COMMENT Recently the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Shah, when officially opening a religious discourse, described the New Economic Policy (NEP) as a “magical touch”.
The word ‘magic’ is associated with the the power of influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. It is a word whose synonyms include ‘sorcery, witchcraft, wizardry, necromancy, enchantment,the supernatural, occultism, the occult, black magic, the black arts, shamanism’ and the like.
The “magical touch” of the NEP which gave more opportunities for the Malays to participate in mainstream development and encouraged the growth of youths especially from the rural areas to have a strong foundation of race and religion, of course did not come from the waving of any supernatural or magical wand, although some of the superstitious in the audience may believe it.
It was a human and politically-crafted public policy in the aftermath of the racial violence in May 1969 and it was intended to serve as a temporary affirmative action policy with a 20-year lifespan, but which now appears to have been extended ad infinitum.
The assertion that the the NEP benefited Malay individuals and families and also injected a new confidence and pride into the Malays is also well-known and is incontestable.
No one can deny that the younger generation Malays, especially women, “filled Malay secondary classes in bigger numbers, held high positions in their careers, especially in the public sector, enjoyed influence and underwent a cultural transformation, including in the workplace and home” as a direct outcome of the NEP.
But there were other ripple effects from the application of the “magic” touch which the sultan did not bring to the attention of his audience. These effects - principally relating to the non-Malay community but also now impacting on the Malays - are also important and necessary to bring to the attention of those who continue to advocate it as the panacea for the ills and shortcomings of the Malay community.
Such a critical, empirically-grounded and non-romantic analysis is especially necessary to emphasise in religious and Malay-centric fora that are held ostensibly to instill ‘Islamic values’ of justice, moderation, equality, and the other ethics deemed as central to the practice of the religion; or during events intended to uplift Malay pride and self-esteem.
Who lost out with the NEP
That magic wand waved to secure the employment of Malays in the public sector and their accelerated promotion and advancement in it, as well as in other sectors, has required the suppression and holding back of other citizens in their employment, career and even life prospects, however deserving or qualified they may have been, simply on account of their minority ethnic identity.
Enough has been written about this for so long that even the most out-of-touch or uneducated in the country is fully aware of it.
The loss has not only been to the many hundreds of thousands of non-Malays who have had to make personal sacrifice or have been denied fair treatment as a result of a policy pushed down their throats to ensure ‘national unity’ and so that Malay politicians (and royalty) can have what these dominant groups consider to be a fair share of the nation’s wealth.
The loss is also that of the nation as a whole.
Surely our well-informed royalty must also be aware of the collateral damage that pro-Malay bumiputra policies have had on governance, economy, social cohesion and race and religious relations. Surely Sultan Nazrin, with degrees from Oxford and Harvard, must be aware of the vast literature available, in English and the national language, of the downside of maintaining the NEP past its original shelf-life of 1990.
Sultan Nazrin, who is also the Financial Ambassador of the Malaysian International Islamic Financial Centre (MIFC), also said that Malaysia is always described as a modern Islamic nation which is developed, progressive, peaceful and moderate.
According to him, “Islamic leadership in Malaysia is highly respected. The wisdom of the Malay leaders in implementing programmes for the development of the people and the country has been acknowledged throughout the world.”