Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Malays, the Kings; Non-Malays, the Kingmakers

Written by johnleemk on 3:06:12 pm Jul 19, 2007.
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Before anyone jumps to conclusions about the title, I would like to remind my dear readers that the phrases I am using are allegorical — I am not suggesting that ketuanan Melayu is an ideal we should strive for.

Having reassured panicky/confused people about the odd title, we can move on to the main thrust — the principle that Malaysia can only change and progress under the banner of Malay leadership.

Th way I see it, there are two ways to effect change — you can go the peaceful route, or you can go the violent route. Each has its pros and cons, but I doubt anyone wants blood in the streets (except maybe for a certain Deputy Prime Minister who said back in 1988 that he would spill the blood of Chinese).

If you want to go down that road, well, you don't need anyone to be a king or kingmaker; all you need is a determined minority with weapons, and that minority can be Islamic fundamentalists, Chinese chauvinists, Malay moderates — anyone. We don't need to talk about leadership or kingmaking in that case.

But if you want to change the country peacefully and lawfully, then you need to be able to convince a strong majority of Malaysians to want and contribute to this change.

Now, there is absolutely no way the non-Malays can hope to lead the charge for change; we have all been agitating for change in one way or another for eons, whether we have been inside or outside politics, inside or outside the government.

The Malays are not committed to change; they can be swung either way. That there are a substantial number who are pro-change can be seen in how PAS, despite its fundamentalism, won over a fifth of the popular vote in the last general election.

The question is, first, do the Malays want change; second, what kind of change do the Malays want? There are a large number of undecided Malays who may be comfortable with the status quo, but who may swing the other way depending on the situation.

Competing for the attention of these Malays are a number of rival groups. However, the dialectic thus far has been dominated by two radical extremes — the Malays who don't want change (i.e. UMNO), and the Malays who want change in the direction of an Islamic theocracy (i.e. PAS). There has been no group able to appeal to any middle ground.

I am not just talking about a political party. Do we have substantial and influential groups of professional moderate Malays? No — all we have are groups like Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM).

There are moderate Malays out there — I know, because I have met them. The challenge is how do we turn them into a force for change? How do we push them to the forefront of leadership in the Malay community? By determining who leads the Malays, we determine who leads Malaysia.

At the moment, we must face a simple fact — a lot of activism and a lot of enthusiasm for change is concentrated in non-Malays, the Chinese in particular. But trying to go it alone is foolhardy. We should not pretend to be kings when that is not a position we are ready to occupy — our society is too stratified by race to consider that.

However, we are well-placed to be kingmakers. We have the resources, enthusiasm and idealism to help organise and support potential leadership in the Malay community, and thus potential leadership for the broader Malaysian community.

I don't care much for the old guard of leaders — the time they have left is finite in any event. What I want to know is who will be leading the Malay community, and the Malaysian community, 30 or 40 years from hence.

Without non-Malay support for their agenda, the Malays, regardless of who is leading them, will find it difficult to push through and achieve their goals. It is doable, but not without significant backlash that could very well trigger a process of violent change instead. That is why the non-Malays are in a kingmaking position.

We have to utilise this power. We cannot be content with holding our ground and fighting our foolhardy fight for change. We have to find Malays who support a vision of Malaysia with a room for all communities, and give these Malays the support they need — the support to win over the Malays, and thus Malaysia.

It might strike you that throughout this piece, an underlying assumption has been that change is necessary. And it is. We cannot afford to dally, cannot afford to be content in focusing our efforts on the tapped-out non-Malay base for change. We have to get to work on finding a new generation of Malay and Malaysian leaders, because if we do not mine this generation, before we know it, we will be facing the death of Malaysia.


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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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