Affirmative action: A welfare state for some, exploitive capitalism for others — Lim Chin

JULY 30 — No one can deny that there were times when the affirmative action policies adopted by Malaysia were entirely necessary for the stability of the nation. When the New Economic Policy (NEP) was formed, it was against the backdrop of the bloody 1969 riots which left the country in a state of dismay. NEP was the immediate solution to promote equality between the ethnic groups in Malaysia.

Back then, the point of affirmative action was to eradicate race-based poverty focusing on promoting the financial and social status of Malays. This made perfect sense as it was a time where 49 per cent of the peninsular Malaysian population lived in poverty. Most, if not all, were rural Malay farmers and they needed help.

We are so very far from that reality today, yet somehow, affirmative action has not only remained, it has broadened.

It seems that over the years, these race-based policies that were at first necessary and helpful, have taken on a new and monstrous form. A form that has encouraged a sense of entitlement among certain Malays and is seen as a stamp of approval for preferential treatment of an elite race group rather than a helping hand in a time of need.

Some have even suggested that the programme creates less of an incentive for Malays to bring their A game, as their positions both in higher education and employment is somewhat promised. Affirmative action has done little but breed a sense of laziness, an atmosphere of racial tension, and wasted a ton of government resources.

This is not even touching on the brain drain caused by the continued NEP. How would you like to be a hard-working Chinese or Indian Malaysian that barely has a chance at finding spots in Matrikulasi and universities, receiving scholarships, or getting the job they deserve? How can you blame them for leaving Malaysia to countries that provide equal opportunities regardless of the person’s ethnic group or religion?

This major brain drain, in which 1 million people have already left the country as of 2010, is another factor which greatly damages the Malaysian economy, and promotes “Malaysia only for Malays.”

So why, you ask, is nothing being done? We have entered a period of “New Malaysia,” have we not?! So why are these old and destructive laws still in place, symbolised by Mahathir’s reversing his previous decision to ratify Icerd, a UN convention that commits its members to eliminate racial discrimination in their country.

There seem to be various factors, primarily the major pressure exerted by the majority Malay population who obviously do not want to be stripped of the affirmative action that puts them in an elite and superior position. Then there is the fear of the government that if they actually go through with a plan that could be seen as removing affirmative action, it could lead to riots (and there is obviously still 1969 riot-PTSD lingering in the air.)

And of course, there is the head of PH, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad, the man who championed affirmative action during his earlier stint as prime minister. Despite his previous promise to level the playing field and review the necessity of affirmative action prior to his re-election, he seems to have picked up a different tune now that he is in the power seat, maybe looking for the public approval of Malays to support is next political campaign.

In response to his decision to continue the policy that favours ethnic Malays, he stated “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.”

Last week, Malaysians gave a collective sigh of relief when Anwar stated the affirmative action will only be based on race, when he claimed, “The old affirmative action policy, which is about 60 years, is obsolete and should be dismantled but replaced with a firm commitment based on needs involving the government and private sector.” 

But I, for one, am too used to “Bumiputera doublespeak” to take this seriously. After all, this was the exact tone of Mahathir pre-election... and look where we are now.

We are left in a now-absurd situation where Malaysia has become something of a welfare state for one racial group, and a place of exploitative capitalism for the rest. We are left with a government that gives one race free tertiary education, freedom from taxes taxes, discounted properties, and the rest are left to struggle, or leave.

Affirmative action has clearly turned Malaysia into a racially discriminative society, and as one disillusioned Malaysian, Jason Wong, so rightly stated, “As long as (Mahathir’s) pride stops him from challenging the racial supremacism he engineered decades ago, it will continue drifting around in the Malaysian psyche.” 

Malaysia needs reforms. The new government must go forth without fear of its citizens and create a society of equal opportunity rather than one that breeds laziness for one group, helplessness for another, and unhealthy race relations for us all.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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