Malaysia’s Prime Minister-in-waiting, Anwar Ibrahim, believes that it will take time for the Malays in Malaysia to accept a shift of race-based affirmative action to needs-based. He was speaking at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore yesterday, 6th Nov.
Anwar, who is the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) President-elect, was responding to a question on whether or not he sees a future in which Malaysia’s Bumiputera policy will be fully abolished. He said, “It is now shifting to an extent because we take on affirmative action based on needs than race and it will certainly take time for the Malays to accept it.”
He went on to explain that the Malays in Malaysia have been indoctrinated over the past 40 years to believe that survival is only possible with economic policies that are in favour of their race.
During an interview session with Bloomberg Television chief international correspondent Haslinda Amin titled ‘Malaysia’s quest for democratic accountability’, Anwar explained that when the New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced in the 1970s, the aim was to uplift the struggling Malays following the race riots in 1969. The measure officially ended in 1990 but race-based policies in favour of the Malays, commonly referred to as special rights of the Malays, continue to this day.
When it was introduced, the NEP was intended to eradicate poverty and eliminate the identification of race with economic function as a way to create national unity. But now 8 years past its deadline, many in Malaysia believe that these policies have instead created a generation of people who believe they are unable to succeed without the government’s crutch.
Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world that has affirmative action policies for a majority class. Anwar also explained that the NEP has now been rendered obsolete as the understanding of Malaysians has changed. He also said that he had been championing for the dismantling of the NEP since 2007 to allow Malaysians to be more competitive. He added that strongly believes that affirmative action can be helpful and foster growth if utilised properly with empathy and concern, without ignoring the plight of the poor – minus race.
On the other hand, current Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has already said that that affirmative action policy will stay in place as he feels that there is still a disparity between the Malays and other races. In an interview with the BBC on 2nd October, Dr Mahathir said about the NEP, "Why should I stop? We are trying to correct disparity in wealth between the Malays and others. We have to bring up the Malays to be as wealthy or well-off as others. That needs correction."
To many, this is an indication that Dr Mahathir may be still be stuck in the past. However, his position is not surprising considering he leads a political party founded on the premise of protecting Malay rights – Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Malaysian United Indigenous Party).
Earlier in September, Dr Mahathir had been quoted calling the Malays ‘lazy’ and ‘untrustworthy’, chiding the entire community for not properly taking advantage of the NEP. He had blamed the ‘minimal and unsatisfactory’ achievements of the NEP on the Malays’ ‘unwillingness to work hard and having a lackadaisical attitude to their own responsibilities’.