Of late, from several discussions with my Malays friends, I sense that there is a cloud of worry persisted in their minds about Anwar and PR. Namely that what Anwar and PR is doing eventually will hurt the Malays and saw the erosion of the Malay’s hold over the power of the country, and will put the Malays in a “challenged” position.
I can’t help but sympathized with them, as I myself have seen the plight of the rural Malays, and as I myself also came from an under privileged background. I know that without the scholarships and special helps to the Malays by the Government, I will not be where I am today. The issue is: is it true that Anwar and PR are clamoring such that the issue of the Malays will be put at the back burner? This is the misunderstanding that I seek to address in this article.
To start the subject I would like to bring to attention a subject that are being termed by Philosopher Karl Popper as the ‘Paradoxes of Sovereignty’. Popper argues that we as a society are generally too possessed by the question of ‘Who should rule or whose will should be supreme?’
This obsession is so much that we miss the core critical question to the society, which is: ‘How can we so organize our politics such that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from reining over us?’
In simpler terms, what Popper meant is that: we should worry more about bringing an orderly system to the politics, instead of focusing our worry about who should hold the power. Put it another way: Anwar and PR is not so much obsessed with removing Pak Lah and BN (and to hold on to power), but more so with changing the Malaysian political landscape for good and finishing their March ’08 Tsunami process, so that we will have a political system that is fair and proper for all.
What Malaysia (and the Malays) need is good governance. If good governance is in place, the Malays are the one who should be the least worried– because the Malays are and will continue to be the majority of the population; and hence will continue to be the dominant force in the Malaysian politics.
The key to the question of the Malays rights (or other races rights), is to understand the socio economic issues in a proper perspective: that is any affirmative action policies should and can only be justified, if it is for the purpose of providing upward social mobility of any under privileged group in the society.
Otherwise, the policies will only serve as a basis of corruption and nepotism, and increase the further chasm of wealth inequality in the society. This is the basis of PR rejection of NEP as it was and is. The replacement of NEP is to cast a proper affirmative action based on not purely race but income level and eradication of poverty, as well as upward mobility of the under privileged in the society, across all races and social divides. In another word, if there are more poor Malays in society, these Malays will be helped, as much as if there are many poor Indians, or Chinese, Ibans, Dayaks or what have you.
To borrow a personal quote from Anwar to me: ‘I can’t understand the basis of giving 5% Bumiputra discounts to anyone who wants to purchase a property worth few millions. Surely, those Bumiputra needs no help, if he is able to buy such an expensive property’. This is a blatant example of the distortions of the NEP.
Now let me also touch a bit about ‘meritocracy’, as some claims that NEP should be replaced with it. I have to say that those who calls for Malaysia to be a fully “Meritocratic” society is missing an important element, namely, life is full of ‘skewness and asymmetry’ – luck and success favors those in better positions by far and wide, much more than those who are in an under privileged positions.
It is always understood that it is easier for those billionaires to create an extra hundreds of millions than those who are struggling to make his/her first million; and the task become much more harder for anyone who wants to make his/her first thousands, compared to those who wants to make his/her tens of thousands, and so on. This is one example of what I meant by ‘skewness and asymmetry’, and there are countless other examples of such (those interested, please read: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, ‘The Black Swan’).
What is needed is a fair and open playing field for all economic agents in the society – with a clear objective that what’s being upheld is that we remove the skewness and asymmetry in society as much as possible; so that the outcome is not a distorted society and a well balanced economy. An overtly rejection of a failed system (NEP), can lead us to other form of distortions, hence what is needed is objective and sound assessments of the problems, before we simply jump to quick conclusions.
Therefore what we should focus first is to overcome the paradox of being obsessed with “Malay sovereignty”, but we all should exert our fullest energy towards good governance, and a fair society. Therefore, I called upon my Malay friends to remove their worries, and off course I also call upon my non-Malay friends to be on the same page with me for a common goal and objective – to make Malaysia a prosperous nation, starting with good governance and fairness to all.
Dr. Wan Muhamad Hasni Wan Sulaiman
20th September 2008