Malaysians shaken by pro-Malay rhetoric and racial divide, experiment reveals

Malaysian wave national flags during National Day celebrations at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur. — Reuters pic
Malaysian wave national flags during National Day celebrations at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 22 ― Malaysians of all races had less confidence in Malaysia when reminded of pro-Malay rhetoric and the racial divide in the country, a study based on an “experiment” has shown.

In the experiment conducted by Centre for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS), the Umno-linked research firm found that its respondents were discomforted and less likely to be confident about raising their children locally when unconsciously reminded of pro-Malay symbols such as a keris.

“Both Malay and non-Malay respondents recorded negative reactions when reminded about Malaysia’s racial divide in terms of family planning.

“Both became less confident about raising their kids in a Malaysia that prioritised racial barriers,” the behavioural and social science research firm said in its findings published yesterday.

“Perhaps the best insight from this is that Malays, even though reminded of their 'special positions' indirectly becomes less enthusiastic to want to raise a family in Malaysia.

“It seems that even as politicians speak of Malays’ special positions and privileges, it is the Malays themselves that intrinsically respond negatively,” it added.

For its study titled “The Priming Experiment: Reactions to the Question of Race”, Cent-GPS explained that half of its respondents (Malays and non-Malays) were “primed” with subtle reminders of Malaysia's ethnocentric divide and race-based rhetoric, where the research firm placed certain objects in the waiting room and testing centre for its respondents.

This included red curtains, a framed “keris” or traditional Malay dagger that contemporarily invokes Malay strength on the testing centre's wall, newspapers highlighting a pro-Malay rally, right wing party posters lying around a table, a running television that highlighted news on the protests against the anti-racial discrimination convention ICERD.

But Cent-GPS did not point out these objects to respondents before they answered questions in another room, intending it to have a “priming effect” where respondents would notice them in passing.

The other half of the 100 respondents were left untouched with the room bare and the television switched off and with no reminders of Malaysia's deep racial divide.

Cent-GPS highlighted the astounding differences in the respondents who had been “primed” regardless of whether they were Malays or non-Malays, when answering the question of their confidence levels in bringing up their children here.

For Malay respondents who were not primed, 50 per cent were “greatly” confident in raising their children here, while 38 per cent would “allow” it, and those who were “hesitant” or “refused” both accounted for six per cent.

But for Malay respondents that were primed, those who were “greatly” confident in raising their children here fell dramatically to 29.1 per cent, while 35.5 percent would allow it, while those who were “hesitant” or “refused” jumped to a whopping 19.4 per cent and 16.1 per cent.

A similar reaction was shown for non-Malay respondents, where 42.9 per cent were “greatly” confident as compared to only 15 per cent when primed, and with those who would “allow” raising their children here falling from 36.7 per cent to 21.5 per cent when primed, and those who were “hesitant” jumping from 15.3 per cent to 47.3 per cent when primed, and also those who “refused” rising from 5.1 per cent to 16 per cent.

Of GLCs, schools, airlines, investment and more

The other questions that were asked to determine the 100 respondents' consumer choices were whether they would allow their children to work in a government-linked company, and which airlines (Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, Singapore Airlines) they would choose if all factors were the same.

They were also asked whether they would send their children to a public school, a SJK school or international school if all factors were the same; and whether they would build a getaway house in Terengganu, Kuala Lumpur or overseas if they had excess funds.

They were also asked if they would donate to a local university, overseas or not donate if they had a fund.

In summing up the study's findings, Cent-GPS said it was “clear that reminders of Malaysia’s ethnocentrism benefits no one”.

“Malaysians in this study group were discouraged to have anything to do with Malaysia if and when they were reminded of the nation’s racial divide,” it said.

Cent-GPS said the 100 respondents took the tests individually and on their own, with questions presented in both Bahasa Malaysia and English to the respondents who were all SPM graduates and with most of them having gone on to higher education.

The 100 respondents composed of 62 Malays and 38 non-Malays, with most of them coming from urban and suburban areas in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, and Pahang.

Cent-GPS was careful to note the limitations in the number of its respondents which it said would be insufficient to represent all Malaysians, also noting that it had no way of knowing if respondents' answers were due to the priming effect or if they naturally had those answers in mind.

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