Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Keeping the Malays Complacent?

Written by johnleemk on 2:49:03 pm Mar 30, 2007.
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One common theme of non-Malay thought that I run into again and again is that the government's pro-Malay policies should be maintained. Although this seems a bit strange at first sight, it's a rational short-term policy I can empathise and relate with.

The government's incessant protectionism of the Malays, specifically the "towering Malays" (AKA cronies), has made their enterprises and business establishments weak. This weakness stems from their total complacency.

After all, these companies are all but effectively guaranteed government contracts, through the double whammy of race and political patronage. Profitable businesses (which are actually glorified handout agencies) have been established simply to import cars and sell them here, because the government restricts imports through the issuing of approved permits which only certain Bumiputra cronies can get for you.

Moreover, even from young, Bumiputras do not need to work that hard. Prior to "meritocracy", quotas guaranteed any above average Malay admission to university, regardless of his actual self-application. He could just coast along in school without applying himself, since that would be more than sufficient to meet the bar for university entrance. After "meritocracy", the same student can just get into a matriculation programme, which will let him through to university without undergoing the painful STPM examination.

Then when it comes to the distribution of scholarships, the Malays have an undeniable edge. It's possible, but far from easy for non-Malay students to get public funding for their education in an overseas university. Even getting admitted to Harvard is no guarantee of a government scholarship. (Ironically, poorly-connected Malays don't fare that much better than non-Malays in this area.)

With all these cosy protections from competition, the Malays have become complacent. It's all but impossible to deny this. Their crutches have weakened them to the point that, as one of our Prime Ministers has picturesquely warned, they could end up in wheelchairs.

Meanwhile, all this discrimination against the non-Malays has not torn them down. They continue to dominate the Malaysian economy, even though all these protectionist policies were meant to give the Malays a greater role in the private sector.

The non-Malays continue to succeed in the private sector because they cannot afford to be complacent. One false move, and they are finished. The government's policies ensure that a lazy non-Malay will not be able to compete with a lazy Malay — and so all the lazy non-Malays have had to become hardworking to earn a living.

Similarly, in education, the top achievers in our ludicrous examination system are still, on average, more likely to be Chinese than Malay. And look at our private colleges — they are so full of Chinese, one would be forgiven for thinking he was in China rather than Malaysia. These colleges have become a backdoor for non-Malays to gain a university education — and also to flee the country once they have gotten their permanent residency in the country of their education.

Clearly, the government policies have benefited both parties. The Malays are generally content in their complacency, while the non-Malays grumble about discrimination, but continue to earn more than ever. Both parties have an interest in maintaining the status quo.

The problem is, the status quo can't be maintained. It's simply not the equilibrium state of our country, of our economy, of our society. At one point or another, something will snap, the status quo will dissolve, and all hell will break loose.

What could happen? Almost anything. The discontent non-Malay underclass could decide they're fed up with not having any opportunities at all. The same could happen with the Malay underclass. Or, even more likely, the oil money driving our free ride could dry up.

When the status quo is crushed, the Malays will be forced to compete, and they will simply not be ready for the harsh reality of a world without the skirt of an overly interventionist government to hide behind. The resulting unhappiness is bound to cause, at the very least, severe tensions in Malaysian society.

That's why it is in the interest of all Malaysians, in the long run, to keep the Malays from their complacency. If we want Malaysia to remain on the map 50 years from now, it is in our interest to help the Malays — and by extension Malaysia — to compete.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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