Is the Malaysia project a non-starter?

August 23, 2016

Is the Malaysia project a non-starter?

by Dr. KJ John

In the Seven (7) Habits series, Stephen Covey’s central thesis is that we must grow or develop habits for growth and development in meaningful and significant ways. He argues that all human or organic systems must first grow from total dependence (and appreciate all its full meanings) to independence or human freedoms, and then, finally and fully appreciate interdependence with others of like-heart and mind. This is also the Hearts and Mind agenda of our NGO.

Full understanding and appreciation of real and true meaning of interdependence must belong to every one of the stakeholders and partners in a shared and common enterprise. It must become a shared vision for posterity; and never to be compromised.

Whether it is the UN or the EU, or even federated states like the US or Malaysia, or our simple OHMSI Sdn Bhd; interdependence properly understood and stewarded defines real and true meanings of the so-called freedom we ‘pretend to enjoy’, it then becomes real ‘merdeka’.

Covey’s 7-Habits

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Habit 6: Synergise
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw”

– Stephen R Covey, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’

Malaysia-Land of Beauty

I will try to evaluate our Malaysia project, not simply from a historical perspective, but more importantly from a worldview perspective and see what Covey might be saying to us. Such a perspective puts a very high premium on human values for growth within the ethics and culture of lived life; in seeking to move organic systems from the full dependence towards voluntary and volitional inter-dependence.

The Malaysia project

Malaysia came into existence on September 16, 2016. But, that fact is not clearly taught in history. Not many of us today can change that false reality interpreted today. Before that date we had four independent states called Federation of Malaya, Singapore, and the North Borneo States of Sarawak and Sabah; each with their own unique story about the movement from dependence towards independence and now interdependence.

Rightly or wrongly, for reasons of their own, in August 1965 Singapore chose to leave Malaysia by mutual agreement and consent between the leaderships of Malaysia and the island state. I am not sure if and whether Sarawak and Sabah or the United Kingdom had any direct say in this matter.

Therefore, after a short marriage of two years, Singapore exercised their ‘move from total dependence from the United Kingdom towards independence from the new Malaysia’. They wanted to learn and grow the experience and freedom with true independence.

Sarawak and Sabah may have had views about such a move by Singapore, but I do not know those facts, but they too surely want to experience movement from full dependence towards true independence. And their growth experiences will be surely very different.

Sarawak and Sabah’s self-governance experience

Have the Sarawak and Sabah governments and their political leadership learned true independence and interdependence from their many years as a one-third partner of Malaysia; even as the Malaysia Agreement gave them some clear and separate jurisdictions?

Many of these legal rights and privileges were captured within the revised Federal Constitution of Malaysia and including recognition of their 18 and 20 point submissions. Was there ever consensus on those two documents by the political leadership of Malaysia?

But why therefore, after more than 50 years within Malaysia, do they now put their foot down about Petronas’ governance and staff recruitment strength and raise issues about employment permits? As a public policy person, I am simply wondering loudly.

What have they really learnt about independence, or interdependence, or is it still merely dependence, if anything at all? Or, do these jurisdictional governance regimes feel like, we the Malayans, have thoroughly abused them altogether?

Learning from Covey

In my Pet Theory R, relationships are an important and elemental R. Therefore, building and growing our knowledge about ‘nurturing and growing mature relationships’ using the Covey’s three-step process and applying them to his seven habits for Sarawak and Sabah relationships with Malayans may be instructional:

  • Malaya was proactive in nurturing a relationship with Sarawak and Sabah; Brunei however did not respond in the same way. Why? We still grew Malaysia. Did we ask Indonesia at all?
  • Our end in mind was always National Unity and regional stability; and more recently, we have added words like integration and integrity. I call that agenda: integration with integrity.
  • What is our First Things First? Is it Malaysia, ‘Melayusia’, or ketuanan bumiputra for now or centre versus periphery in governance of lived life and stewardship of resources; including all human beings especially citizens?
  • Do we think win-win every time we have bilateral issues in our relationships concerns? Or, can we really begin to think win-win-win to endure stewardship as the third win for the sake of all human beings?
  • Do we seek to understand before we seek to be understood? I did not understand Sarawakians until I met the Kelabits earlier and now, after I spent 10 days in Baram Valley. Maximus Ongkili, Beth Baikan and Bernard Dompok taught me to learn to understand Kadazans.
  • Have we really learnt to synergise? Why then is the Malaysian Public Service still more than 80 percent made up of peninsular Malays (non-Malays are less than 10 percent I believe)? This issue is reflective of the Petronas case story. Synergy would allow for creating new values; not simply depreciating existing values.
  • Finally, from my experience on the ground, and meeting so many smart and equally ambitious Orang Ulu Sarawak and Kadazans; these questions are my Covey test for all of Malayans to sharpen our saw or ‘tools of execution and evaluation’ so that we can see and learn the real meaning of Malaysian interdependence and not allow it to become a foolhardy project.

KJ JOHN, PhD, was in public service for 32 years having served as a researcher, trainer, and policy adviser to the International Trade and Industry Ministry and the National IT Council (NITC) of the government of Malaysia. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at with any feedback or views.

Lessons out of Africa for scandal plagued Malaysia

August 23, 2o16

Lessons out of Africa for scandal plagued Malaysia

by Michael Vatikiotis

Beset by scandal, a murky Malaysia could take heed of recent political developments and a new transparency in South Africa and Mauritius.

Many Malaysians are despairing about their political system, in which institutional checks and balances against the abuse of power fail to work, and the opposition lacks the capacity to provide voters with a means of punishing the government at the ballot box.

The damning revelations about the abuse of funds in 1MDB, a development fund headed by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, have generated corruption allegations so big that the US Department of Justice, as well as authorities in Switzerland and Singapore, have all weighed in to investigate.  Yet, the political opposition at home in Malaysia has been unable to do what a loyal opposition does in a parliamentary democracy, which is to freely air grievances and sanction the sitting government in a no-confidence vote. Neither have any formal legal proceedings been successfully brought forward in Malaysia’s supposedly independent courts. Instead, a group of Malaysians has launched a class actions suit in the US.

The government meanwhile, has launched its own investigation, which has cleared the Prime Minister of any wrongdoing, but has refused to release details of what state auditors found.   An executive order removed a sitting Attorney General, and several senior party officials from the ruling United Malays National Organisations have been summarily sacked after expressing concern about the situation.

 UMNO is doomed 

For many Malaysians, what is emblematic about 1MDB is less the alleged corruption on a massive scale, but just how disempowered they feel as lawyers, members of parliament and ordinary citizens; there seems to be absolutely no redress to what is plainly evident to anyone outside the country – and they feel ashamed.  The government meanwhile, is prone to accusing those who dream of a more accountability of being unduly influenced by Western liberal values that have no currency in Asia or the developing world.

Recent events and political trends in southern Africa indicate such claims are nonsense and are worth examining in the light of the current situation in Malaysia.

The outcome of local elections held this month in South Africa and the conduct of political affairs in the small island neighbouring state of Mauritius suggest, that countries in the developing world afflicted by the scourge of corruption do have civilised ways of dealing with the abuse of power, which leave them economically stronger and socially more cohesive.

ANC under Zuma –rejected by voters

Local elections held in South Africa on 3 August saw the ruling African National Congress lose significantly, especially in urban areas.  For the first time since winning power after the dismantling of apartheid in 1994, the ANC’s share of the vote fell below 60 per cent.  The final tally was barely 53 per cent. Most analysts attributed the loss to dissatisfaction with ANC leaders, specifically its President Jacob Zuma, whose term in office has been dogged by accusations of corruption.

Voters appear to have based their decision on a clear process of legal investigation that has shown itself to be somewhat immune to political interference and whitewash.  In June, a South African court rejected President Zuma’s attempted appeal against a ruling that he should face as many as 800 charges of corruption, which include fraud and money laundering while he was in office.  In March this year, Zuma was found guilty of violating the constitution over the use of public funds to upgrade his private residence.

In the light of 1MDB, Malaysians won’t be shocked by these allegations, but what they might find surprising is that the courts in South Africa are ruling on them without fear or favour.  As a result, the party that has led the country since liberation, like UMNO in Malaysia, is no longer immune to scrutiny and the weight of public opinion.  Moreover, instead of blaming other groups or races for its loss, the ANC leadership has declared it will take collective responsibility.

New Hope for South Africa–Mmusi Maimane

More noteworthy still is how the opposition has responded in the South African context.  The winner in the August local election was the old White-dominated liberal party, the Democratic Alliance, that has strongholds in urban areas, rather like the Malaysian opposition.  The DA’s new leader, a black man from Soweto, called Mmusi Maimane, sometimes dubbed South Africa’s Obama, led the party to gain almost 30 per cent of the vote, up from less than two per cent in 1994.  Since the white population of South Africa represents only eight per cent of the total, many brown and black people must have shifted their allegiance from the ANC to the DA.

There are two lessons here for Malaysia: the first is that it is not a given that the party of liberation must rule the country forever; the second is that political affiliation need not correspond to ethnic identity.  South Africa is now the continent’s largest economy, having displaced Nigeria.  With the message delivered to the ANC at the local elections this month, many South Africans are hopeful that the country’s economic promise will no longer be squandered by leaders who use affirmative action to line the pockets of cronies and relatives.

 Mauritius: Checks and Balances are working

Meanwhile, next door in the tiny island of Mauritius, which has long had a close relationship with Malaysia, there are also signs that politicians who abuse their power are increasingly subject to the law.  In June last year, Pravind Jugnauth, the son of current Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth (pic above), was found guilty as Minister of Technology of conflict of interest in the purchase of a health clinic.

Pravind appealed the verdict and claimed trial, a decision he won, which has enabled him to serve as Finance Minister in the cabinet.  Remarkably, given that Pravind is considered Prime Minister in waiting to take over from his father, the Deputy Public Prosecutor is appealing the court’s decision – and he has kept his job.

The political set up in Mauritius is similar to that of Malaysia — a multiracial society composed of Hindu Indians, Muslim Indians, Chinese, Creole, and a smattering of established white families governed by a parliamentary system with courts and other regulatory bodies closely modeled on British institutions.  Also like Malaysia, there has long been tension between the manner in which the courts and the media hold politicians accountable, and political efforts to manipulate them.

It would seem that in the case of Mauritius, the checks and balances are working. Former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam, who was accused of using the courts to try to muzzle the media, is now under police investigation after more than US$ 6 million in cash was found at his home after he lost the election in 2014. Ramgoolam claims the money was a donation from supporters for use in the election campaign.  Sound familiar?

Michael Vatikiotis is Asia Regional Director for the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.


The Hyenas, Vultures and Maggots of 1MDB

August 23, 2016

The Hyenas, Vultures and Maggots of 1MDB

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

1MDB is not yet a bloated carcass (it is bloated only with debt) and already the hyenas, vultures and maggots are feasting with glee. In the wild, hyenas and vultures wait till their prey is dead, and maggots, rotting. Not these human hyenas, vultures and maggots.

Scavengers are vital in the ecosystem; they cleanse the environment of dead and decomposing bodies. In contrast, these human hyenas, vultures and maggots feasting on 1MDB are part of the rubbish. Perverse as it may seem, they have an exalted opinion of themselves. They view what they are doing–defending “Malaysian Official 1” who is related to one of the hyenas Riza Aziz–as honorable.

This 1MDB mess is humungous; it will burden Malaysians for generations. That is a grim and undeniable fact.Other facts, also undeniable, include these. One, 1MDB’s debt in excess of RM42 billion, and growing fast, exceeds the current budgetary allocation for education. No other entity, private or public, then or now could come even close. Those loans are ultimately the responsibility of taxpayers as well as those who do not pay tax. Those non-taxpayers, meaning the poor, are impacted because funds meant for them would be diverted to servicing those debts.

Two, 1MDB has gone through as many accounting firms as Britney Spears with boyfriends.  Its latest, Deloitte, has resigned, but not before making a most unusual declaration. That is, the US Department of Justice’s June 20, 2016 asset forfeiture lawsuit contained information that, if known at the time of the 2013 and 2014 audits “would have impacted the financial statements and affected the audit reports.”

The Carmas in the Malaysian Civil Service

“…these human hyenas, vultures and maggots feasting on 1MDB are part of the rubbish“–M. Bakri Musa

Along the same vein, the Auditor-General’s Report on 1MDB which the government had promised to make public is now under the Official Secrets Act. Those reports have always been public. Why keep this one secret?

Three, 1MDB has gone through as many chief executives in as many years, not the sign of a well-managed company. Four, drive by the site of the proposed Tun Razak Exchange, 1MDB’s signature development. It is empty. Last, 1MDB has yet to generate a sen of profit despite being in existence since 2009.

Meanwhile Switzerland has forced the sale of the bank involved with 1MDB and imposed an unusual and tough stipulation. Its new owner must not employ any of the existing senior managers of the sold bank. Singapore summarily closed the local branch of that bank. Its head now faces criminal charges. He was denied bail while awaiting trial, reflecting the gravity of the alleged crime. Singapore admitted to being lax in monitoring the bank’s activities with respect to 1MDB. Singapore also froze the assets of Jho Low, Najib’s financial confidant and key 1MDB player, an unprecedented as well as severe action.

There are other facts. The Attorney-General and Bank Negara have closed their investigations with no negative findings. Then there are the American DOJ’s asset forfeiture lawsuits and the class-action suit of Husam and Chang.

In America anyone can file a lawsuit. Thus you may dismiss the American lawsuits but not the actions of the Swiss and Singaporean authorities. As for the Attorney-General and Bank Negara Governor exonerating 1MDB, I let readers give that its proper weightage and relevance. Nonetheless that would still not explain 1MDB’s huge debts, changes in management and auditing firms, empty TRX lot, and the Auditor-General Report being kept secret.

For those who believe that Najib is God’s gift to Malaysians, you can’t argue with them. It would also be blasphemous to dispute Allah’s choice. For the rest of us, we need a more rational explanation, one that does not assault credibility or insult intelligence.

Back to the hyenas, they are now uncharacteristically quiet, their former flamboyance gone. Perhaps they are enjoying their morsels while they can, in their penthouses of Manhattan, mansions of Beverly Hills, and luxury yachts cruising the South China Sea. One would expect that having benefited handsomely from 1MDB they would harbor some gratitude to defend their benefactor.

The vast majority of Najib’s supporters are simple, unsophisticated Malay villagers still under the grip of feudalism. To them it is a simplistic “my leader, my race, my country, right or wrong!” Their loyalty to leaders is intense and unquestioning, up to a point. Betray that, and you pay the price. Datuk Onn was a hero for stopping Malayan Union, and Tunku Abdul Rahman for bringing merdeka. When they fell out of step with their followers, their drop from hero to villain was precipitous and merciless. Najib is nowhere near the caliber of those two giants. We must remind him and his ardent supporters of that.

Those villagers aside, only those vultures and maggots remain Najib’s supporters. The hyenas should be, but for reasons best known to themselves have chosen to remain silent. That leaves the vultures to be his noisiest and ugliest cheerleaders. Unlike the hyenas with their bounties in the millions, those vultures are satisfied with a promotion or two and a federal award (second or third class) thrown in. Satisfied because stripped of their new appointments, they would earn but a mere fraction back at their old law practices or whatever they did before prostituting themselves to Najib.

The maggots are there as long as there is a decaying carcass. A few ringgit tossed their way to fill the tanks of their used motorbikes, and they are happy parading their red shirts or polluting the social media with their inane comments. Once the carrion is gone, so will they.

Some support Najib out of inertia, buttressed by the havoc of regime change in Iraq and Libya as well as the performance of the opposition. Others reflect the forbearance of Malaysians. Najib, they rationalize, won the last election albeit without the majority of the popular votes. Nonetheless that victory was reaffirmed by the recent state elections in Sarawak as well as the two by-elections in Peninsula Malaysia.

That is a dicey defense. Winning elections is no license to steal or be corrupt. Nixon won a landslide in 1972, yet that did not stop his impeachment and subsequent resignation in disgrace for covering up the Watergate break-in.

A few would argue that Najib’s shenanigans are no different from Mahathir’s many opaque UMNO proxy companies plus London Tin, Maminco, Bank Bumiputra, and Forex debacles. To them 1MDB is merely a different crocodile, albeit much more menacing, but from the same fetid swamp. Malaysia will never progress with that attitude.

Then there is the reflected glory argument. Riza Aziz, Malaysian Official 1’s stepson, is one of the producers of the Academy Award-winning The Wolf of Wall Street. Most would miss the irony as the film is banned in Malaysia. Nonetheless Malays in particular should celebrate that achievement.

Malaysians would have, and proudly too, had the film not been tainted. Indeed, the Academy publicly demanded that Riza Aziz’s name be officially deleted. It is like winning at the Olympics, and later disqualified for doping. Instead of glory, shame.

Another aspect of Najib’s support is crude anti-American rage triggered by the DOJ’s lawsuit. That was seen as interference as well as double standards. America too is blighted with corruption, they sniff. True. But as South Korean Tongsun Park and Indonesian James Riady, as well as former Attorney-General Mitchell and President’s Counsel John Dean found out, the corrupt do get caught, convicted, and jailed. That’s the lesson Malaysians should draw from America.

As for American interference, if Najib and other corrupt Third World leaders do not want that, then next time accept only Zimbabwean dollars and use a bank in Uzbekistan. Buy properties in Bali or Cancun, not Manhattan or Beverly Hills, and bet at casinos in Macau not Las Vegas. There are no shortages of hyenas, vultures and maggots in those countries to clean up your mess.

ASEAN Community: Economic Integration and Development of SMEs

August 21, 2016

S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies

ASEAN Community: Economic Integration and Development of SMEs

By Ong Keng Yong and Phidel Marion G. Vineles


The ASEAN Community is in business notwithstanding various challenges. The huge potential of ASEAN Small and Medium Enterprises must be tapped to strengthen the backbone of the regional economy.



Ambassador and former ASEAN Secretary-General  Ong Keng Yong with friends from The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh

AS ASEAN celebrated its 49th anniversary on 8 August 2016, regional public opinion is sceptical that the ASEAN Community exists. The fact is each ASEAN Member State does not count for much in the global economy even though Indonesia, as the biggest economy in Southeast Asia, is seen as quite significant with a GDP of nearly US$900 billion. But that is only the size of the economy of Tokyo, the capital area of Japan. The combined GDP of ASEAN Member States is about US$2.6 trillion. This makes ASEAN the seventh largest economy in the world. In ten years’ time, ASEAN can overtake the United Kingdom and France to be No.5 – after the US, China, Japan and Germany!

ASEAN Community: New Operating Environment

ASEAN is very diverse – 10 different cultures, economic systems, history and political order. The ego of each nation in the grouping is typically self-centred. That creates troubles for the organisation from time to time. Yet, looking at the global picture, forming the ASEAN Community is a strategic imperative and economic necessity.

Collectively, the Southeast Asian countries as ASEAN will be competitive vis-a-vis other regions of the world and an attractive destination for investors. ASEAN needs foreign direct investment and jobs for its peoples. ASEAN will do well if the member states work together and navigate through the interests of powerful neighbours and the bewildering technological developments affecting the marketplace and society.

The ASEAN Community is now the operating environment for all of us. The ASEAN Community has three pillars – political/security, economic and socio-cultural. The ASEAN Economic Community or the AEC has achieved positive results even though there are persistent complaints that ASEAN businesses are still not fully aware of the benefits accruing from the AEC. Tariff reduction and removal of obstacles to facilitate trade and open markets are ongoing. ASEAN is amalgamating its five Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with China, Korea, Japan, Australia/New Zealand and India into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Infrastructural development and connectivity are being improved. Overall, growth prospects for the AEC are good: more than 5% annually for the next five years.

ASEAN SMEs: Significant Growth Engine

To be sure, ASEAN could do better and it has prioritised the development of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to achieve equitable, inclusive and sustainable growth, as they represent more than 95% of all enterprises in the region. This could also contribute to poverty reduction as well as improve the status of women in the region as almost half of the enterprises are women-owned.

ASEAN SMEs are the backbone of the ASEAN economies. According to the ASEAN Secretariat, they employ between 52% and 97% of all workers. In addition, their contribution to each ASEAN Member State’s GDP varies between 30% and 53%. However, their share of total exports remains small, between 10% and 30%. This means much remain to be done to strengthen the role of SMEs to help ASEAN economic integration.

The ASEAN Strategic Action Plan for SME Development laid out five key strategies: (1) promote productivity, technology and innovation; (2) increase access to finance; (3) enhance market access and “internationalisation”; (4) enhance policy and regulatory environment; and (5) promote entrepreneurship and human capital development.

SMEs Not Equipped for AEC and RCEP?

Several analysts claimed that most SMEs in the region are not fully equipped to deal with new business realities of the AEC and the RCEP. The AEC is an integrated market and production base of over 620 million people, which could expand to more than three billion through the RCEP. Both the AEC and the RCEP could bring many opportunities for the SMEs, realise economies of scale for them and increase their participation in the global value chains.

However, it is projected that SMEs will face intense competition from the entry of multinational corporations (MNCs) and cheap imports. Hence, ASEAN Member States should fine-tune their concrete action lines in relation to the specific needs and circumstances of their SMEs.

Productivity and technology improvements are key drivers of SMEs to integrate with the production networks of MNCs. These drivers could be further enhanced if SMEs are allied with other SMEs or with large enterprises. However, there are some challenges to boost productivity of ASEAN SMEs.

According to various studies, average labour productivity (GDP per person employed) in ASEAN was equivalent to only 31% of US labour productivity in 2015. There are notable variations on labour productivity among ASEAN Member States: Singapore’s average labour productivity equivalent to US’ labour productivity is 112%, Thailand (25%), Myanmar (8%), and Cambodia (5%).

There should be more training within ASEAN SMEs to help boost their labour productivity to levels needed to become qualified suppliers in global value chains. SMEs should also invest in specialised technical training for their workers.

Overcoming Impediments to SME Development

According to the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), the lack of strategic approach to innovation policy for SMEs is one of the impediments of SME development in ASEAN. It is therefore necessary to find ways to promote technology and technology transfer for developing SMEs’ innovation capabilities. Protection and promotion of intellectual property rights, development of broadband infrastructure and industrial parks, and sufficient financial incentives in research and technology development are some policy measures which have to be instituted to boost the SMEs.

Access to finance is a key concern for ASEAN SMEs. According to ERIA, there is a big gap in the access to finance of the less developed ASEAN Member States when compared with Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. There are also cumbersome requirements. According to the World Bank, an average of 47 days is required for 13 procedures to start a business in Indonesia, while it requires 73 days for six procedures in Lao PDR. It would only take three days to complete three procedures in Singapore and online electronic applications are made to a single authority. The business registration process should be simplified.

Promoting human resource development and entrepreneurship is essential for SMEs to succeed. Entrepreneurship learning programmes help equip SMEs with improved management and business methods. Presently, the ASEAN Common Curriculum in Entrepreneurship, which is one of the initiatives of ASEAN Strategic Action Plan for SME Development, aims to establish a common curriculum for entrepreneurship in the region with the use of an entrepreneurship educational programme that is currently implemented in ASEAN universities.

In conclusion, it is essential to implement an effective SME development policy that will propel regional cooperation among ASEAN Member States. This will assist SMEs to expand internationally and integrate them into global supply chains.

About the Authors

Ambassador and Former ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong is Executive Deputy Chairman of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at NTU Singapore and former Secretary-General of ASEAN. Phidel Gonzales Vineles is a Senior Analyst at RSIS.

This Commentary is adapted from a speech on ASEAN SMEs delivered on 4 August 2016.


Malaysia: No end to discrimination of the Other

August 19, 2016

Malaysia: No end to discrimination of the Other

by Farouk A. Peru

One of the most despairing things I dread reading every year is news on how members of the rakyat are denied their rightful places at local universities.

They do everything right, tick all the boxes but when it comes to reaping the fruits of their labour, they are short changed. Instead, their rightful places are given to Bumiputera students. Those whose grades are good but not comparable to those who score stellar grades but are not of Bumiputera status. My question to my fellow Bumis is this: Can we live with ourselves while supporting this policy?

I was moved last Saturday when I read the plight of a young Indian woman. She scored straight As in her UPSR and PMR. In her SPM, she did equally well and she was also a high achiever in her extracurricular activities. Yet she was denied a place to do dentistry and was offered a place to do bio-medical engineering.

Some may say she has a lot to be grateful for and I would agree but that is hardly the point. The point is rather to ask the question: “Is she getting what she deserves?” Would she get the same offer if she was a Bumiputera?

If we are indeed practising pure meritocracy, then the only way this young woman would be denied her place is if there were other candidates with equally perfect scores and who did equally well in extracurricular activities. This is highly doubtful. What is probably the case here is that she is the victim of the racially segregating quota system. Her non-Bumi status had put her at a disadvantage.

As a Malay-Muslim, I am appalled by such policies. It is not because I do not want people of my own socio-culture to progress. Of course I do and we have over the decades. There is now a clear strata in Malay-Muslim society who are highly educated professionals and clearly above and beyond the abysmal politics of UMNO and PAS.

However, the majority of us are still clinging to the crutches to which we have acclimatised ourselves over this time. Remember the protest by UITM students when it was suggested non-Bumis be allowed entry? It is that kind of mentality that impedes Malay-Muslims from achieving further progress.

Then there is the matter of religion. As Malay-Muslims, our Islamic identity is becoming increasingly important to us.

In Malaysia, we are proud of our high place in the Islamic index. We have grand mosques and our lifestyles are becoming more and more Arabicised (or Islamised, as the priesthood would have us believe). But are segregating Bumiputera policies actually Islamic?

Let us consider the following: The Quran is replete with commands to believers to perform acts of goodness. In no less than four places (Chapter 2 Verse 83, 4/36, 6/151 and 17/23), this command is connected with the actual worship of Allah which is the main point of the Quran.

Yet, in not a single of these commands is there a pre-condition that good deeds be towards believers or even Muslims. Rather, good deeds are generally to parents (not one’s own necessarily but parents in general), near neighbours, orphans, the socially stagnant and travellers.

Not only that, there is an entire chapter of the Quran (Chapter 83, Al-Muthaffifeen) which is dedicated to the event in which all our deeds is accounted for. The eponymous “muthaffifeen” is a unique word used only once in the first verse of this chapter.

It refers to people who extract a particular measure of benefit but refuse to give the full measure of effort required. Needless to say, the Quran is against such an act. It tells us that we will made to pay for this sin on Judgement Day.

So while we expect non-Muslim Malaysians to contribute to the development of the nation, we refuse to give them equal rights. We will have to answer for this disparity on the day of reckoning, according to the Quran.

It is very clear from these and numerous other principles from the Quran that there is simply no justification for racialised policies. Yet, we have not even heard a peep from the Islamic priesthood about them.

While they are busy pronouncing Pokemon Go as forbidden and making sure wives submit to their husbands even while riding on camels, they are deafeningly silent on this very fundamental teaching of the Quran. I urge Malay Muslims to ask these priests at every opportunity.

Malay Muslims need to realise that these preferential policies not only hurt our relationship with the rakyat, they also compromise our religion as well as our capacity for competition. The sooner we let go of these policies, the sooner we can take our place as members of the rakyat alongside the others.

Malaysia: Ideological Fragmentation of Malay Polity

August 19, 2016

Malaysia: Ideological Fragmentation of Malay Polity

by Shahril Ahmad

The emergence of Bersatu, with its cadre of disenfranchised UMNO rebels, further muddies the waters of Malay politics.

Muhyiddin Yassin–Interim President, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia

There are still plenty of wishful thinkers in the establishment who cling to the old notion that the Malay vote is monolithic, but the wealth of information we’re getting from the alternative media, especially social media, tells us that there are conservative Malays, moderate Malays, liberal Malays, even anarchic Malays spread across the length and breadth of the country.

Malay society is indeed living, breathing and evolving as it tries to come to terms with the rapidly changing world we live in. One of the effects of these changes, helped by the information explosion, is the rapid expansion of ideologies. Anyone who has his ears close enough to the ground knows that with every young Malay going to the right, there’s probably another going to the left and another to the middle.

With this ideological fragmentation, space has opened up for different parties with different ways of thinking, and this is reflected in the major players in the race for the Malay vote.

PKR, Amanah, PAS, Bersatu, and UMNO all vie for roughly the same electorate, regardless of PKR’s enduring and much appreciated decision to keep membership open to all races.

Amanah is as close to a progressive Malay party as has been seen in decades. PAS appeals to the ultra-conservative elements of Malay society. Bersatu, PKR, and UMNO vie for the vote of those on the fence and around it. UMNO has generally been considered centre-right despite the occasional outburst of extremism, and until recently was more of a palatable option than PAS with its occasional frothy manic behaviour.

There are ideological quirks that separate PKR, Bersatu, and UMNO from each other. PKR has a reformist agenda, UMNO is distinguished by its pro-Bumiputera policies, while Bersatu has a more inclusive definition of Bumiputera.

Bersatu, being newly announced, is still something of an enigma, and so cannot be fully analysed just yet, but it has promised a different way of doing Bumiputera politics.

The Malay identity is just as varied as the parties named above, and so each has its particular audience within the community. It’s hard to predict who will win out in the end although one must give UMNO an edge because it has control over the instruments of state. Bersatu probably still needs time to emerge as a viable contender, and the other opposition parties still have some way to go to repair their battered image, except perhaps Amanah because it too is still new.

Regardless, the ideological fragmentation of Malay society is beginning to be reflected in our politics, and that can only be a good thing in the long run. Ultimately, of course, we should all be working towards a political system that is not race-based.