It is not about the Malays being divided as a race, it is about the Malays (and Malaysians) being divided by class

Suara Keramat Pak Sako

Friday, January 29, 2010

In a speech yesterday, Mahathir Mohamad blamed PAS and PKR for dividing the Malays, putting this down to greed for power amongst different Malay factions consisting of disgruntled political aspirants desiring political positions.

If Mahathir’s logic is correct, then the split amongst the Japanese in Japan between supporting two different political parties with different cultures, experiences and policies must be a bad thing. These Japanese political parties are the centre-right LDP which had governed Japan and is noted for entrenching patron-client relationships between politicians and corporations; and the DPJ, a reform-minded, social-democratic party that claims to be more people-centric. These parties more or less reflect the distinction between Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat.

Going by Mahathir’s argument, then, this split would have seriously enfeebled the Japanese race, resulting in civil strife or at least hard rancour amongst them, or exposing them as a whole to “attack”, “manipulation”, “subjugation” or “domination” (or insert other terms to taste) by citizens of non-Japanese ancestry (smaller than in Malaysia as a proportion but growing) or by neighbouring nations such as North Korea, Russia or China (recall how we are made to fear Singapore).

But this has not been the case. Japan has not collapsed by having an ‘inexperienced’ ruling political party. Japan as a country is richer for having this new-found choice in being able to switch between alternative politics. Japan’s socioeconomic “evolutionary potential” is rejuvenated by the competition that the DPJ poses for the LDP. We, too, should ask ourselves, as the Japanese have, whether we wish to stick with the stale ways of the old guard whose interest it is to maintain the status quo, the old socioeconomic arrangement which benefits powerful special interests/elites; or whether we want renewal, a restructuring of socioeconomic arrangement that liberates us from the stranglehold of the elites so that the ordinary person can demand and receive a greater share of the nation’s wealth without being held at ransom by threats of unemployment (or inflation) and have a bigger, freer say in how we country to be like and how our social freedoms are defined?

The Malays are not not dividing themselves; they are opening themselves up to choices

In Malaysia, the Malays are beginning to explore choices, and there is nothing wrong in wanting a Greek salad over a nasi lemak. It could in fact be a healthier choice.

Accordingly, many Malays have taken the brave leap for change, to embrace newer values that enables them to bond better with fellow citizens and to rightfully ask for a fairer share of the nation’s “cake”. The Malays and other Malaysians demand this not from any particular race group, but from the politically influential — the governing/aristocratic/corporate class consisting of a mix of the various races. And in doing so, the new lower and middle-class Malays are forging a more harmonious and united relationship with their non-Malay counterparts. In doing so, they are not at all submitting their rights to the ‘others’; they are enhancing their collective rights as citizens in solidarity. The key point to note is that the problem is primarily an issue of socioeconomic class and class domination, not an issue race domination.

But this point is precisely what Mahathir’s and UMNO’s racial rhetoric is attempting to mask. The Malays that are vulnerable to such scare tactics cling on out of fear and ignorance to old, outdated values promoted by certain powerful groups. These groups dangle candies to society (government handouts or more shopping malls) to lull them, and bring about a basic level of ‘political stability’ through restrictive, questionable rule and extensive control of public apparatuses. This enables powerful groups and elites to appropriate the lion’s share of a nation’s wealth.

Why care about the elites? A snapshot of Malaysia’s political economy

So far in the history of Malaysia as an independent state, the majority of the people have conditioned to be content (‘puas hati’) with the moderate amount of income and wealth and fairly restricted social liberties that they have been accorded.

This situation was made possible because Malaysia has been blessed with an exceptionally high level of natural and human resources per capita, i.e., we have had an overabundance of resources relative to our small population size. Each Malaysian in theory could be very well off, with hundreds of thousands of ringgit sitting in their bank accounts, for example, or have superior social services such as those in countries like Canada, Australia or Sweden.
But this has not been the case.

What has been happening is that out of the total economic profits our country generates annually, most of the ordinary Malaysians have been apportioned the minimum amount of income, infrastructure and amenities necessary to placate or satisfy them while the remainder is reserved for the elites, a capture made possible by:

(i) widespread rent-seeking, which includes the collusion of politicians and the corporate and social bigwigs to apportion for themselves the nation’s capital to derive supernormal profits (defrauding by power and capital);

(ii) restrictive labour laws that discourage unionisation and wage bargaining power and keep real wages down (economic oppression);

(iii) distracting society with cheap entertainment, restricting free reporting of the actual state of the nation, and threatening possible imprisonment if the status quo is questioned using excuses such as “this shall destabilise racial and religious harmony”, etc. (dumbing down).

For comparison, observe that this has not been possible in Indonesia because given its resources Indonesia has a large population and so it is harder to create this critical mass of satisfied, contented middle class citizens. This has also not been possible in Thailand which has not been endowed with plentiful high-value resources like us (and they have a substantially large population too).

In this view, Malaysia is indeed economically unique and blessed. But it also means that a braver, more vigilant and empowered society is all the more crucial to prevent easy abuse by those who govern it (elite capture).

As Malaysia’s resources run out (the depletion of its natural resources from its wasteful, inequitable squandering and the loss of human capital as a result of severe “brain drain”), sudden belt-tightening policies are proposed and instituted. These policies ranging from the imposition of the GST, the drastic removal of subsidies, and the scaling back of government expenditure on public services such as healthcare. There is an acceleration in the rate of liquidation of natural and environmental resources such as our remaining forests and wetlands in a desperate bid to generate cash.

In connection with this is a rash of license issuance to foreign commercial and investment banks either inject more liquidity into our financial markets and/or to allow foreign investment in various development projects the details of which we know precious little of. At the same time, there is a stagnation of real incomes; the nominal wage of a fresh engineering graduate in 2000 was on average RM1700 and this has remained more or less the same in 2010, ten years hence, even as the prices of goods increased.

The bulk of the burden of these actions fall on the ordinary rakyat, whether Malay or not. It may fall disproportionately on the ordinary rakyat depending on how the “economic pie” is cut. It is possible that Malaysians are suffering the economic pinch a little excessively because:

(i) the elites may be trying to maintain their cut of the economic pie and their present standard of living, without having to reduce the amount of gains or profits that they have been receiving, or by only slightly sacrificing these gains, or by eliminating contenders (e.g., the shooting down of people linked to the previous prime minister): and

(ii) the government is unwilling to appropriate and repatriate past gains and profits (that may be squirreled away overseas) made illegally and through corrupt rent-seeking, or stem practices such as the excess resource allocation or rent-seeking for the influential interest groups concerned

This issue of the influential class requires highlighting because not only is it the crux of the matter, it is also a matter of justice. It is about whether you feel that some groups deserve to enjoy super normal profits, political privileges and positions at the expense of the rakyat’s welfare. One could even ask whether they are intentionally distracting the rakyat from thinking about this question by conditioning them to believe that their enemies are their fellow citizens of a different skin colour (or that they risk being enslaved by other races if they aren’t united as a race themselves).

So is PKR and PAS bad for giving Malays and Malaysians as a whole the choice to alter the socioeconomic arrangement of Malaysia?

Those groups offering the Malay choices in styles of governance (greater transparency, responsiveness and reduced corruption and rent-seeking) and different opportunities for improvement (e.g., greater social empowerment and alternative modes of development besides the build-malls-and-shop-all-day approach) should be praised and supported. Those who try to instill fear in the Malays in an attempt to hold them back from thinking broadly and limiting them from freely expressing choice should be censured.

The fact is that the Chinese or Indians are not going to take over Malaysia and turn the Malays into slaves. Although there are safeguards, these groups do not intend to do that to begin with. Believers of social Darwinism should rein in their alarmist attitude and understand that social cooperation and fair and equitable rules improves everyone’s lot and that not all the needy belong to a single race group. These social Darwinists should also not underestimate the potential for adaptation and improvement or cooperation of any race group.

As we can already see by what is happening on the ground, especially post-March 2008, the ordinary Chinese and Indians want to and are willing to live and work together with the Malays if given the chance. This is evident from the momentum of the Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM) movement, to cite an example. The Perkasa group which Mahathir extols is precisely the type of groups fomenting division amongst the Malays. They frighten off the Malays from contemplating choice and taking a leap and they do this for various self-interested reasons. That they are lobbying the sultans to support their partisan political stand is disturbing.

Mahathir is in essence barking up the wrong tree. If he is indeed worried about the division of Malays, then he should encourage them to unite under the more reformist and progressive umbrella of Pakatan Rakyat. Their fellow non-Malay Malaysians are waiting for them there.

Note: Read also Suflan Shamsuddin’s The Fallacy of Malay Unity.

28 thoughts on “It is not about the Malays being divided as a race, it is about the Malays (and Malaysians) being divided by class

  1. Recently his Royal Highness the Sultan of Kedah urged leaders to learn from what is happening in and around the region so that we will not make the same mistakes as others. Sri Lanka is a case in point. After the war against the LTTE ended the fight is now for the spoils of that war within the majority group. This cycle of violence has no end.That is why the rules of the game is so important. Polititicians and leaders will come and go but finally, it is the strong institutions of government that will keep Malaysia for a 100 years.

    I pray to my God the He will give the wisdom to my leaders to do at the beginning want they will be forced to do unsuccseefuly in the end.

  2. His ROYAL HIGHNESS THE SULTAN OF KEDAH is right . We should learn from our mistakes plus the mistakes we see from other countries.

    Amongst the mistakes locally executed is the divide and rule policy. TDM must be asked why it is ok for UMNO to divide the chinese , the indians , the sabahans and the sarawakians BUT IT IS NOT RIGHT FOR THE MALAYS TO BE DIVIDED ?

  3. Din and to all PR/PKR leaders,

    You know what? Articles like this by Pak Sako and that of Suflan Shamsuddin should be translated in to Bahasa and into Jawi for the Bahasa readers.

    Secondly, convert the ideas in the article into simple colloquail Bahasa ( Kedah malay for those chaps who use “hang” instead of kamu), and Kelantan Malay foar those chaps who use “demo” for “they”) into series of FLIERS and pamplets and have them distributed to the rural Malay heartland.

    Thirdly, engage people like Pak Sako and Suflan Shamsuddin to spread the word around in the RURAL malay heartland, in small ceramahs in each kampung (in groups of 5-10), to counter balance the UMNO’s divisive and racist propaganda,

    The problem with the PKR/PR leaders is that they are too elitist between their ears. They only see their constituents as those caffe latter internet savvy whingers in the SUVs on the streets Bangsar and Sri Hartamas in Kuala Lumpur.

    They have NO idea of how to package their outreach communication strategies to the rural Malay heartland. All they can think of is for them to stand on the raised platform and mouth clap-trap speeches in ceramahs so that the media can report there were 5,00o people listening.

    It is the one-to-one and small group communication tactics that pay dividends backup by handouts, just ask those communication experts in our more respectable Univs (exclude UiTM, where the lecturers are kangkung professors).

    Of course, DAP has no clue about reaching the rural folks, their modus operandi is based on urban environment and they might need a compass in our rural backroads.

    As I said, PR/PKR must bring in top notch communication experts who know and able to strategise a more targeted outreach to the rural Malay heartland.

  4. “I pray to my God the He will give the wisdom to my leaders”- Thumb Logic

    Which leaders? At the moment God is and has always been on the side of UMNO (except in March 2008, God took His eyes off the ball and UMNO was in a bit of trouble). God corrrected that in the last few months.

    For some reason God does not look too kindly at Pakatan Rakyat? Why is that??

  5. UMNO thinks it has a God given right to rule forever, regardless of poor performance and maximum marks for promoting racism, religious bigotry, corruption and national disintegration.

    So, it will never learn from what’s happened in Japan and elsewhere. And if the Sultans feel UMNO leadership is wreaking havoc with national unity, they should come out in full force and demand changes; they have the constitutional power to lay the law down for UMNO!! But sometimes, and jusr sometimes, you get the feeling the Royalty themselves can’t see the wood for the trees.

    We are all of 1 race, the Human Race

  6. hah i find something i like reading here. tq din.
    i go with greek salad over nasi lemak and for good reasons too.
    it saves time to prepare.

    frank’s got a point; PR/DAP must reach out to the masses and not just to the latte drinkers. the bigger population are not likely to want to consume this expensive coffee.

    i like dpp’s words for the first time. Sultans could now make it happen. Many have spoken. Majlis Raja Raja ought to make the recommendations.

    malays have been political topic long enough and there are still effort to continue doing this despite clear rejection from malays themselves. this don’t help the malays. do they seriously say they need help ? only in UMNO and PKR eyes. PAS don’t speak of it that much.

  7. I think it is about being “in the loop” or “out of the loop”.
    Anyone can be instant millionaires in Malaysia if you happen to be inside the loop at the right time.

    One of our ex-driver is now a millionaires because he was lucky to be in the loop when Badawi was the Prime Minister. A former office boy of Mike Tyson is now a chairman of a public listed company and he made his millions while Mike Tyson was the MB of Selangor. Both of them were lucky to be in the loop at the right time.

    In a country where corruptions and rent seeking are accepted culture even a prostitute can be sitting on top of everyone heads.

  8. “…it is the strong institutions … that will … keep Malaysia…” Thumb Logic

    How very true – yet these are the very institutions that Dr. M, more than anyone else, was responsible for destroying. Why do we continue to give this despot so much attention?

  9. the people in sabah and sarawak should pay close attention to what is going on in peninsula malaysia post 2008. these are some of the issues :

    1. the allah issue and how the rights of the sabahans and sarawakians are compromised even after the court decided in favour of the catholic church . remember that the court and the judge decided as per the constitution – but UMNO not only does not want to accept that judgement but is willing to ” work up ” the malays and cause them to run ” amok “.

    2. the royalty factor of 95% and how the money is squandered by UMNO and on malay bumiputras . the bumiputras of sarawak and sabah are left out just because they are christians.

    3. the sabahans and sarawakians should also realise by now that the malays are only interested in the wealth from their two states. they are and will be doing exactly what the colonial masters did . so this means UMNO is now their new colonial masters and sabah and sarawak is now their colony. sabahans and sarawakians should work to correct this peacefully. if not sabahans and sarawakians will loose bigtime.

    the first step should be dump all the UMNO syncophants from the two states . if this is not done , the natives will not have a jungle nor forest to forage in soon , that is, if they wish to continue that lifestyle.

    4.sabahans and sarawakians should also ask why their yang di pertua and chief minister should be a muslim ? they should also ask why one from amongst them cannot become prime minister . afterall , they are in their own land and they are more bumiputra then ” the father of all racism “.

    5. and last, sabahans and sarawakians should by now REALISE how corrupt UMNO and BARISAN is . just look at the behaviour of the ex UMNO members who are now in PKR. they are no different from the malays in umno ! TIADA QUALITY LAH. SAPU SAHAJA PANDAI.

    the high court judgement on the allah issue is correct. the claims made by umno is all unconstitutional and illegal and is contrary to what our forefathers visualised for OUR MALAYSIA. sabahans and sarawakians should not allow people like ” the father of all racism ” and his ilk to steal OUR MALAYSIA from malaysians.


  10. tean,

    That is ” mahathirism”. Remember, UMNO elected a medical doctor trying to implement economic policy. What you get is corruption and cronyism.

  11. Jakarta Post Click here to read

    The typical Malaysian problem
    “…As pointed out by Azmi Sharom of University of Malaya in his dissertationat the crux of the problem facing plurality in Malaysia” are the twin issues of RACE and RELIGION.

    And its roots are found in the very constitution of Malaysia, which, in Azmi’s words, “was and is a strange creature that combines liberal democratic ideals and what can only be described as racially based preferential treatment”.

    …. Less than 15 years after its independence, Malaysian society was already divided between the indigenous and the non-indigenous. Malaysia was no longer united.

    Insensitive to this, the Malaysian government introduced economic and development policies that widened the gap, rather than build bridges.

    To worsen the situation, following a wrong trait of nationalism, being Malay became identical with being a Muslim. Azmi cites the success of the Iranian revolution for the “growing Islamization of Malaysia”, resulting in the “personal changes, in dress, manner of speech and shifting value systems”.

    But that was not the only reason. The 1980s and 1990s were also the decades of petrodollar supremacy. Money from Saudi Arabia and other affluent Middle Eastern countries flowed in freely, causing more division and more harm to Malaysian society.

    The situation was such that non-Muslim Malaysians were compelled to reinstate their pre-independence identities. They were, once again, Chinese or Indian. For they would not be considered Malays if they were not Muslim.

    Meanwhile, the Islamic parties gained ground, which made then prime minister Mahathir Mohammad feel threatened. In a desperate attempt to secure his position, he brought Anwar Ibrahim, popular among Malaysia’s Islamists, into his fold. That way, the shrewd senior politician thought, UMNO would have their support.

    Malaysia, our neighbor, our younger brother, begins this year with attacks on churches. Shameful. It tarnishes the image of peace-loving Malays. What is the solution? Remain Malay. Follow the religion of your heart, but keep to your own culture. Shun the Middle Eastern, Indian and Chinese identities, norms, lifestyles, cultures and values – you are Malay. We are siblings. Your problems, your pains, are our problems and our pains. God protect you!

  12. “It is not about the Malays being divided as a race, it is about the Malays (and Malaysians) being divided by class”

    What a load of bull shit ! That piece of paper we called the Malaysian Constitution is the only instrument that is preventing the complete division of the Malay race !
    So what if the Malay race is divided !?! We should be thankful that despite all the brainwashing, there persists, among the Malays, many who refused to succumb to the herd mentality – who have the common sense to hit the brakes, to realise that the rest of the herd is heading down the abyss to oblivion !!!

  13. Mahathir is running out of ideas; he is back to his brand of racism in the hope that he will remain relevant in Malaysia’s 21st century. Malaysians, as evidenced by the support that Haris Ibrahim has been receiving for his Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia campaign, reject chauvinism and racism. We are heading towards an inclusive and multiracial polity. The former Prime Minister is a lost cause and a tragic old man who cannot accept the reality that his time is past and that he must on with grace.

    As the author of this article says, “Mahathir is in essence barking up the wrong tree. If he is indeed worried about the division of Malays, then he should encourage them to unite under the more reformist and progressive umbrella of Pakatan Rakyat. Their fellow non-Malay Malaysians are waiting for them there“.–Din Merican

  14. “the sabahans and sarawakians should also realise by now that the malays are only interested in the wealth from their two states.”- cerdai

    Go out and do something positive about it.Talking does not change things

  15. sabahans and sarawakians should not allow people like ” the father of all racism ” and his ilk to steal OUR MALAYSIA from malaysians – cerdai

    Aiyoyo!! Tambi , you were the real fools for handing this kutty guy 2/3 majority in Parliament in his 22yrs of reign.
    So point the fingers to your stupid selves , insert it in your butts then suck it!!

  16. As i’ve said your fore fathers were silly enough to accept the ‘social contract’ leaving you guys to lick the wounds while the Malays add more salt to the wounds every opportunity they get. That is how Malaya have always been despite dubious attempts by politicians on both sides beating around the bush trying to sound convincing of establishing a new order blah..blah…blah.. etc..etc..

    So cut the crap as though you guys care whether the malay mindset frees itself from where you guys are presuming it to be, let alone the plight of the natives of borneo.

    Political and social justice comes from strong leadership regardless of colour or creed. Unless and until the country has this kind of leadership qualities we’ll remain in the same spot from where we had started no matter which coalition governs the nation.

  17. dear all,

    ,,,if one can be proud of one’s Bugis or Javanese origins, so let others be proud of their Chinese or Indian plus others origin too in this nation called Malaysia for all malaysian. AND what’s wrong with it ?. ….darmed it !!
    ,,,why the double or triple standard ?.
    ,,,this is the KEY issue that the “Bumiputra” must face squarely with the rest, in-order for all to have peace and harmony in this country. Its all in the mindset and mentality that we all must change/reform BUT the ruling elite is not hearing any of it, so guess why indeed all these frustrations faced by everybody plus you and me.
    ,,,most rational rakyat knows this, yet the UMNO/BN is not ready for it.
    ,,,as for me am ; chinese/indian/thai/achenese = malaysian and am proud of all my origins !. but since am a muslim, am just a malay in race, so be it. what is the big deal about it ?. lets open our feelings for all ‘others’ as equal malaysian please !. lets just put religion aside, its between the individual and God Almighty.
    ,,,its just naive bloody dirty politics that is troubling !…the rakyat is peace loving as you and i can see and feel. its the individual that has his/her responsibilies to meet in life & living plus equal rights and in respecting laws for justice and mutually strengthening one another.
    ,,,respect has to be earned by all parties and by the individual with responsibilty and not on rights.
    ,,,again it is imperative that all progressive forces in our society at large to come together, to consolidate and UNITE, and should be bound in one massive, solid force to make the change and reform for a better nation to face the world.
    ,,,mind you all, this world don’t own us malaysian a living, either we work together or just sink away !.
    ,,,The corrupted politicians and individuals will just migrate away, with the loots in hand given their way ?. MACC just check them in anyway too b4 its too late !…why and pls don’t wait.
    ,,,we have to find some new leadership to lead too but 1st of all, everyone must be a leader himself with morality and honesty to self/family and indeed for the nation.
    ,,,not to worry, everyday that is an awaking and new leaders are coming forward to lead !…its happening but remember not to fall into their old trap but relax, think b4 acting !.

  18. ” Is that so? I can see cows jumping over the moon from my window.” Frank

    Oh yeah! The former Governor of Alaska, Sara Palin says she could see Russia from hers.

  19. This tapping into what we know as a narrow form of Malay nationalism and the drum beating is bad because it serves narrow interests.

    Racist Malaysia is failing as a nation state at a time when the concept of the nation state and nationalism is fast becoming an anachronism. It takes a bold and strong leadership to take Malaysia out of the morass.

    UMNO has neither the intent nor the will. PKR has a fraction of the intent and a fraction of the will needed. The whole is not the sum total of its parts.

  20. “The former Governor of Alaska, Sara Palin says she could see Russia from hers.”-Mr. Bean

    And Fox News believed her. That is why she is now part of the Fox News team in the company of Glen Beck, Bill O Reilly and Sean Hannity, the darlings of pro-Republican far right White Americans and the Uncle Toms amongst the Black Americans

  21. Please do not write off TDM. He is a shrewed politician and his diagniosis is always spot on but he often prescribes the wrong medication just to see what happens.

  22. mr bean,….( its in black and white, nothing in morse code-lah)

    Frankly Guys,
    ,,,the fact that you/me/others are voicing out, is that positivity for change/reform in the mindset/mentality of most malaysian !….as a starter.
    ,,,Lets also, don’t just look down at the rural folks too, cos from my dialoques/coffee talks in the warong with the locals around, they indeed can appreciate the ‘wayang kulit’ from all the self-centered politicians from both sides of the coin, coining them all these while with more than just the bloody cows jumping over the moon too.
    ,,,guess, new independent apolitical candidates should stand in the coming GE13, for voters to have a pick others, from existing bunch of corrupted politicians or the unprofessionals candidates ?.
    ,,,keep on writing/commenting, the rakyat in general are/is also doing the same and the common language will jives in time.
    ,,,the only issue here is getting the ‘common objective’ together by all to re-built a free, democratic and sovereign nation that we have ALL been robbed off by the elites for themselves !. its really not that difficult nowadays to be heard as compared to our grandfather’s days, as such the changing of the feudal elements in the old ways of thinking plus mindset can be transformed accordingly via all ‘like-minded progressive thinkers’ of the day.
    ,,,one has to strongly believe in oneself 1st and pass this message for change/reform via individual actions as role players for others to appreciate that its for real !. its no nonsense talk that the nation is suffering and people are not blind or deaf, they can feel the effects of globalisation and if we all the rakyat were to remains static or with the ‘tidak apa’ attitude, we will indeed together as malaysian will suffer for it.
    ,,,lots of comments via blogging etc indeed but again everything starts from a dream, just wake-up from it and ACT, to make the dream comes true. Its a start…..a good start, if I may add….indeed no comments is a bad comment, in my books yaa….just shoot….readers are free to evaluate it themselves-lah.
    ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Wrong is wrong and black is not white,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  23. Bro. Din, forget this senile old man. As far as I am concerned, he is the biggest culprit of the existing Malay fiasco and dilemma. Dia adalah petualang paling besar dalam sejarah bangsa Melayu. !!! TK

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