The Malay Dilemma Revisited (Updated and Revised Version)–A Strongly Recommended Read

May 23, 2017

The Malay Dilemma Revisited (Updated and Revised Version)–A Strongly Recommended Read

Few countries today have culturally or ethnically homogenous populations, the consequence of colonization, globalization, and mass migrations. Thus, the Malaysian dilemma of socioeconomic and other inequities paralleling racial and cultural divisions has global relevance as it also burdens many nations.

Malaysia’s basic instrument in ameliorating these horizontal (between groups) inequities has been its New Economic Policy (NEP). Its core mechanism being preferential socio-economic and other initiatives favoring indigenous Malays and other non-immigrant minorities, as well as massive state interventions in the marketplace. In place since 1970 in the aftermath of the deadly 1969 race riots, NEP has been continuously “strengthened,” meaning, ever increasing resources expended and preferences being imposed with greater assertiveness.

Malaysia succeeded to some degree in reducing her earlier inequities and in the process created a sizeable Malay middle class. There was however, a steep price. Apart from the marketplace distortions and consequent drag on the economy, those earlier horizontal inequities are now replaced by the more destabilizing vertical variety. NEP also bred a rentier- economy mindset among Malays and other recipient communities. Those preferences now impair rather than enhance the recipents’ (in particular Malay) competitiveness, the universal law of unintended consequences being operative.

Initiated by Prime Minister Razak in 1970, his successor, Mahathir, raised NEP to a much more aggressive level, only to have that initiative today corrupted and degraded by, ironically, Tun Razak’s son, current Prime Minister Najib. By July 2016, the US Department of Justice alleges that “Malaysian Official 1” (aka Najib) illicitly siphoned over US$3.5 Billion from a government-linked corporation, 1MDB. Corruption on such a gargantuan scale was the predictable and inevitable consequence of Malaysia’s New Economic Policy and state interventions in the marketplace.

Image result for dr. m. bakri musa

The book chronicles Mahathir’s and Najib’s perversion of a once noble endeavor. Najib now adds another volatile mix. Desperate to hang on to power, he adds religious fanaticism to his already corrosive corruption and destructive incomptence. He now cavorts with extremist Islamists, threatening and undermining the nation’s still fragile race dynamics. Malaysia is today still burdened and blighted by Najib’s inept, corrupt, and chauvinistic leadership, with no end in sight. This would inevitably undermone the current fragile but still peaceful racial equilibrium in the country.

Instead of arbitrarily-picked numbers and targets, Malaysia should focus on strengthening Malay competitiveness through enhancing our human and social capitals. Modernizing the education system to emphasize the sciences, mathematics, English fluency, and technical training would address the first. Curtailing royal institutions and other vestiges of feudalism, as well as the regressive form of religion as propagated by the state, would develop the second. It is difficult to wean Malays off the special privilege narcotic when the sultans are frolicking at the top of the heap.

Beyond chronicling the failures of both the Najib and Mahathir Administrations, the author offers these alternative strategies for enhancing Malay competitiveness. Apart from improving the quality of our human and social capital through modern education and responsive institutions, the author advocates removing or at least toning down the stifling influence of official religion.–Dr. M. Bakri Musa

9 thoughts on “The Malay Dilemma Revisited (Updated and Revised Version)–A Strongly Recommended Read

  1. A friend replied to Dr Bakri: “IMHO, there is another facet to the Malay Dilemma which signs are ominously casting a shadow over us all, gradually but surely. A Malay vs Malay major conflict. A growing economic;political;modern/liberal vs conservative;highly educated & exposed vs the still-largely-naive & unskilled, divide, within the Malay ranks. It has a real possibility to destroy the Malays.

    And relatively nothing is being done about this.Ironically, we don’t see such a distinct divide amongst the other major racial groups in this country.”

    • Yes, I covered that issue extensively in this updated edition. Elsewhere I had an essay (published on all places in the NST for its inaugural New Mellineum series in Nov 1999) entitled, “Not Just a Malay Dilemma” addressing this same issue which affects not just Malays but also non-Malays. Vertical (meaning, intra-Malay) inequities now overshadow horizontal equities, to use Oxford University’s Frances Stewart terminology.

    • Malay vs Malay conflict? It is already happening and has always been happening. Yap Ah Loy would not have been here if there were not Malay vs Malay conflict already happening.

      To avoid layu, is not to avoid conflicts. We learn that from the Prophet, that there are times one ought to stand up against what is wrong, isn’t it?

      Even if all pendatang were to leave this Tanah Melayu, Malay vs Malay conflict would continue. Didn’t 1PM just invited a new generation of pendatang Cina to build a 1Bandar, after screwing up 1Felda and 1MDB? Were there ever 1?

  2. Too little too late.

    IF Dr. Bakri becomes the next PM or DPM or FM, he wouldn’t dare implement what he advocated.

    A May 13, where both Malays and non-Malays died by the hundreds if not thousands, had to be engineered just to oust the affable Tengku.

    No, it will not happen because all that needs to be done by the beneficiaries, past, present and future, of the NEP is to ask the question, the NEP worked and is working isn’t it? See how the Malay community has progressed, look at the growing number of Malay millionaires, the burgeoning Malay professional class, practically all universities professors are Malays, etc, etc,.

  3. There is no dilemma.

    For generations some of the political class have been busy getting themselves on to the list of beneficiaries and removing themselves from the list of contributors, as if somewhere there was somebody else’s effort and wealth which they could benefit from.

    The backbone of the country is the dynamic middle class, including salary earners, shopkeepers, professional men and women, farmers and so on.

  4. Push and pull, the country would have no choice but to be a downward spiral. Many may prefer to be the absolute master of a failed state than to share a prosperous homeland. Till then, when there is no turning around, the Malays may have their last laughter or weep in despair.

  5. There was never a ” Malay Dilemma”, but a Malay Self-Denial.

    There has always been a “Malaysian Leadship Dilemma “,
    where the leaders must decide not to be in constant self-denial.

    Race and religion are never the answers to achieving and sustaining equality and success, but knowledge and hardwork are.

    The message is ,
    learn not only how to fish with a given fishing rod,
    but also how make one for and by yourself.

  6. Policies which practise too much favouritism in favour of any group or practise too much prejudice against any other group, especially if carried out on a prolonged basis, is never a good thing for progress and development in any country.

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