Opinion

So, this is Malay leadership

Farah Fahmy

Farah Fahmy is based in London, and has written for the media. She is intrigued by trans- and international relations between Malaysia (ns) and the Rest of the World.

DEC 20 — If our politicians are to be believed, the Malays are under threat these days. Our religion, culture and power are steadily under attack from all and sundry. Everyone has it in for us, from Christians to the Chinese. We are even warned about a so-called “Malaysian Spring” being orchestrated by “anasir-anasir Barat” (and quite possibly, the Jews, who of course, have always had it in for us).

“We won’t surrender an inch,” said the Melayu champion-in-chief (who also finds the time to be our prime minister) during a speech to Pekida recently. Malays, we were told, will never be oppressed in our own land so long as Umno is in power.

Well, glory be. I’m sure there are many others who can sleep more soundly at night knowing that there are so many out there making sure we Malays are not stripped of our position and power in our land.

But ... hang on a minute.

The last time I checked we Malays, along with the other Bumiputeras, make up about 60-odd per cent of our country’s population. Islam is not just our country’s official religion, it is also the religion professed by about 60 per cent of our people. Not only are we and our religion in the majority, but let’s see, we Malays also make up most of, oh, the civil service, police, army, ruling class and politicians. 

Of course, you can say that there are plenty of Malays who still need help. This, I don’t dispute. I’ve seen rural poverty in our country, where people still live without basic amenities like constant water supply and proper toilets. I’ve also seen urban poverty, with families living in small, low-cost flats in the outskirts of KL making do with the little that they earn.

Yet poor Malays aren’t the only ones who need help. There are also plenty of poor people, non-Malays, who deserve help. My brother was once approached by a young Indian man late one evening. He had just arrived from Kulai and asked my brother for help; my brother pointed him in the direction of the nearest kedai mamak.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: not all Malays deserve to get the help that the NEP brings. I would hazard a guess that most Malays who live in exclusive neighbourhoods in KL do not need the Bumiputera housing discount, or government scholarships for their offspring. 

Are we really throwing away our “power” and “position” if we amended the NEP so that it excluded rich Malays and was open to all of our country’s poor, regardless of their race? Yes, Datuk Najib, we’ve “willingly shared power with the non-Malays” since Merdeka, but why keep harping on the past? Why not share with us your vision for the future?

I should have expected it, but I’m disappointed all the same. Is this what Malay leadership is about? Is there such a dearth of good Malay leaders in Umno that only scare tactics will do? Where is the vision about what the Malays can achieve? Why is no one inspiring us to be better? Why, in fact, is there no Malay leader out there who has the guts to say enough is enough, we Malays will never reach our full potential if we keep harping on about the help that we need? Why is no one honest enough to say that not all Malays are equal, and the haves should no longer receive a handout?

Instead of leaders who inspire us and show us how it is possible for all of us — Malay or otherwise — to have a stake in this country, we have leaders like Datuk Shahrizat Jalil. The pity of it all is that I felt that Shahrizat had not done a bad job as the minister for Women, Family and Community Development. Yet the NFC controversy has made her position untenable and shown the ugly face of Umno and our government.

Why are our ministers allowed to run family businesses that are subsidised by the government? Even if ministers are not actively involved in running such businesses, how is it that businesses run by members of a minister’s family can qualify for government assistance? Why are the people who govern our country in our name not required to declare their interests in such companies, and the assets they hold?

There is also a failure of leadership over the whole NFC debacle. Najib should have taken decisive action when it first erupted, and demanded Shahrizat’s resignation. Not doing so would mean that he condoned what she did, no?

This was our PM’s chance to show that he meant business; that even the slightest whiff of misconduct would not be tolerated, be it at ministerial level or otherwise. Well, he’s flunked the test. What this shows us is that our PM and Umno as a whole are prepared to turn a blind eye to such things. Why? I don’t know. Is it because she’s “one of us”? Or perhaps because she’s a Malay?

Is this what Najib means when he tells us to choose wisely in the next general election? Is this what Umno means when it claims to be the only political party that can safeguard Malay interests? For shame, Umno. Out of all its members, only two leaders have called on Shahrizat to do the right thing, and recognised the damage the whole affair is doing to the party.

Let me remind you what Najib said at Pekida: Umno would not allow the Malays to be oppressed in their own land. Well, the vast amounts of money that have been reportedly spent buying expensive properties and cars could have been spent improving the lives of poorer Malays, so who’s oppressing who now?  

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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