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.
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.