What’s that about Malay rights?

by Jacqueline Ann Surin (The Nutgraph)
IF one were to take to heart everything top Umno leaders say, and what the Malay-language newspapers report on, Malay Malaysians are on the brink of political extinction. From being sidelined by the Pakatan Rakyat state governments to losing electoral power to non-Malay Malaysians, the Malays are doomed.
So goes the headlines in Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian as they echo the “Malay rights” rhetoric of Umno leaders from the deputy president to an Umno Youth bureau chairperson. From the rhetoric and reports, it seems that only one thing will save Malay Malaysians from losing their pole position in the country — uniting under Umno. Umno, as the narrative further goes, is the original defender of Malay rights and the backbone of the Barisan Nasional (BN), to boot.
But just how true is it that non-Malay Malaysians are threatening the political and economic survival of Malay citizens? And is it really true that supporting Umno alone guarantees that Malay Malaysians will not lose out?
Fear-mongering
It is undisputable, from the available evidence, that Umno leaders and the media under their control are trying to scare the bejesus out of the Malay Malaysian electorate. After all, how does one explain Berita Harian’s sensationally-erroneous front page headlines on 28 June 2010?
The headline announced in big bold letters, 1:40, to refer to the ratio of newly-registered Malay to non-Malay Malaysian voters. The report’s sub-title added that the ratio of newly-registered voters was “troubling”. The figure, provided by Umno Youth membership and voter registration bureau chairperson Hishamudin Yahya, wasn’t just disputed within Umno.
It was proven to be grossly inaccurate when the Election Commission pointed out that the correct ratio was actually 2:1 – there were twice the number of newly-registered Malay voters compared to non-Malay Malaysians.
One can brush aside the report and the figure as a careless mistake. But note how Hishamudin described the situation when releasing the information. The ratio, he declared, should jolt Malay Malaysians into realising that their political power could be “wiped out” if they didn’t register or vote.
And Hishamudin’s declaration is neither new nor peculiar to him. Just scan one day’s worth of news in Utusan Malaysia — for example, the 5 July 2010 edition — to see how both Umno and Utusan journalists are whipping up the fear that Malay Malaysians are close to having their power snatched away.
But really. How likely is it that Malay Malaysians are about to lose power in a country of more than 28 million where Malays alone, minus the other indigenous groups, constitute more than 53% of the population? Additionally, the second largest ethnic group, the Chinese, only represents 26% or half the Malay Malaysian population.
On top of that, as has been argued before by constitutional lawyer Tommy Thomas in 2007, “Defending Malay rights presupposes attack against the Malays, but who is attacking them?” He points out that external challenges can be totally discounted. At the same time, Malay political dominance has never been challenged or questioned by non-Malay Malaysians.
Further, he asks, how can Malay power and dominance be challenged by non-Malays when the army, police, civil service, the media, and nearly all major national and public institutions are in Malay Malaysian hands. How, indeed.
Umno’s loss
Apparently, it’s not just non-Malays who are threatening the Malays. According to Umno, the threat is also coming from other Malays, notably from the opposition. Parti Keadilan Rakyat advisor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is, of course, chief among the threats to Malay power.
“The people should realise that Anwar is causing a split among the Malays,” Umno deputy president and Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin says.
Not only that, Muhyiddin blames “a small section of the Malays”, who question government policies, for threatening Umno and the BN, noting that these Malay Malaysians supported the opposition, particularly the DAP. “The Malays should be united under one umbrella to ensure the agenda to develop them are achieved,” he says. Clearly that umbrella is Umno.
Safe to say, it would seem that what is really under threat is Umno’s power. After all, it’s tough to be out of power, to quote Umno Lembah Pantai chief Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin.
Who benefits?
Will Malay Malaysians really benefit if they support Umno? More importantly, will all Malaysians benefit if Umno remains in power?
Clearly, not everyone believes, and rightly so, what Muhyiddin says about Anwar being the cause of Malay disunity. Umno instead, is the culprit. Additionally, many economists have pointed out that it is under Umno/BN’s administration of the New Economic Policy that has resulted in Malay Malaysians continuing to be the poor’s majority. Additionally, the wealth disparity among Malays is the worst compared with the Chinese and Indian Malaysian communities despite years of Umno rule.
Most importantly, what Umno leaders are saying when it tells Malay Malaysians it cannot trust non-Malays, is that really, non-Malays cannot trust Umno either. See, by saying that Malays cannot trust non-Malay leaders to protect and uphold their interests, isn’t Umno also saying that non-Malays cannot trust Malay leaders? Why then should any non-Malay Malaysian trust that an Umno politician will care for our interest as citizens? If, according to Umno, political interest can only be upheld according to racial lines, why should non-Malay voters trust and vote for Umno?
Yes, Umno leaders may talk about Datuk Seri Najib Razak being everyone’s prime minister. And yes, Umno leaders may stress that there are elements of 1Malaysia in Umno’s constitution, including the provision for the creation of a single, strong Malaysian race. But yet, in the same breath, Umno deputy minister Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and Muhyiddin have both urged Umno members to be bolder and vocal in demanding for Malay rights. After all, Umno’s raison d’être is Malay rights.
Umno wants to scare Malay Malaysians into believing that they are under siege. That is clearly a lie. But that’s not the only lie. Umno also wants Malay Malaysians to believe that only Umno can protect its interests. Does the evidence show that? As for the rest of us non-Malay Malaysians, do we believe it when Umno declares that it is capable of taking care of our rights as citizens, too?