The need for needs-based affirmative action

MP SPEAKS | The Malay Economic Action Council (MTEM) should give the needs-based affirmative action policy mooted by PKR president Anwar Ibrahim a chance.

The concerns raised by the body – including the need to close the economic gap between the ethnic groups in Malaysia, particularly between the bumiputera and non-bumiputera – are not unreasonable.

However, MTEM has inexplicably failed to grasp that the needs-based approach is the best way to make positive reforms and renew the New Economic Policy (NEP) that they rightly argue Anwar should seek to do.

Their stance and shrill rhetoric will simply empower reactionary political forces in the country. 

These vested interests do not wish to see any kind of change in this front – including much-needed improvements to the lot of the bumiputera – and are constantly seeking to inflame racial as well as religious tensions for their own nefarious ends.

The bumiputera community still makes up the bulk of Malaysia’s B40 segment. As such, it will remain the main beneficiary of any shift to a needs-based system.

What Anwar is proposing will – properly executed and with the support of all stakeholders – uplift all of the B40s as well as reduce the gap between, as well as within, the different ethnic groups.

Indeed, maintaining affirmative action on an indiscriminately racial basis will probably hurt the less well-off in the bumiputera community. 

After all, resources given to the bumiputera elite in the name of “maintaining the NEP” will be denied to their M40 and B40 of the counterparts, who need them more.

These are points that I delve into in my book, Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st Century

As I wrote in the text, the notion that even successful bumiputera must have unlimited, racial-based affirmative action is actually “…an admission that no matter how far they have improved socio-economically, they are still unable to compete on their own.” 

Such attitudes, as I argue, “…imply that Malays are genetically inferior” – which is of course ludicrous.

At any rate, the NEP was never meant to be indefinite. Our second prime minister, Abdul Razak Hussein, envisaged for it to last until 1990. 

Indeed, as his deputy Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman (photo) famously noted: “The special privilege or position accorded to the Malays under the constitution is mainly intended to enable them – to borrow an expression from the game of golf – ‘to have a handicap’, which would place them in a position for fair competition with better players.

"Therefore, like a golfer, it should not be the aim of the Malays to perpetuate this handicap but to strive to improve their game, and thereby reducing, and finally removing, their handicap completely.”

Moreover, the idea that any poor or marginalised groups in our society should be denied assistance by the state simply because of their race or religion is patently unjust and un-Islamic.

Whatever anxiety the Bumiputera community in Malaysia feels today stems from decades of failed policies that have only enriched a few, from entrenched corruption as well as impunity and a lack of leadership to resolve these issues.

As the old saying goes: “Insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

The key to uplifting the bumiputera lies not in the exclusion of the non-bumiputera, but rather putting in place wise policies that will do socioeconomic justice for all Malaysians and supporting leaders who have the political courage to see them through.

Anwar and MTEM want the same things: the advancement of both Malaysia and the Bumiputera community.

But MTEM sadly appears to lack the vision and imagination of our prime minister in-waiting. 

As noted earlier, they should realise that the reform and renewal of the NEP that they crave lies in the needs-based approach Anwar has championed.

Indeed, it is its natural and logical evolution: the next step we need to move forward as a nation.

It is an idea whose time has come and a challenge that the bumiputera of today must grasp rather than shrink from.

If not now, then when? If not us, then who?

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD is the MP for Setiawangsa. His book, Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st Century was first published in 2010 and came out with a new preface and postscript in 2019. 

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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