What’s the hype about?

By Francis Loh | Aliran

Francis Loh finds the hype surrounding the proposal that we should do away with the ethnic/race categories in application forms befuddling.

Give the ethnic group of the following Malaysians: Abdullah Badawi? Samy Vellu? Ling Liong Sik? Karpal Singh?

Yes, Abdullah is Malay, Samy is Indian, Ling is Chinese and Karpal is Indian of Sikh faith. No prizes for getting the right answers. Most Malaysian school children would be capable of doing so. Hence, even if these individuals do not state their ethnic group or race orally or in any form, we would still know which ethnic group each belongs to.

In fact, Malaysians are also not required to state their ethnic group or race when they register themselves to vote. Yet the ethnic breakdown for each electoral constituency can be worked out. We know that the political parties determine the estimates for each constituency by going through the electoral rolls. Or if they do not have the capacity to do the counting themselves, they rely either on the estimates that the Elections Commission or the major newspapers provide. Whether the newspapers rely on the Commission’s estimates or the other way around is not so clear. Anyway, the point is that we can determine the race or ethnic background of most Malaysians by reference to their names.

Hence it is befuddling that there has been this hype about the 1Malaysia Foundation’s proposal that we should do away with ethnic/race categories in forms issued by the public and private sectors. The Foundation’s call has been supported by various organisations, political parties and at least one Minister.

But because of the ‘sensitivity’ of the issue, the exercise, it is suggested, should be done ‘slowly’. For the Foundation, stating one’s race or ethnicity might still be necessary to achieve the larger goal of national unity, and can therefore be justified. After all, there is a need to increase non-Malay participation in the civil service, the police and armed forces on the one hand, and to strengthen the Malay, Indian, Dayak and Kadazandusun participation in certain coveted enterprises in the private sector.

Consequently, the Foundation proposed that the race column be removed from banking loan applications and from hire purchase forms, for starters. True enough, why should ethnic data be necessary in approving hire-purchase agreements and in accessing bank loans? Maybe the second step should be to do away with identification of ethnicity when it comes to public examinations like UPSR, PMR, SPM and STPM, which the 1Malaysia Foundation finds ‘totally unnecessary’, often causing ‘suspicion’ instead.

But is this a major step towards building 1Malaysia as the media hype suggests? With due respect to the Foundation, my humble opinion is that we are treating the symptom rather than the source of the problem!
It is not on account of the race category in our forms that Malaysians have become obsessed with the question of race. Rather, it is something more fundamental.

On the one hand the problem is caused by unscrupulous politicians who racialise non-racial issues. Invariably, they belong to ethnic-based political parties and they spew out their racial vomit, which gets highlighted in the mainstream media, owned or controlled by their parties. This happens time-and-time again, but especially as we approach elections.

Second, and perhaps more important, it is when the government divides the citizens by race, and applies racial quotas in their policies – from access to tenders and concessions, to buying even luxury houses at discounted prices, to entrance to schools and universities and to choices of particular courses – that we contribute towards not just obsession with race but what is worse, racial polarisation. This is why 1Malaysia is so difficult to achieve!

At the point the NEP was launched in 1971, and even more so in 1957 at Independence, when wide socio-economic disparities separated the Chinese (and the Indians to a lesser extent) from the Malays and other bumiputeras, it might have made sense for affirmative action policies in favour of the latter. No doubt, the government had to lend a helping hand to Malays and bumiputeras to get out of the poorly developed rural agricultural sector to enter into the modern industrial and business sectors.

Most Malaysians, though many were initially reluctant, came around to support the NEP ultimately. It was the implementation of the NEP which led to cronyism and money politics that made the NEP controversial, not the need for it.

But 54 years after Independence and 21 years after the end of the NEP (1971-90), after substantial numbers of Malays have joined the ranks of the upper and middle classes, it is difficult to persuade the wider Malaysian audience, especially the younger generation, that we still need ethnic-based policies and ethnic-quotas!

This is why the Pakatan Rakyat parties have decided that it is time to replace the NEP with a new policy that discriminates in favour of the poor regardless of race instead. All who are poor, especially the bumiputeras who form the vast majority of Malaysia’s poor and have still not enjoyed the benefits of Malaysia’s economic development in spite of the NEP, would now become the new focus of attention.

Such policies and quotas in favour of the poor will go a long way towards making Malaysians less obsessed with race. It would be so much easier to achieve 1Malaysia.

Hence doing away with the race category in the forms, whether pertaining to the public or private sector will have negligible effect. After all, we will still know the race of an Abdullah, or Samy, or Ling, or a Karpal. If the Foundation wants to take a bigger step forward, all applicants for hire purchase, or bank loans, or scholarships, or entrance to universities in the courses of their choice should not state their names either. Rather, they should register themselves after which they should be given a number, which then makes these applications race-blind. But such a process would be extremely cumbersome. It could turn into a huge nightmare of unnecessary work for all concerned.

Yet, forms without the race category or without names will not resolve the obsession with race. Doing away with race-based policies with racial quotas, and replacing them with policies that provide for the poor and needy regardless of race, might. And once this is done, the unscrupulous politician who tries to racialise non-racial issues will have very little influence. Invariably they belong to ethnic-based political parties, like Umno, MCA, MIC will then become increasingly irrelevant. And the mainstream media that they own and control will stop spewing out the racial hatred they do especially when elections are around the corner. How lovely when these unscrupulous politicians, their parties, the media they control and their racial policies and quotas are washed away into the dustbin of history. Bye bye!
Hidup 1Malaysia!

Dr Francis Loh is a Professor of Politics and Secretary of Aliran

  1. #1 by k1980 on Thursday, 17 March 2011 - 2:39 pm

    Not so clearcut after all, eg.
    Idris jala is a Christian;

    Barrack Hussein Obama is a closet Muslim who goes to church,

    Saddam’s pal, Tarik Aziz is a Christian

    Ridhuan Tee is a chink who castigates his fellow chinks,

    Linda Joy is a joyless Christian who dares not show her face,

    and so on…..

  2. #2 by Loh on Thursday, 17 March 2011 - 2:46 pm

    ///Yet, forms without the race category or without names will not resolve the obsession with race. Doing away with race-based policies with racial quotas, and replacing them with policies that provide for the poor and needy regardless of race, might. ///–Francis Loh

    Without the race-based discriminatory policies, writing race would not bring about any ill effects. With the race-based so-called affirmative action still in place, it is important that applicants state clearly the race he belongs, and he is legally liable for the information provided.

    Mamakthir suggested that the race-column in government forms be removed. If Mamakthir was interested to make this country race-blind after he had retired in name, he would not have written tow articles justifying why Malaysia belongs only to Malays and Orang Asli had their ancestors to blame for not setting up governments. Mamakthir’s idea of removing the column race so that people of his kind, Kaka Muslims, or Mamaks the Tamil Muslims would stand a chance to be treated as Malays, based on their names only. Does Mamakthir care about Indians of Muslims faith since he claimed that he did not know whether his ancestor came from? The fact is Mamakthir visited India while he was sitting PM, and went to his father’s hometown Bxxxx as the son of the town, as shown by the banner ” welcome home our son”. So Mamakthir wanted Mamaks and Kakas Muslims to gain unfair advantage over Malays with the removal of the race-column in government documents.

    The race-based parties should first go to hell before Malaysia and get out of hell.

  3. #3 by yhsiew on Thursday, 17 March 2011 - 3:03 pm

    Stop day-dreaming. A racist party which relies on playing the race-card for survival will never do away with the ethnic/race categories in application forms.

  4. #4 by TOKKU on Thursday, 17 March 2011 - 3:04 pm

    Great article but I assumed Dr. Francis Loh had forgotten 1 very important aspect prior to him writing this article.

    Dr. Francis perhaps had forgotten that ‘Race-based politics’ can NEVER wiped out in Malaysia. Why??? The answer is simple. The Chinese, Indians or ‘lain-lain’ will simply NEVER abandon their ethnic background. How many Chinese or Indians are willing to give-up their status as ‘Chinese’ or ‘Indians’??? I dare confirm the figure is easily less than 20% .

    The ironic thing is that we Malaysians always preach on the issue of ‘NON’ racial quotas & bla, bla, bla BUT the fact is that most Chinese/Indians/lain-lain WILL NOT give up their ethnic surname at the end of the day. One simple question…”Will Lim Kit Siang dare to give-up his surname LIM in view to fight for a non race-based country” & “Will Karpal Singh be willing to abandon his SINGH too?”.

    It’s very easy to simply talk I support this & that but when it comes to doing….it’s a totally different story altogether. That’s why there a saying which goes “It’s easier said than done” & this phrase certainly suit this scenario best.

    I’ll appreciate if Dr. Francis could get real here. As much as writing interesting articles are important but we ought to at least “GET REAL’ in what we write. Writing an article without adopting the “GET REAL” mentality will only make the article ends up like a mere “Fairy Tale”.

    Now….enough of RUBBISH. “Get Real” will be my advice.


  5. #5 by TOKKU on Thursday, 17 March 2011 - 3:14 pm

    I don’t see this as a PROBLEM.

    I’m a CHINESE & I’m proud to write/tick/declare “CINA” in most application forms. What is there to BITCH about??? Are you saying you are SHY to admit your race???

    We ‘Chinese’ are indeed immigrants & so are the ‘Melayu, Indians & lain-lain’ & becos we are all FOREIGN IMMIGRANTS from some part of this world. This automatically makes us EQUAL regardless of RACE. I see no reason why we should ABANDON race-based issues in this beautiful country called Malaysia.

    Kalau Cina…Cina lah. Kalau Melayu….Melayu lah. Kalau India…India lah. Kalau Singh…Bayee lah. “What’s the bladdy FUSS about?”

  6. #6 by Antitheist on Thursday, 17 March 2011 - 4:14 pm

    Race is bulls**t


    There’s only one race – the human race. Those who say they’re something else simply don’t belong.

    Get rid or the race question on ALL forms – now.

    Get rid of race-based schools (that’s where it starts)

    Get rid of “positive” discrimination – completely.

    There can be no middle-ground on this. It’s either all or nothing.

    Francis wrote…

    “But because of the ‘sensitivity’ of the issue, the exercise, it is suggested, should be done ‘slowly’. For the Foundation, stating one’s race or ethnicity might still be necessary to achieve the larger goal of national unity, and can therefore be justified.”




    It should be dragged out into the open like the sick, rabid dog that it is and shot through the head once-and-for-all.

  7. #7 by waterfrontcoolie on Thursday, 17 March 2011 - 11:14 pm

    It has nothing to do with names. it has everything to do with the mind! Most of us would remember that Malay students had been able to do well in English medium schools competing with all of us equally in the 50s to 60s; from midst 70s onwards, all a sudden they appeared to have GOSTAN! Why?? it is the SLOGANEERING that have been made since then that actually clouded their mind; fearing their shadows so as to say. those Malay officers who have retired before the turn of the century never had such problems or felt crowded out of anything. Once, the education system was turned into political tools, all hell broke loose. My only hope is for the REAL Malays to be awaken; though I too agree that there is only one human race, but at this juncture just saying it would not make that scenario simply disappears.

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