Tricia’s Viewpoint: Let us debate it

Can Anwar Replace the NEP?
Tricia Yeoh

So deep-rooted is the consciousness of the Malay identity that it has been nearly impossible to critically examine its role in shaping the socio-political landscape of Malaysia. So entrenched is the expectation that being Malay will automatically qualify one for preferential economic policies in the form of the NEP – the New Economic Policy.

This has taken place in the shape of Anwar Ibrahim, ex-Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. Hailing from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the political party formed to promote justice against his arrest in 1998, Anwar has actively campaigned despite not qualifying to contest in the elections. The de-facto party leader has been extremely vocal in calling for an end to the NEP (in the form of the National Vision Policy today); replacing it with a “Malaysian Economic Agenda”.

Despite this, it is argued that Malays were still willing to vote for PKR against Barisan Nasional. Was the Malay swing significant enough to show support for NEP abolishment? This is difficult to determine since there were a multitude of other factors working against the BN, so that isolating the NEP itself as a deciding factor is erroneous. More importantly, even if this were true, can Anwar really replace the NEP given the present Malaysian socio-cultural context?

First and central to the discourse is that many Malays cling onto a highly romanticised ideal of their special position in society. “Ketuanan Melayu”, or Malay supremacy, is a social construct brought up time and again in public discussion on inter-ethnic relationships. That identity, in turn, finds its origins in what is now commonly referred to as the “social contract” between Malays and non-Malays, in reality a politicised term introduced in Parliament in the 1980s. Believed to be the “exchange of citizenship for special rights”, this agreement is considered to be enshrined in the law.

True enough, Article 153 of the 1957 Federal Constitution does provide for the special position of Malays, natives of Sabah and Sarawak, and other marginalised groups. However, what this special position means is open for debate. Some believe it merely meant socio-economic position, one that changes dynamically and hence can be renegotiated. Further, pre-independence documents – the Cobbold Commission Report, Federation of Malaya Constitutional Proposals and the Reid Commission Report – reveal that this position was meant to be temporary. The special “right” of Malays was therefore understood not as a God-given mark, but recognition of socioeconomic status until such a time this could be elevated.

In reality, the worldview of the Malay as inherently privileged is deeply embedded. Changing this will take great convincing skill. It will be extremely difficult for Anwar to propagate an immediate and uncompromising economic agenda, thereby flattening out all racial rights.

Lim Guan Eng, newly instated Chief Minister of Penang, for example, was severely attacked for his comments that he would practice open tenders, quoted as “ending the NEP”. As a result, 1000-odd UMNO members protested with banners saying “Don’t Abolish Malay Results”, and “Don’t Abolish the NEP”. Such sentiments still rage strong amongst the Malay community. The Malay Chambers of Commerce, Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, and numerous other Malay organisations represent thousands of Malays who harbour very real fears at the prospect of levelling the playing field.

Malays who have “made it big” in the business world are often touted as national heroes. Even Khalid Ibrahim, new Menteri Besar of Selangor from PKR, publicly owed his corporate success story to the NEP. He only accused the system of corruption, but admitted he was a direct beneficiary of it. Second, it is arguable that it is corruption within the NEP, rather than the NEP policy per se, that has swung Malays in the direction of the Opposition.

For example, although PKR’s 2008 pre-election manifesto says unequivocally that “the NEP must be replaced with an economic agenda that seeks to assist and affirm all poor Malaysians regardless of their race”, it also states upfront that “the key to recovery is sound economic policies that are completely free from the tinge of corruption and graft”.

Although the NEP was originally instated in 1971 with noble intentions of eradicating poverty irrespective of race and eliminating the association of race with job function, the policy has in-built structural definitions allowing for greater wealth creation of the Bumiputera community. Far from helping the community, this has instead led to massive wastage through corruption and misuse of public funds. Hence, Malays are likely to be more critical of NEP’s implementation than its theory, the latter of which Anwar opposes. Attempting to champion equal rights directly questions the NEP’s philosophy.

Third, replacing the NEP with the Malaysian Economic Agenda is infinitely more complex than it sounds. It means a complete revamping of every institutional structure: the public administration, procurement processes, amending Securities’ Commission requirements for publicly listed companies, banking and housing loans; not to mention the tedious process of redrafting policies to that end. Even baby steps in that direction means completely deconstructing most, if not all, of the country’s developmental framework.

Finally, the most difficult cog in the wheel will be getting rid of the patronage system, in reality the main players using the NEP to justify cronyism. Imagine the gargantuan task of identifying the complex web of personal relationships, thereafter conducting a cleansing exercise. The structure is so well-oiled and watertight – to know the game, one must play the game, which just defeats the whole purpose of integrity.

Anwar’s manifesto paints a glorious picture of the new agenda’s objectives. But the devil lies in the detail. The best option is to phase out race-based affirmative action within a set number of years, with specific aims at each stage. He will also need political buy-in from a critical mass of Malays, more so than gave him support in the recent elections. This he should do by assuring their welfare will be taken care of adequately, and most importantly affirm their Malay identity will not ever be robbed of them. One’s identity, after all, should not draw its significance from a mere economic policy but rather confidently exist in its own right.

A reality check, accompanied by strategic policy solutions, is most urgent for Anwar and his party if they are shooting for power. He cannot retract his move to abolish NEP anymore, but negative Malay response will be a political setback. Caught in a Catch-22, PKR may need more than one election to reform the Malay psyche. An impossible task, but then, who ever thought denying BN two thirds majority was possible?

13 thoughts on “Tricia’s Viewpoint: Let us debate it

  1. There is truth is what Tricia says. However, Anwar can start by abolishing the 30% share allotment at IPOs. This is an instance where one can make millions with literally no capital. All he has to do is to place the shares as collateral, get a bank loan, sell off the shares on listing, repay the loan and make your millions. Perhaps the entire NEP will take a decade to be totally dismantled.

    Mr. Smith,
    Things will change when Anwar becomes Prime Minister.—Din Merican

  2. Honestly, I observe the reaction across the Malay community with care and trepidation.. It’s sad these vocal Malay few think that their security, their dignity rest on a strong political patronage. Not just in relation to the weakening Umno party, or the politicians in Parliament but also in relation to the Royalty. Would not a race confident in its own abilities be a strong race? If we were to take the Japanese for example or the Americans for that matter, or the China, they’re strong because they are democratic and confident, they do not rest their strength in an institution whose days would one day be inevitably numbered.

    The objective to remove the tongkat is indeed the noblest in Malaysia and the most empowering for the Malay community. They will not trust their identity and their dignity to a few number of self-interested Malay politicians, but rather on themselves, individually and collectively.

    However, in the long run, the real solution lies in liberal and free education and perhaps a review of the institution of the Mosques… I’m not advocating for the intervention of the religion of Islam, but Muftis and Imams have strong influence on the community. I’d like to see Malays who are independent and who do not feed on some narrow-minded unintelligent dogmas from self-proclaimed religious teachers who may have been there due to political patronage rather than their merits on the knowledge of Islam.

    As for education, it’s imperative that we free up political hold on the academics as a genuine pursuit of truth will set the Malays as respectable enlightened community rather than academics who tried to fit their ideas to a political paradigm in self-denial.

  3. Spot on, Dan-yel but like the proverbial cat and mouse story who’s going to place the bell around the cat’s neck?

    That someone must have the strength of conviction to do away with what is wrongly perceived as an inherent right of the bumiputeras and, subsequently, is prepared to go down in history as the one responsible for the demise of the NEP and the Malay race.

    It will be a scoop for Umno just like what its party members are doing now vis-a-vis the Karpal-Royalty dichotomy.

    At this point in time I don’t see anyone courageous enough to transform ideas into actions.

    Mere rhetorics will lead us nowhere.

  4. The actual objectives of the NEP and its subsequent deviations are already well covered and noted.The greater challenge would be for all to accept the fact that we are all eventually Malaysians, and that help, if any, should be extended to those that deserve them.To identify its provision based on ethicity alone is the greatest mistake of the policy.

    To move from here, the Malays; if there is such; must accept that the non-malay citizens are here to stay.And to ensure that this great country has a chance to move ahead and progress in tandem with its capability; every citizen must feel and be made to feel that they have a stake in it.

    There are too many examples around the world where race and religion amongst its people has caused untold miseries, even to the extent of the destruction of these countries.Do we wish it upon ourselves?
    mycuntree, Malaysians accept that we are all Malaysians. Except for UMNO, the Malays have not questioned the constitutional guarantees for all of us. The challenge is how do we strengthen the economic status of the Malays who constitute some 60% of the population. We all have a stake in ensuring that the Malay community is successful and self-reliant. Programmes for all Malaysians, for example, poverty alleviation programmes will benefit the Malays in the rural heartland. But these programmes must be managed in a open and transparent manner. —Din Merican

  5. Din Merican,

    I am puzzled why the Malays, who constitute some 60% of the population, need to have ‘constitutional guarantees’. Shouldn’t it be non-Malays.

    Fair Malaysian, see my comments below —Din Merican

  6. Din Merican,

    I am puzzled why the Malays, who constitute some 60% of the population, need to have ‘constitutional guarantees’. Shouldn’t it be non-Malays who need such guarantees more than the Malays?

    We, Malaysians, should look again such guarantees if we want to have a truly Malaysian for all.

    Privileges accorded to the Malays can only lead them be a ‘spoilt kid’ and not one that is ‘respectable’.
    Fair Malaysian, read the Malaysian constitution lately? It has guarantees for all Malaysians. Article 153 was agreed upon by Tun Sambanthan, Tun Cheng Lock Tan and others before Merdeka. I hope one day the Malays will themselves say that they do not need Article 153. But that is a long way off, thanks to the NEP and UMNO rapacious appetite for wealth and privileges at the expense of ordinary Malays.

    So we have to make a new start and the MEA is the way forward because it is founded on justice for all.—Din Merican

  7. Dear Din,

    Enriching thy neighbor is applicable here. We want a country where peace and stability is sustainable. For us to achieve that we need a level playing field for everyone and from all aspects. The “social contract” was in placed because the Malays and other Bumiputras are seen to be on unequal ground with the other communities and due to their population in the country, something needs to be done – hence the social contract.

    There are certain areas where the Malays have achieved progress and there are others where we still require affirmative actions. Education is one, obviously, developing “real Bumiputra entrepreneurs” is another. Assistance in developing their future would also include providing reasonable safety net for a growing aging population. In short, what we now require is a comprehensive solution that would put all on equal ground.

    The UMNO method of handling this has proven to be utterly wrong. All they do is trying to keep the Malays on their crutches so that their selected few can continue to hide behind NEP to justify their billion ringgit contracts. This is what is important for all of us to understand very clearly so that an alternative solution can be formulated.

    I agree as well as disagree with Tok Chik. I agree with him in the sense that we do not need anymore rhetoric. I disagree with his sentence, “At this point in time I don’t see anyone courageous enough to transform ideas into actions.”

    Dato Seri Anwar has proven his ability to not only formulate a way out for us in the form of the Malaysian Economic Agenda; he has also shown the courage to stand up to the UMNO leaders and take Pakatan Rakyat to where it is today. It is now our duty as a nation to support him and ensure that what he started can be followed through. It’s our duty also to ensure that he is given the necessary platform to take the country to new heights. This is very critical for us and needs to be done as soon as possible so that the country do not continue to “run on the spot”.

    We cannot afford to sit still. Twenty years ago we were comparable to South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. Today,we are about to be overtaken by Thailand and Singapore. If we allow UMNO to do things their way, we will be struggling against Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia not too long from now !

    Din Ahmad,

    Good comments.

    We must create opportunities for all Malaysians to be the best that their talents and capacities can take them. UMNO and Dr. Mahathir talked about win-win and Najib advocates blue ocean strategies for Malaysia. But what they got was UMNO and cronies win, the Malays they claim to struggle for are the big losers and as far as blue ocean strategies are concerned, we are struggling on the muddy banks of Sungei Pahang through his only capital, FELDA.

    We have plenty to catch up with our neighbours in ASEAN and our friends in East Asia. In stead of comparing like with like (apples with apples), we chose our own benchmarks which make us look good. So, we can compare ourselves with Zimbabwe or Sudan and we certainly look very good. In stead of using THES (Times Higher Education Supplement) criteria, we develop our own politically concocted ranking system to rate that rates my alma mater, University of Malaya, as excellent. Under THES, UM is ranked 249 among the top 500 universities. How sick can we get!! Masuk bakul dan angkat diri sendiri.

    If we are not prepared to use the right independent benchmarks, we will continue to be the katak in the tempurong.There is no hope for improvement when we are governed by a set of incompetent leaders and administered by civil servants of poor quality. Our country thus needs a big shake-up. That is time is about to come.

    Never compromise on standards, learn to stare at reality in the face and deal with it, and be humble to learn from others.—Din Merican.

  8. Hi Tricia,

    About NEP again eh.. OK let get to the point. Sorry for my lousy ENGLISH. OK just put it simple le. On my own opinion NEP is a disgrace, or should I say it was a total failure. Why? Though it managed to breed certain successful Malays businessmen but they turn out to default the policy, why do they do it then? Simple, do you want your future generation to have SOMETHING much more better than you?

    NEP is FLAWED with loopholes for allowing those BN cronies of government to take advantage of it. Today it is AAB and his SIL, tommorow it might be someone else but the BAD-CYCLE loop will always continues with just a different brand of packaging but still the same SH!T. It was like today AAB and his co rake in billions, tommorow or in future there will be someone else raking in trillions and still in the end it was the people, we the RAKYAT who are suffering.

    So we must set a CONTROL/LIMIT to this policy (come on la every country also need a ECONOMY policy 1 le so we cannot scrap it entirely) but we make it to the best for the people the RAKYAT not KJ and SCOMI or other BN cronies company. So I still wanna stand firm on my opinion, NEP is a TOTAL FAILURE just like NS, so just SCRAP it an setup a new 1. A new policy that will not differenciate between races but take into account that all MALAYSIANS are equal. SYABAS TO PR and no BOLEH for BN, BN SUCKS.
    iron law, forget the NEP and think MEA where we will empower all Malaysians, especially the poor. MEA is based on free market principles (for growth), and sound distributive policies to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. Let us go for transparency and accountability and put the corrupt and their cronies out of action.—-Din Merican

  9. The special position of the malays as prescribed under Article 153 of the Constitution is limited in scope to only the reservation of reasonable quotas in these 3 sectors: public services, educational places and business licenses.

    Hence, the present rampant racial discriminations practiced on almost every facet of our national life are mostly violations of the Constitution. Examples of these violations are:

    (a) Racial discrimination in the appointment and promotion of employees in publicly funded bodies, resulting in these becoming almost mono-raced bodies. These bodies include: the police, civil service, army and various semi and quasi government agencies.

    (b) Imposition of compulsory share quota for malays in non-malay companies.

    (c) Imposition of compulsory price discounts and quotas in favour of malays in housing projects.

    (d) Completely lop-sided allocation of scholarships and seats of learning in clearly unreasonable proportions that reflect racial discriminations.

    (e) Blanket barring of non-malays to publicly funded academic institutions (that should include the Mara).

    (f) Barring of non-malays from tenders and contracts controlled indirectly or directly by the government.

    Our Constitution provides for only one class of citizenship and all citizens are equal before the law.

    The presence of Article 153 does not alter this fact, as it is meant only to protect the malays from being “squeezed” by other races by allowing the reservation of reasonable quotas on certain sectors of national life.

    However, this Constitution has now been hijacked through decades of hegemony of political power by the ruling party to result in the virtual monopoly of the public sector by a single race.

    The ensuing racism, corruption and corrosion of integrity of our democratic institutions have brought serious retrogression to our nation-building process in terms of national unity, morality, discipline and competitiveness of our people.

  10. To each, its own. Be it NEP or MEA, everyone must be accorded with the basic rights to survive decently. It is not only the Malaysian governement but also the Malaysian corporations. Corruption is deeply rooted. Nothing will change, should the environment remains. Will it ever change with policy changes? No. It takes a whole shift in thinking and actions. Let’s start with changes a corporate level. How many corporations give out contract for goods and services to their related companies, in the broadest sense of word. Let’s take earlier days of Celcom for an example. If you would like to supply goods and services to it, it will be made through a third company under the pre-text of approved vendor which somewhat is a related company directly or indirectly. The game is played as such that the ‘approved vendor’ changes year on year. Another example would be the housing developer industry. The government allows a individual to own too many developer license. This alows them to start a project with each new license. Should the project fails, they already whack the house buyer. Leaving the house buyer it face the music and their affected housing developer license be defunct. And, their other projects which are making money are not touchable because the defunct company is a limited company. Shouldn’t their other profit making companies subsiding the losing making company to ease the plight of the home buyer? So the whole structure needs changes, not only the government. I am sure there are many more example if you a brave enough to point them out, without fear or favour.

  11. It is certainly the corruption and the abuse of power by those in power that has made the general Malays feel the NEP is not for them, not all Bumis, but for the cronies, especially the UMNOputras. If every thing can be bought, it is highly risky for Malaysia because one day, for huge personal gain, the country can be sold.

    Abuse of power for corrupt personal gain at the expense of the country and all Malaysians must end.

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