese Malaysians have. And Malays have their stereotypes about the Chinese Malaysians also. They wonder why they complain about the policies when they are still the richest overall and run the economy, and have had a head start since the British enforced Malay poverty by only allowing them to work in agriculture, while the Chinese were educated and given higher paying jobs and access to the economy. Many Malays are still seeing the effects of British colonial rule and feel there are policies needed for them because of their higher numbers of poverty, overall.

Everyone is racist when the government enforces institutional racism through its policies. I think the people are the ones suffering from race policies because it creates a societal mindset of who "the other" is. All the way in America, Malaysians still feel the effects of those policies.

Let's hope someday there is a PM with enough heart to see this and make some real, lasting changes in how the government runs itself.

Cornelius said...


This may surprise you, but quite honestly, I have long given up hope on Malaysia ever changing as far as this matter is concerned. The reality is that there will never be total equality in this country. Now I'm not even complaining that the non-bumis are second class citizens. I have come to accept that, you see.

But I don't like the way these people are trying to claim equal treatment with fancy phrase like "1Malaysia", when clearly there is no such thing.

I'd like to comment a bit about the claim that the Chinese had a "head start" vs the Bumis. I'm not very sure of that claim, but if that is indeed true, all I can say is that many, many successful Chinese in the street today did not achieve success because of the so-called "head start". Many of them had to start from the bottom - rock bottom - to be where they are today.

Along the way up, most Chinese are faced with disadvantages as most of the available opportunities are reserved almost exclusively for the Bumis. Certainly, we did not get practically free shares in big companies which we could sell and made profits for doing hardly anything at all.

If indeed the Chinese had a head start against the Bumis, that advantage had long disappeared within the last one or two generations. For over 5 decades, the Bumis had more than ample opportunities to offset whatever head start the Chinese had.

In a race for success, you cut your opponents' arms and legs, and then erect tall concrete walls to block the tracks to make it even more difficult for them to compete. At the end of the race, if your opponents still emerge victorious, then you must question yourself why; not dwell on the fact that your opponents used to have long legs and hence had a headstart.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that is a good analogy. The effects of colonization are deep and they are layered, it creates generational mindsets that are passed down through families - such as attitudes towards education and money.

It takes generations to change mindsets, and Malaysia - post colonialism - is still very young.

Anyways, my point wasn't to argue over the prejudices each group has, we already know that. My point was to say 1Malaysia can only be real when the government takes those words and puts them to action.

Until then, there will be arguments over who is the most oppressed, and that is a worthless and divisive fight to have.

Cornelius said...

Exactly my point, Sarah. It's a matter of mindset. If the Bumis see the Chinese as having the head start; and that that advantage prevails up to now, so much so that they feel that policies are needed to prevent the Chinese from building on that advantage, then what can the Chinese do? I'm just saying that if the Chinese had a head start at all, that advantage had long diminished.

I'm not disputing the effects of colonization. Maybe, as you say, it would take generations to change mindset, I don't know.

If the Malaysian government is ever gonna really practise 1Malaysia, I don't see it happening anytime soon. Maybe in a few generations from now.

chinese tea said...

Cornelius - I agree with your analogy. I said something along that line in the last conversation I had about Malaysian politics. After years of the NEP ... with all those extra opportunities, if they aren't performing then something's definitely wrong.

Anonymous said...

you have to look deeper than the surface, chinese tea.

Cornelius said...


chinese tea is just stating a fact. The non-Bumis are not even challenging the NEP. I'm sure the Government has a special reason why they thought (think) the NEP can help to improve the Bumis.

It is a fact that after more than 5 decades of the NEP, the Bumis are still lagging.

The NEP formula has been in force for over 2 generations, and still doesn't seem to be working. Ordinarily, common sense would dictate that if you do something in a particular approach to deal with a problem, but which had been proven to fail in the past, the most likely outcome for continuing with that approach would also be negative.

Therefore, chinese tea, and indeed most non-Bumis, are saying if the NEP has failed in over 5 decades, "something's definitely wrong" [with that approach].

Anonymous said...

LOL, I can tell this is an issue you (and many) have strong feelings about, and I completely agree with everything you are saying - and I restate that we need to look deeper than the surface.

I'm not feeling defensive of any "race," the truth is I don't think I can "figure it out" until I have lived in Malaysia and felt it personally. My perspective is as an outsider looking in, who has read about the history of Malaysia pre-colonial period to post.

My point is to say we have to look at why this is happening and look deeper than "Malays are dumb" which is what most people would conclude if they had no common knowledge of colonization and its effects. The "problems" occurring in Malaysia are the problems of most post colonial countries, America included, as is Australia and Canada. The only difference is that the Bumi's still have some form of power instead of being completely economically oppressed.

Anonymous said...

* I should more accurately state "most colonized countries."

Cornelius said...


I can't speak for the rest of the non-Bumi population, but personally, I do not see the Malays as dumb people at all. I happen to know quite a number of very brilliant Malays around.

A formula or method, which is supposed to help them "catch up" has been proven not effective for over 5 decades, is still retained. In the scientific world when conducting an experiment in a specific way, and if that method does not produce the required result, the logical thing to do is to try another method. But here we see the same method retained for generations. That tells us a lot about the brains behind the scene.

I'm thinking that if I don't have to work very hard to get something, my attitude and mentality in terms of hardwork or trying my best in my endeavours would be totally different. If, for example, I can get free electricity supply to my home, I'm thinking maybe I won't be trying too hard to save electricity. But it probably would be a little different if I had to pay a lot of money for it, I don't know? My attitude towards rationing the use of electricity would therefore depend on how easily, or cheaply, I can get electricity. It has nothing much to do with whether I am dumb or not.

Anonymous said...

Right, so then the question becomes one of how to change the overall mentality. I think when entitlements are handed out over generations, the mindset becomes one of "feeling entitled." The same is true of foreign aid in Africa and welfare programs in America.

If you are sick of this discussion do let me know, because this is an interesting topic for me which means I am happy to pick your brain :)

Do you think if entitlements became class based instead of race based it would go a long way in bringing a solution? Also, do you think religion or race is the biggest factor in the division of the people?

I was reading an article stating that basically, being Malay and Muslim is one and the same. The definition of Malay according to the Malaysian government, is "being of the Islamic religion." Wow, I really have a problem with that.

Does this mean if one apostates they are also no longer considered Malay?! It seems gov't enforced definitions of religion is the real oppressive factor for all the races.

What do you think?

Cornelius said...

No, Sarah, I'm not sick of this discussion at all. Just that I don't see the present Government seriously wanting to solve the problem. In fact, I don't even know if the Government sees it as a problem at all.

Those are difficult questions, Sarah, but I will give it a shot.

If it were me, the best would of course be to make entitlements based on class, not race. But that does not accord well with the Government. Most, if not all, policies in Malaysia, are based on political, as opposed to economical, justifications.

The trick is to create fear among the majority. In this case, the majority is the Malays. The non-Bumis will grab everything from you!... (something like that). And we are here to protect your interest! Keep us at the helm, and we will keep protecting you! Hence the constant reminder: Melayu, Melayu, Melayu! If you visit Tun Mahathir's blog, you will see "Melayu, Melayu, Melayu" all the time.

The non-Bumis, particularly the Chinese, are torn between feeling dissatisfied for being deprived many special treatments the Bumis get; and wanting to keep the Malays having the present mentality to ensure the Chinese' survival.

I can't say what would happen if the NEP is abolished for good. What I can say is that the NEP has enriched only a small percentage of the Malays. The ordinary Malay man in the street is not really enjoying the benefit(s) of the NEP.

Our neighbour, Singapore, started on par with Malaysia 5 decades ago. Malaysia has the land for agriculture, natural resources, e.g. petroleum and gas, timber etc. Singapore has to import practically everything. They even depend on Malaysia for the water supply. Yet today Singapore's currency is worth more than double of the Ringgit. The Malays are not the dominant race in Singapore. I'm not sure if they're complaining.

I think Malaysia has always failed to see the bigger picture. The Government claims that it's trying to move Malaysia into a higher income nation. I think it should focus on improving the purchasing power of its people. No point to earn more money if it can buy smaller baskets of goods.

Oops! Lunch break is over!... I guess I will continue later!

Cornelius said...

OK, where was I?... Ah! yes, Islam and Malay.

I don't know what's the official definition of "Malay", but I understand that word as referring to a race, nothing to do with religion whatsoever, just like Chinese, Indian etc. However, I'm aware that at least Tun Mahathir's definition of "Malay" is a race that must be Islam. He wrote in his blog not too long ago that once a Malay muslim converts to another religion, he is no longer Malay.

"Also, do you think religion or race is the biggest factor in the division of the people?"

I think both those factors have significant effect in the division of the people. However, in most cases, it's the politicians who would use these factors for the sole purpose of achieving political ends.

And so, even though the Bibles in Sabah and Sarawak have always been using the word "Allah" to mean God, it's never been an issue, until someone smart raised the matter, thus provoking some ppl to burn churches. Racial sentiments are also usually provoked by politicians. But otherwise, I'm convinced that most Malaysians are not idiotic people. I'm convinced the vast majority of Muslims do not agree with the burning of churches just because they're unhappy with the use of "Allah" in the Malay language Bible. Everyday, when you walk in the street, you see people from all walks of life, regardless of racial background, get along with each other just fine.

Anonymous said...

Interesting.. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.