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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Party Politics Would Be Too Confining For Anwar

Party Politics Would Be Too Confining For Anwar
M. Bakri Musa

With the Agung’s pardon and Mahathir’s earlier apology, Anwar’s supporters and others expect him to resume his political career where he had left off. In his first public speech after his release from prison, Anwar was his old charismatic self, drawing huge crowds. 

Regardless how strong the urge and great the temptation, a wiser and more prudent choice for him and also Malaysia is for Anwar to resist that path. Party politics would be too confining for him. Anwar is a patriot at heart; his passion is service to his country. Politics is just an expression of and a means of achieving that. There are other avenues to that same end.

The current coalition crafted by Mahathir, though stunningly successful in this election, is as yet untested in the practical realities of governance. There are many centrifugal forces that are now submerged in the celebratory mood of success. 

At 92, Mahathir’s tenure would be brief no matter how invigorated he looks now. It would be natural for Anwar to think that his ultimate political goal is now within his grasp. Caution! The closer you are to your destination the more impatient – and accident prone – you become. The last few miles on the road home are the most dangerous. Anwar does not need to be reminded of that cruel reality.

The present coalition with Wan Azizzah as the designated Prime Minister-in-waiting is working. Little would be added by altering that. Instead, Anwar should acknowledge the historic moment and help make Malaysia’s first female Prime Minister be also her most successful. She has the brilliance. Please don’t make her current appointment a cruel tease on the women of Malaysia and a crush to the hopes of our young girls.

Wan Azizzah has stood by him at his lowest moments. Now it is Anwar’s turn to stand by her on the cusp of her momentous achievement. 

Much water has flowed under the bridge between Anwar and Mahathir. The eddies and whirlpools are only now receding. Anwar’s entry would inevitably create ripples that could disturb the equilibrium. 

Instead of becoming Prime Minister, Anwar should focus on the still one major intractable challenge that has taxed the wisdom and ingenuity of many, from the early colonizers to today’s brightest minds and wisest leaders. I refer to what our great Pendita Za’aba called Masa’alah Melayu– the “Malay problem.” 

Visit any Malaysian city and you would strain to find such signs as Ahmad Accounting, Tahir Tailoring, or Halimah Hair Care. Advertise for an IT position and see how many Malays apply. When former Prime Minister Najib vacated Seri Perdana, he moved into a luxury condo owned by a non-Malay!

Those are snapshots of the Malay problem. At the macro level, consider the percentage of the country’s taxes contributed by Malays.

Masa’alah Melayu presents a whole different set of challenges. A developed Malaysia does not neccesarily mean a developed Malay community. That is plain to all by now. There is no trickle-down development. On the other hand, developing Malays would definitely advance Malaysia.

Tunku Abdul Rahman’s laissez-faire capitalism developed Malaysia but not Malays, and that resulted in the 1969 race riots. Tun Razak’s New Economic Policy (NEP), a massive extension of the colonials’ “special privileges,” produced an entrenched class of Malay economic rent-seekers and an entitlement mentality among us. Mahathir in his previous incarnation thought that was the inevitable and acceptable price to pay. With that, NEP degenerated into crony capitalism. Najib exploited that to benefit himself on an obscene scale previously unimaginable.

I grew up over half a century ago amidst the Malay problem, as did Anwar, in a kampung in the eddies of the modern economy. Our society did not have much financial capital while our human capital was weak. However, our community was strong and stable, meaning, our social capital was robust and resilient. That saw us through.

Far from advancing, today we have two additional marginalized groups:  the poor town Malays, the consequence of rapid urbanization; and the other Bumiputras in Sabah and Sarawak together with our Orang Asli on the peninsula. They have nothing despite Malaysia’s impressive GDP figures. 

The shrill, chauvinistic Ketuanan Melayucry of PERKASA and others reflects the desperate frustrations of that first group still in the kampungs. The Mat Rempits, drug abuse, and abandoned babies are symptoms of the dysfunctional second. The increasing calls for separation from East Malaysia and the seething sufferings of our Orang Asli are manifestations of the exasperated third. 

No one has acknowldged much less solved these challenges. MARA, FELDA, and other institutions that cost taxpayers a hefty bundle are supposed to redress them but those agencies are more concerned with buying luxury properties in London and Melbourne. MARA’s policies on improving Bumiputra human capital are no better. Sixty years after independence MARA still sends students overseas for their Sixth Form. I did mine in Kuala Kangsar way back in the early 1960s at a fraction of the cost. I didn’t end up too badly for that. 

Noting the import of the issue of Bumiputra development, I am surprised that neither Barisan’s nor Pakatan’s pre-election manifesto even mentioned this pivotal issue.

So Anwar, why not head MARA and do what it is supposed to do, mara(advance) our people? The plight of Bumiputras in an otherwise affluent modern Malaysia is downright shameful and potentially dangerous. We are overepresented in all categories of social ills and because of that we do not contribute our share. 

Anwar would be the perfect leader for that monumental job. He could inspire those Mat Rempits to race their talents instead of their motorbikes. He would not resort to such ugly and simplistic stereotypes as “Malays are lazy,” “Malays are not good in business,” or “hard to motivate.” Those are but excuses of inept leaders and their unimaginative policies. The English used to refer to the Irish in those terms; likewise the Japanese, the Koreans.

Through MARA, Anwar could harness the various Bumpitra NGOs like the Malay Economic Action Council into an effective and productive force much like he did to ABIM. MARA’s as well as all those Malay NGOs’ achivements to date are underwhelming. Leading them would be the most challenging and rewarding assignment. Few countries have succeeded in solving this problem of horizontal inequities, of socioeconomic divisions paralling racial, cultural, and other visible markers. To repeat for emphasis, developing Malaysia is not the challenge; developing Bumiputras is and has been for the past century. 

Competently led, MARA would liberate Bumiputras from poverty, ignorance, and feudalism as well as free us from the clutches and crutches of NEP. Give us pride and dignity! Develop Bumiputras and we would solve Malaysia’s dangerous racial dilemma. That can only be good for the economy.

When successful, Anwar would have the satisfaction of having bested Za’aba, Ungku Aziz, Tun Razak, and yes, even Mahathir. Anwar would be a modern-day Jose Rizal. Most of all Anwar would have shown others, especially Malays, that politics is not the only or best route to serve your people and country. 


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