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Political Ideology in Malaysia

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 16 (3844 words)
Categories: Immigration, Political Ideology, Political Parties, Politics
Downloads: 7
Views: 4

The blame for continued activities of these terrorists must therefore be attributed indirectly to the other Chinese. “14 It was thus that a common crisis, which could have allowed disparate communities to unite against a common enemy, instead caused even further rifts between the communities. A side but significant effect of the following period of Emergency was the strengthened hold of the Malays on the political institutions of Malaya. This is because the British were more inclined to trust the Malays in government positions because of their relative insulation from communist ideas15.

This was to have the effect of further exacerbating the political rift among Malays and Chinese. Other than the unfortunate turn of events that contributed towards the not too friendly attitudes of the various ethnic groups towards each other, there have been scholars that pointed out that part of the problem lies in the fact that the cultural and religious outlook of the Malays and Chinese predispose them towards being snobbish towards each other, that they simply could not like each other because of who they are.

Each community, having great pride in its own heritage viewed the other races with disdain16.

The Chinese on their part viewed the Malays as being lazy17 and only wanting to live off the fruits of others18. The Malays on their part, viewed the Chinese as being mercenary and infidels who do not know their God, Allah and thus not worthy of association. Part of the problem could be attributed to the British who made no attempts to integrate the immigrant Chinese population more fully into the existing Malay social structure19. For the part of the Malays, the issue of Islam played no small part in the development of communal distrust.

This is because Islam was very much politicised and used as a rallying tool of the Malay leaders to advance the ethnic cause20. However, even if the Chinese were Muslims, it is doubtful weather the problem of Islam would be solved since the communal rift is not essentially religious in nature. The Malays would, if they have followed Islam strictly have been more accommodating to the Chinese; however, the Malays have always been Malay first, Muslim second21. Even in actual cases where Chinese convert to Islam, the Malays are less than enthusiastic to accept them as part of them and being ‘Malay’22.

And then, it caused.. With all the communal strife already present in their respective communities, it is inevitable that politicians are tempted and may be argued, even forced to compete in the political arena by riding the wave of ethnic based demands23. Various political features that have evolved in the Malaysian landscape reflect the demands of pre-existing communal differences First and foremost is the political parties that are created to take into account the communal pressures and inclinations of the population.

The present government, made up of the Alliance has essentially a few main components, which are UMNO (United Malays National Organization), the MCA (Malayan Chinese Association) and the MIC (The Malayan Indian Congress). All of them are organised along ethnic lines. UMNO for one is a blatantly pro-Malay organisation with no pretensions about where it stands. Its formation was based on the rallying call to all Malays to oppose the Malayan Union and since then, has tried to project itself as the defender of the Malay rights.

The fact that UMNO is historically formed on a basis of fighting for Malay rights24 makes it difficult for it to turn away from being an ethnic based party. The MCA25 and MIC likewise project themselves as the respective voices of their ethnic communities. The opposition parties likewise are also ethnic based. The DAP (Democratic Action Party), claims to represent Chinese interest more accurately than the MCA, while the Malays have their alternative in PAS (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia), a splinter group of UMNO which uses its strict adherence to Islam to differentiate itself from UMNO.

The only slightly multi-racial group is Gerakan. Faced with rival political parties that are willing to go to any lengths to win votes. Political parties thus take the path of least resistance and chose to play the race card at every opportunity26. The presence of internal factions within the various political parties brought a new dimension to the ethnic issue, causing competition on ethnic issues both at the inter and intra party level. The reminder for political groups to stick closely to ethnic issues was the chilling example of how even a most influential man failed to make the transition towards being non-communal.

This was the haunting memory of the very founder of UMNO, Dato Onn Jaffar’s costly experiment with a multi-racial platform. Forming a non-communal party, the IMP (Independence of Malaysia Party), he found that the Malays deserted him at the polls. Vorys commented on this saying that, “The English educated Malays, however influential and powerful they might have been, could not afford to be separated from the rural, traditional hierarchy27. ”

The reigning communal differences in the ethnic groups also precipitated certain political events that took on communal overtones because of the sensitivities of the ethnic communities. Earliest in history was the incident in 1965 where the Chinese community mobilised support to plead clemency for eleven convicted confrontation collaborators while the Malay leaders pressed for the government to stand firm on the death sentence. The fact that the criminals were Chinese was enough to charge the situation with communalistic colour. The possibility of communal conflict forced the Tunku’s hand and he was forced to pardon them.

This led to a situation where the MCA was made to look bad for they were not the ones who led the Chinese movement that pardoned the eleven and the Tunku was undercut politically in the Malay sector because of the perceived concessions to the Chinese28. Next on the list came the Singapore experience in which the debate on communal issues leading up to the expulsion of Singapore brought to the fore many of the underlying dissatisfaction of the Chinese with the special position of the Malays and also further aroused Malay insecurities.

The expulsion of Singapore from the federation embittered the two communities29 and was most probably one of the contributing causes towards the extraordinarily ethnic based campaign30 leading up to the 1969 Malaysian elections. The 1969 elections was such a watershed event in Malaysia communalistic politics that it is still resident in most people’s memories31. It served as a constant reminder to the various ethnic communities of the very real differences between them32. This is because of the riots that immediately followed it.

The tragic events unfolded as after the victory by many of the Chinese opposition parties, especially the DAP, the Chinese went into rapturous celebration. The boastful celebrations of the Chinese and also the Indians that degenerated into heaping insults on the Malays played upon the Malay insecurities33, causing simmering jealousies to erupt at the slightest provocation. The ensuing killing by both Malays and Chinese of each other caused the government to seriously rethink the state of the nation and set in pace the next communalistic based policy, the NEP (New Economic Policy).

No discussion about the development of Malaysia would be complete without a look at the NEP launched in answer to what the Alliance government in Malaysia perceive as the cause of the riots of 1969. Identifying the cause of the riots as the serious economic disparity between the Chinese and Malays, the Alliance set in forth a series of affirmative action policies that would favour the Bumiputras consisting of Malays and other “natives”. Setting for itself a twenty-year deadline, it had the goal of having the Bumiputras hold 30% of the economic pie by then.

The official objectives of the NEP are the “eradication of poverty irrespective of race (and) the elimination of the identification of race with economic function”34. The scope of the NEP is too large to be examined in detail in this paper but for the purpose of this paper, it would be sufficient to say that they include policies that serve to remind the non-Bumiputras of the ability of the UMNO dominated Alliance to push through policies extremely prejudiced against the non-Bumiputras.

These include the already existing reservation of land for the Malays, the provisions that forced companies to have a Malay share, the switching of the medium of instruction in schools to Malay and quotas in University admission that allowed Bumiputras with lower score than a non-Malay to be admitted. The Indians, lacking the economic clout of the Chinese, suffered most under the NEP, emerging after twenty years as the “new underclass35” and feeling increasingly alienated and angry.

Although the Chinese still managed to thrive under these discriminatory measures, they nevertheless suffer under them and correspondingly develop even more animosity towards the Malays. The MCA, a component of the Alliance was a staunch supporter of the NEP at its initial inception. Even up till 1982, Kok Wee Kiat of the MCA wrote that, “Not only are the Rukunegara and the NEP in accord with the Constitution in spirit, they reinforce articles in the constitution36. ” The MCA however became disillusioned with it and stated in one of its publications in 1988, also by Kok, that “When it (NEP) expires in 1990, let it forever lie in peace.

When it lies in peace, with it goes a terrible spectre of racial polarization. With it will be buried the “they” and “we” approach in our Malaysian way of life. “37 And now, After having examined how historical forces shaped the societal realities that encouraged communalism and how in their turn, these societal communalistic demands migrated to the political sphere, I turn now to the observation of how the policies effected by the political process birthed in communalism, in turn accentuate the communal differences found in Malaysian society.

As the laws of the electoral jungle weeds out those parties that do not ride on the ethnic bandwagon, the population of Malaysia have found it impossible to conceptualise politics without identifying with a group that is ethnically based. This meant that the idea of a multi-racial political party seemed quite impossible, both to the politician and the voter on the street. And as long as politics is run on communal issues, the ethnic communities would be continually reminded of their mutual differences.

The NEP, with its 20 year period to wield its influence, produced a generation of Chinese students who were forced to go overseas for their tertiary education38 and forced to see scholarships given to less qualified Bumiputra students. They would not easily forget these experiences of their formative years. In the education realm, the gradual switch from English towards Malay as the medium of instruction in schools that started in the 1970s made the Chinese wary of losing more of their social position to the Malays39 and they became extremely sensitive over the issue of the Chinese medium schools.

This could be seen in the recent drama of the Damansara School40. The underprivileged of the Chinese and Indians, which would have been doubly affected by the NEP41, would carry a much deeper scar of their experience with discrimination through affirmative action. The NDP42 (National Development Programme), a thinly disguised continuation of the NEP, would serve to churn out more generations of discontented non-Malays. In the final tally,

As evidenced by the factors delineated, the factors that contribute to the saliency of communalism in Malaysia continually feed on each other and grow in a vicious cycle where communalistic urges welling from communities manifest themselves in political policies which in turn created even more wells of discontent to water the roots of communal distrust. A situation that is out of control of both the politician and the voter alone had emerged. One could not jump out of the cycle without the other following.

This points towards the articulation of the underlying concept of a solution, if it ever will exist; that both the political parties and the electorate must recognize together that communalism is detrimental to the development of Malaysia and make a concerted effort to eradicate it. Only then could the spirit of communalism be successfully exorcised from Malaysian society and politics.

  1. ” A plural society is not necessarily an obstacle to the achievement of harmonious interethnic relations…. pluralism takes on an invidious factor when it takes the form of communalism.
  2. ” Mutalib, Hussin. Islam and Ethnicity in Malay Politics (Singapore, Oxford University Press, 1990) pg 162 2 See Lau, Leslie. “Clashes not racial: Abdullah” The Straits Times Interactive < http://straitstimes. asia1. com. sg/primenews/story/0,1870,29269,00. html>
  3. An Asiaweek report as recent as the January of 2001 stated “A study late last year at the University of Malaya shocked the nation when it revealed that only 10% of students see themselves as Malaysians first. The rest identify themselves as Malays, Chinese or Indians. ” See Peter Cordingley, “Mahathir’s Dilemma” Asiaweek.Com <http://www. asiaweek. com/asiaweek/magazine/nations/0,8782,95656,00. html>
  4. “It is sufficient to say that most Chinese and Indians who came to Malaya during the first three decades of the twentieth century were little more than ‘birds of passage’, they left once they had made their money…. Being primarily of a transient nature, these communities did not generally interest themselves in gaining local political rights. Thus, although there were large numbers of Chinese and Indians in the country, the political problems of a plural society were not strongly felt. ” Ratnam, K. J. Communalism and the political process in Malaya (Singapore, Malaysia University of Malaya Press, 1965) pg 6
  5. The reasons why the Chinese begin to settle in Malaya were varied; they include unrest in China and Colonial policies that significantly redressed the lopsided gender ratio that originally meant there were only 2 Chinese females to 10 Chinese males in 1911.
  6. “dominant groups do not grudge being liberal in their treatment of groups whom they have no cause to fear, while they resent making concessions to groups which threaten their superiority. ” Ratnam, K. J. Communalism and the political process in Malaya (Singapore, Malaysia University of Malaya Press, 1965) pg 27
  7. “According to the 1970 census, the bumiputra made up 55% (Malays 46. 8%, other indigenous communities 8. 7%), while non-bumiputras made amounted to 44. 5 percent. ” Crouch, Harold. Government and Society in Malaysia (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1996) pg 14
  8. Mutalib, Hussin. “Political Systems and Foundations of Politics” Lecture 6 PS2214, AS7, National University of Singapore. 28 February 2001. ” The subsequent tensions between a significant Chinese minority with substantial economic power but few real political rights, and a marginal Malay majority in control of the political system, but suffering from economic disadvantages, became the main theme of Malayan (and Malaysian) twentieth-century history. ” Palmowski, Jan A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century World History (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997) Pg 386
  9. Although the New Economic Policy (NEP) created a class of wealthy Malays, it did not reach its goal of the bumiputras controlling 30% of assets by 1990. By 1990, Bumiputras hold only 20. 3% of corporate assets. For a concise report on the NEP, see Leifer, Michael, Dictionary of the Modern Politics of South-East Asia, 3rd Edition (London & New York, Routhledge, 2001)
  10. The Indians are largely left out of the realities of communalism because although they are as ethnically conscious as the Chinese and Malays, they do not have enough influence to affect many events in either the political or economic sphere. They are not a threat to either and are usually either ignored or utilised by the other ethnic groups.
  11. Ratnam, K. J. Communalism and the political process in Malaya (Singapore, Malaysia University of Malaya Press, 1965) pg 17
  12. Malays were willing to support the Japanese because of the hope that the Japanese would help restore their dominant position on all fronts. The Malays were already feeling threatened by the presence of Kuomintang parties in Malaysia “Those Malays who supported the Japanese thought only in terms of the possible restoration of Malay political supremacy in the country” Ratnam, K. J. Communalism and the political process in Malaya (Singapore, Malaysia University of Malaya Press, 1965) pg 19
  13. Vorys, Karl Von. Democracy without Consensus, Communalism and Political Stability in Malaysia (New Jersey, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975) Pg 27
  14. It was the Malay community, unquestionably, which gained most politically from the Emergency. … At the height of the conflict, they seemed to be the only elements to be trusted. ” Vorys, Karl Von. Democracy without Consensus, Communalism and Political Stability in Malaysia (New Jersey, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975) Pg 90.
  15. “The different ethnic groups, particularly the Malays and the Chinese, tend to be contemptuous of one another. ” Mutalib, Hussin. Islam and Ethnicity in Malay Politics (Singapore, Oxford University Press, 1990) Pg 163
  16. This aspect of the Malays could be attributed to the Malay view of life that is slightly fatalistic in nature where the Malay is expected to accept his lot in life. “Those who tried to improve themselves faced condemnation s upstarts. They would be suspected of gross snobbery of dissociation from friends and kin. ” Vorys, Karl Von. Democracy without Consensus, Communalism and Political Stability in Malaysia (New Jersey, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975) Pg 33
  17. The Chinese view of the Malays could be found in Tan Cheng Lock’s comment “Those who, while desiring what others possess put no energy into striving for it, are either incessantly grumbling that fortune does not do for them what they would not do for themselves, or overflowing with envy and ill will towards those who possess what they would like to have. ” Vorys, Karl Von. Democracy without Consensus, Communalism and Political Stability in Malaysia (New Jersey, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975) Pg 97
  18. The British neglected to do this because of the aforementioned initial transient nature of the Chinese.
  19. Islam is so linked with Malay ethnicity that it appears in the definition of Malayness in the constitution of Malaysia, “”Anyone regardless of precious origin or length of residence on the Peninsula who (I) habitually spoke the Malay language, (2) professed the Muslim religion, and (3) conformed to Malay custom was to be considered a Malay. ” Vorys, Karl Von. Democracy without Consensus, Communalism and Political Stability in Malaysia (New Jersey, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975) Pg 80
  20. “In these unbridled communal drives, the wider universalistic aspects of the Faith, like its non-particularistic and on-racist principles, as well as its emphasis on justice and equity for all, were sacrificed in preference of a more ‘Malay-first’ ethnic posture” Mutalib, Hussin. Islam and Ethnicity in Malay Politics (Singapore, Oxford University Press, 1990) Pg 46
  21. “The former (Malays) are pleased that these Chinese have become Muslims but do not necessarily encourage them to be regarded as Malays for fear that they will have access to special privileges provided in the Constitution for Malays and other ‘sons of the soil'” Tan, Chee-Beng. “The Religions of the Chinese in Malaysia”, The Chinese in Malaysia, Lee Kam Hing & Tan Chee-Beng, Eds (New York, Oxford University Press, 2000) pg 308
  22. “When rival elites, even if they share a common socio-economic status, belong to different ethnic communities, they often find it convenient to turn to ethnic issues in order to mobilize popular support. ” Crouch, Harold. Government and Society in Malaysia (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1996) Pg 9
  23. “Insofar as UMNO could be said to have an ideology, it was expressed in terms of Malay privileges and domination,” Crouch, Harold. Government and Society in Malaysia (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1996) Pg 43
  24. “The MCA portrays itself as the voice of the Chinese community in the government” Crouch, Harold. Government and Society in Malaysia (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1996) Pg 45.
  25. “In a democracy, ethnic politicians cannot avoid taking stands on ethnic issues. To mobilize ethnic votes, they have little choice but to give voice to sentiments felt deeply by their constituents while there is a strong incentive to stir up ethnic feelings further in order to outbid rival politicians from the same ethnic group. “
  26. Crouch, Harold. Government and Society in Malaysia (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1996) pg 152
  27. Vorys, Karl Von. Democracy without Consensus, Communalism and Political Stability in Malaysia (New Jersey, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975) Pg 92.
  28. A letter by Mahathir to the Tunku went, ” Your ‘give and take’ policy gives the Chinese everything they ask for. The Climax was the commuting of the death sentence, which made the majority of the Malays angry. ” Vorys, Karl Von. Democracy without Consensus, Communalism and Political Stability in Malaysia (New Jersey, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975) Pg 373
  29. ” The separation, instead of ;cooling down; the tense interethnic animosity, made it irreconcilable…. The Singapore episode speeded the spread of Malay communal demands in Malaysian politics. ” Mutalib, Hussin. Islam and Ethnicity in Malay Politics (Singapore, Oxford University Press, 1990) Pg 45
  30. “During the six weeks of campaigning, tensions mounted as each party tried to rally support by appealing openly to racial sentiments” Mohamad, Mahathir. The Way Forward (London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998) Pg 6
  31. It is so prominent that “May 13”, the exact day of the riot in 1965, is used by the PAS leader, Hadi Awang, as a synonym in Malaysia politics for racial riots. For details, see Suh Sangwon & Oorjitham, Santha, “PAS is not a racist party” Asiaweek 16 June 2000 : 38
  32. “They (the 1969 riots) heralded major structural changes in the country, intensified communal antipathies, pushed ethnicity to the fore in the Malay identity quest, and accentuated the tension both between the Malays and the State and between Malays and Chinese. ” Mutalib, Hussin. Islam and Ethnicity in Malay Politics (Singapore, Oxford University Press, 1990) Pg 54
  33. “Specifically, they were very much afraid that the spectre which had haunted them for some years had turned into reality: the political system, their last pillar of safety and security, had crumbled before their very eyes. ” Vorys, Karl Von. Democracy without Consensus, Communalism and Political Stability in Malaysia (New Jersey, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975) Pg 295
  34. Mohamad, Mahathir. The Way Forward (London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998) Pg 9
  35. “Indians used to be well represented in the civil service, but their numbers dropped in the wake of NEP quotas for bumiputras. Unlike the Chinese, the Indians did not have the economic clout to counteract the NEP’s effects” For more details on how Indians fared under the NEP, see Santha Oorjitham “Forgotten Community”. Asiaweek. Com, <http://www. asiaweek. com/asiaweek/magazine/nations/0,8782,95655,00.html>
  36. Kok, Wee Kiat. “The Constitutional Contract-Whither the Bargain” Malaysian Chinese (Petaling Jaya, Eastern Universities Press, 1982) pg 55
  37. Kok, Wee Kiat “Facing the future” The Future of Malaysian Chinese (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Chinese Association, 1988) pg 19
  38. Lim Kit Siang estimated that “20,000 non-Malay student who were eligible for university found the doors of university education in Malaysia closed to them”. This was the estimate for one year only, that of 1977.
  39. See Lim, Kit Siang. Time Bombs in Malaysia (Petaling Jaya, Democratic Action Party, 1978) Pg 9 39 “Although Chinese spokespe.

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