Malay supremacy concept under attack

April 26, 2008

Resentment by non-Malays and non-elite Malays causing unease

By Carolyn Hong, Malaysia Bureau Chief (The Straits Times)


KUALA LUMPUR, April 26, 2008     – THE once-incontestable notion of Malay supremacy is under siege in the wake of the March 8 polls, and it is stirring up some unease within the community and in Umno.

The charge is led by the Malay-based opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), which has been promoting its new motto of Ketuanan Rakyat (People’s Supremacy) with great effect.

Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Supremacy) has frequently been used as shorthand for Malay economic rights and the unassailable Malay political dominance.

But it has become increasingly resented by the non-Malay communities, and is also seen by many ordinary Malays as dominance of the Malay elite at their expense.

It partly contributed to the crushing election losses of the ruling Barisan Nasional after the opposition effectively campaigned on a multiracial platform.

But within Umno these days, there are voices chipping away at the notion of the political and economic supremacy of the Malays over other Malaysians.

One voice that stands out is that of Kelantan prince Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

Tengku Razaleigh, who has declared his intention to unseat Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi in the party polls, has made multiracialism his battle cry.

His low-key campaign is beginning to pick up, and he is expected to make a speech at an Umno grassroots forum today calling for the party to become national, rather than racial, in its outlook.

The Straits Times understands that he will develop his ideas espoused to his Kelantan division earlier this month about making Umno a supra-ethnic party with the interests of Malaysia’s multiracial population at heart.

His road map for taking Umno beyond racial politics – summed up in a phrase, ‘For The Country’ – takes the opposition’s consistent multiracial message head-on.

On Thursday, in an interview with the Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily, PKR president Wan Azizah Ismail repeated that Malay supremacy should be replaced with ‘People’s Supremacy’.

‘Do not marginalise certain races, this is not something that the people want to see,’ she said.

Her husband Anwar Ibrahim had used Ketuanan Rakyat to great effect at his rally on April 14 to mark his return to active politics. The rally in Kuala Lumpur attracted 10,000 people.

Some Umno leaders have recognised this new Malaysian landscape. Tengku Razaleigh is one, and Umno treasurer Azim Zabidi is another.

Datuk Azim has set up a multiracial task force to brainstorm ways to reform Umno.

‘I’ve been listening to feedback, and my sense is that a lot of Umno members still don’t get the message,’ he told The Straits Times.

There is a sense within Umno and the Malay community that they are under siege.

It was telling when Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek said on Thursday that the Malays were angry that the opposition Selangor government had allowed a sensitive pig farm project to continue.

‘He (Datuk Seri Anwar) should realise that the Malays are very angry,’ he was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.

Next week, more than 100 Malay organisations led by an influential writers’ group will hold a conference to defend Malay rights in Johor Baru.

‘Of course, there will be a reaction and this is one of the reactions,’ Umno Supreme Council member Shahrir Samad told The Straits Times.

Datuk Zambry Abdul Kadir, an Umno Perak divisional chief, said the debate about Malay supremacy was causing the Malays to feel insecure.

‘There’s worry about the future in the new political landscape and shift in political balance,’ he said.

But the opposition is pressing on. It is understood that Tengku Razaleigh also has no plans to back down from his multiracial message.

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