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Young Malay M’sians not ready for non-Malay / Muslim or woman PM


The prime minister’s office in Putrajaya (Public domain; source: Wiki commons)

PETALING JAYA, 30 June 2009: Malay Malaysians are the group least ready to accept a non-male, non-Malay or non-Muslim as prime minister, a Merdeka Center for Opinion Research survey has found.

Of the 2,518 randomly selected Malaysian youths aged between 20 and 35 polled by the centre, only 32% of Malay Malaysians were ready to accept a woman prime minister.

More strikingly, only 7% were ready to accept a non-Malay, non-Muslim prime minister, while only 36% would accept a non-Malay but Muslim prime minister.

By contrast, more than 80% of Chinese, Indian and non-Muslim bumiputera Malaysians were ready to accept a woman, a non-Malay Muslim or a non-Malay, non-Muslim Malaysian as prime minister.

Merdeka Center program director Ibrahim Suffian said the poll was conducted between November and December 2008. He said the socio-political climate in Malaysia at that time was coloured by Barack Obama‘s election as US president, and the vacancy of the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat due to the death of the Umno incumbent.

“It is important to note that a survey is merely a snapshot, not a prediction of the future, even though a survey can pick up on certain trends,” he said at a press conference today to launch the survey findings.

Bar graph of statistics on how strongly people would respond to having variable for a prime minister in Malaysia

Survey question: How strongly would you accept a <variable> as prime minister in Malaysia?
Breakdown of 2,518 respondents. Click on image for bigger view (Source: Merderka Center)

Lower racial identification

The survey also found that 43% of its respondents identified themselves primarily as Malaysians first, while 38% identified themselves by religion first. Only 15% identified themselves by ethnic categories first.

The survey posed a question — “If you can only choose one identity, would you say that you are…?” — to all respondents.

More than 50% of East Malaysians identified themselves as Malaysian first, while only 34% of respondents in the peninsula identified similarly. From the ethnic breakdown, Malay Malaysians were the lowest number of respondents who identified as Malaysians first, at 29%.

“Young Malay [Malaysians] are moving away from ethnic identification, and Islam is playing an important role in supplanting this ethnic identification,” Ibrahim said.

“More than 60% of Malay Malaysian respondents saw themselves as Muslim first, while only 10% saw themselves as Malay first,” he added.

Ibrahim said, however, that with this increased identification with Islam came stronger demands for a clean government, better rule of law and democratic improvements.

Interestingly, among respondents who attended Chinese medium schools, 52% identified as Malaysians first. Conversely, only 39% of respondents who attended national schools identified as Malaysians first. Ibrahim said the lower percentage in national schools could be because more Malay Malaysians attend these schools, thus dragging the percentage down.


Survey question: If you could only choose one identity, would you say that you are…?
Breakdown of 1,083 respondents who provided “Malaysian” as their first choice.
Click on image for bigger view (Source: Merdeka Center)

Paradoxes in identity

Ibrahim also noted that younger Malay Malaysians seem to be more socially conservative.

“They might be more vocal about calling for the abolishment of the Internal Security Act, but they are also the same group that wants concerts to be gender segregated.”

The paradox of this combination of political openness and religious conservatism could also be seen in young Malay Malaysians rejecting a woman as prime minister, Ibrahim explained.

“This [conservatism] could be the result of our education policies and political orientation over the past 20 to 30 years,” Ibrahim said.

He added that their rejection of a non-Muslim Malay, or a non-Muslim non-Malay Malaysian as prime minister could also indicate that young Malay Malaysians have not entirely discarded ethnic identification.

Ibrahim said these findings would probably colour the agendas of the various political parties in getting Malay Malaysian support in the future, as young Malay Malaysians would set new standards of ethics in governance and public life.

The survey concluded that “ethnicity and religion [remain] an important factor in influencing views on whether women or minorities can hold top positions in the country”.

It also polled respondents on other areas such as media consumption, lifestyle choices, political efficacy, electoral participation and general issues of interest.

The survey was conducted with funding support from the Asia Foundation.

See also:
Malaysian youths stick with “mainstream media”

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5 Responses to “Young Malay M’sians not ready for non-Malay / Muslim or woman PM”

  1. Karcy says:

    Excellent and interesting stats, thanks!

  2. chance says:

    Malay-non-Malay, Muslim, non-Muslim… Please la….stop all this [...]….this [...] issue [is] being brought up again and again, yet the same author complains that we are not Malaysian enough…..

  3. malaysian says:

    Give “Malaysian” a chance, please stop harping on “Malay-Non Malay” ,”Muslim-non-Muslim”…..The survey should be tuned to the way that we are all proud to be Malaysians first.

  4. Stand_on_our_feet says:

    The study does endorse my obversation and understanding of what is happening around us:

    - a multiracial nation with a dominant race that controls the public service, state executive and politics, and has growing economic power, and religion, this race will determine the future of that nation.

    - as history shows, under normal circumstances, the dominant race will flex its muscles [....]

    - black Americans adopted the white religion, language and way of life for a long time. [....] At the same time, other races migrated and blended into American society. White economic power has to accept the fact and acknowledge the reverseable growth of a multiracial population.

    Obama has been accepted as their leader because of the racial composition in America has changed over of the years. White American is NOT the dominant race in America in terms of culture, trends and spending power.

    I agree that we cannot apply America as a model across the board. We can learn something in terms of race relations and nation building. [...]

  5. Hong says:

    chance and malaysian,

    Undertaking a survey like this does not derogate from the multi-ethnic Malaysian ideal the two of you mentioned. I cannot say for certain from the information provided but it would seem that the second part of the survey involved an open-ended question (‘If you can only choose one identity, would you say that you are…?’) which would suggest that the respondents themselves supplied their own ethnically biased answers.

    The ethnic, East-West and school system breakdowns are crucial in order to understand where the gaps are in nation-building so that we may address them as there are almost certainly specific social, economic and political factors attendant to the perceptions of these different groups. Citizenship is a franchise, after all, and some may feel their concession has not been equitable, for reasons that may or may not be temperate upon examination. But examine it we must.

    To just sit there and proclaim blindly that we should stick to an ideal that is not held by a significant proportion of certain segments of Malaysian society, if the results of this survey are to be believed, is naive and unhelpful.


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