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Ketuanan Melayu rebutted

“IF you live in Malaysia, you cannot have ketuanan Melayu. The word ‘ketuanan’ is alienating. Malaysia has Eurasians, Indonesians, Chinese, Indians, and so on. If anyone deserves to be called the ‘tuan’ of this land, it’s the Orang Asli.”

Most Malaysians would be forgiven for thinking that it was a non-Malay Malaysian politician speaking out against ketuanan Melayu. But these sentiments were articulated by Nur Farina Noor Hashim, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Puteri bureau head.

“I just had no interest to join Umno,” Farina, who joined PPP in 2004, tells The Nut Graph. PPP is a component party of the Barisan Nasional (BN), of which Umno is the dominant party.

Farina is, of course, referring to the position taken by Umno leaders that suggests ketuanan Melayu is synonymous with Malay rights, and that Malay rights are under threat. Or rather, any questioning of ketuanan Melayu is tantamount to threatening the Malay race.

The consistent message from these Umno leaders of late seems to be that only Umno is capable of defending the Malays. Or that Umno is the Malay race. And their currency is ketuanan Melayu.

Farina is not the only Malay Malaysian politician to view with some amount of circumspection Umno’s position as defender of the Malays and their supremacy. 

“I love Malays and I love Malaysia,” says Gerakan central committee member Dr Asharuddin Ahmad. “But this country cannot survive without non-Malays. We are all Malaysians. The future of Malaysia lies with multiracial parties,” he tells The Nut Graph.

Future of Malaysia lies with multiracial parties, says Asharuddin
Interestingly, Asharuddin is a former Umno member. He joined Umno in 1988, but left to join Gerakan 10 years later. He says he has been branded a traitor to Malay Malaysians, but asserts that joining Gerakan does not make him “any less Malay or more Malay”.

“Umno’s struggle is not wrong, but I prefer Gerakan’s multiracial approach,” Asharuddin says.

“Ketuanan” alienates

Umno leaders’ defensiveness around the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric is not new. Their recent rancour in attacking dissenters within the BN, such as former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and Gerakan Wanita chief Datuk Tan Lian Hoe, was therefore alarming yet unsurprising.

The question, however, is whether Malay Malaysian politicians have a future outside of Umno, especially if they want to remain within the BN.

In that sense, the case of Gerakan’s Asharuddin is interesting, having crossed over from a party that champions ketuanan Melayu to a multiracial one.

But Asharuddin is not alone. Another ex-Umno member who jumped ship to join a multiracial BN component party is Datuk Nik Sapeia Nik Yusof from PPP.

Nik Sapeia was invited by party president Datuk Dr M Kayveas to join, even though he is still facing court proceedings for the charge of attacking former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2006. Nik Sapeia is now the party’s Kelantan chief.

“Before I came along, nobody believed PPP had any supporters in Kelantan,” Nik Sapeia tells The Nut Graph. “Now in Kelantan, every time I organise an event I get thousands of people attending and supporting it. The Kelantanese are ready and they want change to happen in the political scenario here.”

He says the Kelantanese are increasingly seeing that PPP will bring about this much-needed change.

Malaysians are very open-minded and
intelligent, says Farina
Asharuddin and Nik Sapeia are undoubtedly minorities among the BN’s multiracial component parties. However, they are slowly coming out of the woodwork, especially since the BN’s unprecedented losses in the 8 March 2008 general election.

Farina feels that Umno’s outbursts and threats will only backfire in the long run.

“Malaysians are very open-minded and intelligent now,” she says. “Our politicians must be on par with the rakyat’s intelligence, because it’s the rakyat who want change and will eventually change this country.”

Multiracial politics

The voices of these non-Umno Malay Malaysians within the BN join those in the Pakatan Rakyat that have also been upping the ante against Umno’s ketuanan Melayu rhetoric.

As part of its election campaign, PAS launched its “PAS for all” tagline. The Islamist party also continues to aggressively recruit non-Muslim support via Kelab Penyokong PAS.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leaders, such as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Dr Syed Husin Ali, have been promoting “ketuanan rakyat” instead of “ketuanan Melayu”. And the DAP also scored a coup when it recruited Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim as the party’s vice-chairperson. He was formerly vice-chairperson of Transparency International’s board of directors.

The Pakatan Rakyat parties are therefore, in varying degrees, grappling with their respective multiracial futures. The previously monoreligious, monoracial PAS is trying to appeal to a wider section of Malaysians. In an interview in the November 2008 issue of Off the Edge, even party spiritual advisor Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat said, “[I]f there is a Chinese person in Kelantan who is good, pious and clean, I will campaign for him to become chief minister. As long as he is qualified, as long as he is a Muslim, I don’t care what ethnic background he comes from.”

Nik Aziz Nik Mat (© Murdfreak)
The Chinese-dominated DAP is trying to increase its appeal to non-Chinese Malaysians, specifically Malay Malaysians. And high-level Malay Malaysian leaders in PKR are trying to consolidate the party’s tentative multiracialism.

A little-known fact is that two other opposition parties, albeit non-Pakatan Rakyat members, are multiracial and led by Malay Malaysians. They, too, are vocal in their opposition to the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric.

Historical miscalculations

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) national chairperson Dr Nasir Hashim says Umno’s racial outbursts are rooted in historical miscalculations.

“We made a mistake, even after Merdeka, when we were emerging as a nation. We should have talked about helping the poor among all races and not just zero in on one race,” he tells The Nut Graph.

Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) president Hassan Karim concurs. He tells The Nut Graph: “The NEP (New Economic Policy), being capitalist and race-based, only benefited a minority of Malays. What about analysing it from a class perspective? Not all Chinese are rich either, you know. There cannot be ketuanan Melayu or ketuanan bukan Melayu. There must be justice for all.”

Nasir: Ketuanan Melayu is just a red herring
According to PSM’s Nasir, the implementation of the NEP which focused on one race soon gave currency to the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric. But he says ketuanan Melayu is just a red herring. “Name me one Malay who is a pure Malay. There is virtually none — all Malays are mixed-blood to some degree.”

Rather, Umno’s outbursts can be seen as the increasingly desperate acts of a party frustrated by its loss of power, he argues. “Umno is frustrated by its losses during the general election, and continues to use race and religion to divert the anger of poor Malays,” adds Nasir.

“Because as so-called leaders of the Malays, Umno has failed. It has not even been able to help poor Malays and Malay entrepreneurs,” he asserts. Therefore, the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric conveniently redirects the frustration and anger of disenfranchised Malay Malaysians towards other races. Herein lies the danger of Umno’s rhetoric, says Nasir.

“In times of economic difficulty, the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric will likely give rise to fascist tendencies. When people are feeling the pinch and they are frustrated, you just need to cucuk them and then they’ll meletup. Umno knows this only too well,” he says.

Hassan: We cannot move forward if we follow Umno
Again, PRM’s Hassan concurs. “Ketuanan Melayu will destroy our country. I’m a Malay too, you know, but I believe that what Umno is fighting for is feudalistic. We cannot move forward if we follow Umno.”

The Malay Malaysian leaders interviewed all say that interest in their respective parties, both in the BN and opposition, has risen since 8 March, especially among Malays.

It is definitely heartening that there is a diverse and growing number of Malay Malaysian political leaders speaking out against supremacist rhetoric and for an inclusive society. But it is even more encouraging that they are gaining support.

Perhaps this, then, is the most encouraging indicator yet that racial politics is losing currency in Malaysia.

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12 Responses to “Ketuanan Melayu rebutted”

  1. Sino says:

    If we have more Malays of such thinking, Malaysia would enjoy peace and prosperity.
    Malaysia would be “heaven” on earth !

  2. achoo says:

    A lot of people in Malaysia are honest and sincere. They know what is wrong with the country. Corrupt politicians unfortunately control the country and people are unhappy that despite the country being rich in resources they remain poor while waste and excesses by the rich is evident.

    So these politicians will divert attention by provoking racial tension, raising race and religious issues and ostensibly championing racial causes. They use the controlled media to foment tensions so that they can appear as heroes to the simple rakyat.

  3. jimmy says:

    I am beginning to see some lights at the end of the tunnel for Malaysia. I am seeing one African country falling after another.

  4. Justitia says:

    I’m glad more Malays are speaking out against the ketuanan Melayu concept. How can there be national unity when that very notion divides the nation? Cakap tak serupa bikin.

  5. Ling says:

    Maybe Umno should open negotiations with China and India to repatriate the Chinese and Indians. After all they are only squatters. Then there will be no more debate on this ketuanan Melayu nonsense and everybody will live happily ever after. As a Chinese I have never felt more unwelcome and unwanted in the country where I was born. I wouldn’t want my children to go through it so they, like my ancestors, will have to go a-wandering to find a land to settle in, a land that does not have ketuanan policies.

  6. Macharic72 says:

    As a Malaysian, its refreshing to read a piece such as this. It spells hope. I truly believe that if we want to solve the many problems affecting Malaysia today, our leaders and politicians must realize that there is no such thing as a “Malay” Malaysia or a “Non-Malay” Malaysia. Not anymore.

    I must admit that Malaysia has racial issues to deal with, and we as Malaysians must deal with care, sensitivity and understanding. We can play the Malaysia Truly Asia adverts on TV all day and all night, but that does not change the fact that Malaysians from all walks of life and generations carry with them racial stereotypes that were passed on by our founding leaders (and now by our bigoted politicians in government) because the complexities of race in Malaysia were never really addressed and resolved.

    Umno’s racial polarization policies have to stop. Malaysians must understand and tackle the racial wounds of our past together so that we don’t make the same mistake again today. We can’t afford to racially segregate ourselves anymore because the “problems” we face today have no prejudice and are colour-blind.

    Malaysia has much to learn and understand about race and politics. Just look at Indonesia. They have progressed and moved beyond the “pribumi” politics that is facing us today. Maybe we will also move on (and away) from racial politics one day.

  7. Dinozilla says:

    To Sino,
    Don’t expect only Malays to change their mindset. Non-Malays, especially some Chinese, must change too.

    While the Malays should have to let go of the so-called “ketuanan Melayu”, a lot of Chinese should let go of the so-called “Chinese excellency” mindset. Which is basically thinking that Chinese are far more excellent than the Malays.

    A Malaysia of peace and harmony can only be achieved when everyone treats everyone else equally – not just action from Malays, but from every Malaysian.

  8. Mahendran says:

    In these trying times, it’s a good feeling and a big relief to read your article. Glad the majority silent Malaysians are speaking up at last…

    We can’t let the country go down the drain just to feed and satisfy certain leaders’ greed, all in the name of race and religion.

  9. azmo says:

    I disagree with Farina’s statement, “Malaysians are very open-minded and intelligent now.” In my experience most Malaysians are only individually open-minded, but as a whole, they protect their own. As a whole most Malaysians are racially divided. Well, all this is thanks to the former PM.

  10. johan says:

    Wahai orang Melayu sedarlah, tanpa ketuanan Melayu, hilanglah Melayu di bumi Melayu. Lupakah kita kata-kata Hang Tuah, “Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia”? Sedarlah Melayu jangan gadaikan bangsa sendiri… Melayu yang tolak ketuanan Melayu tak layak dipanggil Melayu, pergi berambus…ingat ini tanah nenek moyang kita orang Melayu…Cina ada negaranya China, India ada negaranya India, Melayu pula ada negaranya…orang Melayu baik hati juga beri hak rakyat dekat non-Melayu. Kalau tidak tak leh merdeka…

  11. goodma says:

    Every Malaysian, I believe, will honour first class respect to a first class politician who is efficient and incorruptible, and who can steer our country away from troubled waters. There are two different YBs: one is yang berhormat while another yang bodoh. There are similarly two different ketuanans, one is ketuanan Melayu baik dan cerdik while the other is ketuanan Umnoputra buruk dan bodoh. Why bodoh? A once-rich Malaysia is now not rich anymore. One among many examples, the Singapore dollar is now more than twice the value of our ringgit.

  12. Fong says:

    Malaysia will become increasingly irrelevent until every child in it is free to dream equally.

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