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National Unity 101: Malaysia’s Chicken & Egg Story

unity malaysia race

(Long before the illusive 1Malaysia came along, Malaysia has already been a multi-racial, multicultural country. We had our differences but we don’t see our fellow Malaysians as threats. Image source:

It has been in everyone’s mind in Malaysia but no one dared to say or do the obvious…

Aizuddin Danian of VOI posted something that worth our serious consideration:-

He (Dr M) implies that the DAP, by promoting “meritocracy” is actually promoting a non-Malay domination of the society because its a foregone conclusion that the best Malaysians, in terms of education, business or any other field, are non-Malays.

That’s an interesting perspective on things and something i’ve never considered before.

Is “meritocracy” a very clever smokescreen for “racism”? The way Tun puts it does seem convincing. I think i understand his concerns — he realizes that Malays, left on their own without help from the Government, would take years to become competitive in a level playing field.

The Chinese have been forced to be competitive for the last 50 years of Independence, and its arguable than even a poorly-performing Chinese is better than an above average performing Malay.

Read the rest for an interesting insight on how things have been maintained to ensure stability in the country but at the same time, crippling enough for Malaysia not able to make the right leap to a developed nation.

Anyway, let’s forget about the notion that one race in Malaysia trying to dominate another race. Let’s forget what Dr M is trying hard to achieve here – no doubt he is a great statesman but he is not right all the time.  He is not a saint, he is after all just a politician.

The explanation on the meritocracy may just be his means to the end and maybe political in nature. So, let’s leave anything that is racial, religious or political in nature aside – track record has shown that no one had never been united under these three aspects.

Let’s look from the nation’s point of view – although we have multi-race, multi-culture, and multi-religion groups in the country at the end of the day, we are all Malaysians. So why is this fear against fellow Malaysians? Is it a big crime to be competitive? What if there is no other choice?

Let’s go back to the very start when it was “deemed” that Malays would not be able to compete without some kind of affirmative action? Who determined this – by some foreign-educated politicians sitting in a luxury bungalow? What were the criteria used?

Perhaps historically, the non-Malays have been competitive from the very first day they put their foot on this country. After all, with their families struggling back in India or China, it was a break or make for these early non-Malays.

If they were able to work hard and made good fortunes in business, there is a chance for them to remit back some money to their families back home and in some cases; to bring their families to a new home called Malaya.

Perhaps it was the case of May 13 which the ruling politicians often cite when talking about affirmative actions. But recent revelations of what really happened on May 13th seem to be distancing the excuse of unequal opportunity with the tragedy (If you have time, read The Real Cause of May 13 Riots or Raja Petra’s 3 Parts post titled “The Real Story of May 13” – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 )

Whatever the reason may be – affirmative actions seems to be not working to the early aspiration which is to create a level playing field for all Malaysians. It has been grossly abused and sadly, highly laced with political, corruption and self-interest.

Zaid Ibrahim said:-

“Many Malays want meritocracy for very good reasons. They want their applications for contracts and projects to be given fair consideration by the authorities. They do not want only those who are politically connected to have the upper hand. They want a level playing field.

“They believe that they can succeed on merit if only they get a fair chance. They want to succeed with their pride intact; and at the same time they want to tell their children that Malays who work hard and with the right attitude can succeed, like everybody else,” he said.

Zaid said many Malays wanted meritocracy so that they could get their dues like promotion and higher positions by working hard.

“They want to be judged fairly and not lose their position or seniority because some one else has the right political cable. They want a promotion system that is transparent and free of interference.

“They want to say that they have succeeded because they did it the hard way. Why does Mahathir have to belittle these Malays? Why must the Malays be scrapped off their self-respect just to prove that Umno is responsible for everything in this country?” he added.

I still recall when we were still young, the competition on who got better marks among my cousins so stiff that it caused long term frictions among the families. Achieving a 99% mark was not acceptable (we used to get a good whack of the cane from my mum when our marks went down below 95%).

Lack of scholarships in Malaysia means my dad going into overdrive at his workplace and trying to juggle multiple jobs to cover the college fees.

Lack of places at the local universities means students like me to adapt to the new environment and studies faster than the rest (I was interested in science but had to switch to law when there was no place at the local university). And since we know that our parents are practically sweating blood to cover our fees, failure was not an option. There was never a second chance – it is a do or die.

The policymakers will therefore be back at the starting point where once again the Malays (those who been untouched by the affirmative actions because they lack the right “cables”) find themselves facing with non-Malays who remained competitive (perhaps at many times fold now compared to those non-Malays in the 1950s).

Enforcement of even more affirmative actions, therefore, is not going to solve the problem of uneven level of playing – it will only drive the other group to go to another level of competitiveness (wonder why some Chinese schools have classes 7 days a week and have a very high bar of excellence?).

Mind you that at an age of globalization, the world had become smaller and Malaysians are also competing with the rest of the world.

Affirmative action is fine if it was implemented for a short period but if continued in the long terms, it will not achieve the purpose of creating a highly competitive society – why should they when the Government clears away obstacles for some and not for others.

The solution is to open up the arena and let everyone compete for the available places (the Government can create more places if they want more to fall in). The Government seems to be having this notion of the Malays being incapable of competing without their help. They are dead wrong.

Never underestimate those who determined to make it to the top. Yes, in the beginning, there will be some be left out of the competition but eventually, they will bridge the gap. I have seen my fellow Malay brothers who had worked wonders through their sheer determinations and hard work.

Aizuddin rightfully ended his post with these remarks and I could not agree more:-

53 years of independence is not a long time. But i think it’s long enough to start believing in ourselves. It’ll be a painful journey, sure.

However, unless we take it, Malaysia will not be able to make that leap from developing to developed. That goal should transcend all others.

It is time to work as one nation, not as competing groups within the same home. It is time to be competitive as a nation. It is time to pick the best of the best for anything that we do. It is time to be Malaysians.

Read Also

Art Harun’s excellent Eh, Tun Dah Lupa?

5 thoughts on “National Unity 101: Malaysia’s Chicken & Egg Story”

  1. Gulo takdo, kopi takdo, topung pun tak do! Inilah Melayu … (No sugar, no coffee, not even flour! We are Malays …)

    My uncle, who is in his 80’s now, used to tell this story (and he still does) and this is something that he had been telling people since the early 60’s to whomever who wants to hear it:

    “The Malays have always been pioneers and have always been a resourceful race. In the early days, they would come from parts of Indonesia and Thailand and some other places and they clear jungles and then would invite their relatives and their friends and their friend’s relatives and their friends’ friends and so on and build a village. They would plant padi, grow rubber trees and vegetables and fruit plants, the latter two for their own consumption, and some would earn extra money by getting produce from the nearby jungle to sell. The village grows and prospers and then a sole Chinese family would discover the village and then decides to come to the village to start a shop to sell provisions and, a sole Indian would come too.

    The village grows and prospers further.

    After some time, the village folks needs increases but they couldn’t afford them. So, the Chinese and the Indian trader would still supply them – on credit, to anyone who accepts their terms. The person who accepts the terms will then start taking things from the Chinese and the Indian traders. His debts accumulate until it became so big that he couldn’t afford to pay. What would happen next is the Chinese trader would take the land as payment from the debtor and the Indian trader would take one of his daughters as a wife; loan settled.

    The Chinese man then starts building a town after accumulating more land and invites other Chinese from his village in China to come and they would start other businesses such as transportation and build houses to sell and build factories. The Indians would normally send their money home and start a new family with his newly wedded Malay wife as well as keep part of the land that he would have obtained in return for the money he lent to some of the Malay folks at the village because not all of them have daughters and he cannot be marrying too many Malay girls.

    He then gathers a few friends and clear up the jungle further and the whole thing repeats itself until there’s no more jungle to clear. He moves to another area and start clearing up again and this would go on and on. The Chinese become landowners, businessmen and become very rich at the same time.

    There would be some Chinese who would take in a Malay wife and converts to Islam and their offsprings would be fairer, have a Malay name and they are still Malays. The mixed Indian-Malay children would be darker and have sharp features and their names that are normally spelt with an ‘i’ would be changed to ‘ee’ like Hakim (to Hakeem) and those with one ‘o’ or ‘u’ would be spelt with ‘oo’ like Daud (to Dawood). Some would even add Syed, Sheikh, Shaikh and Siti as prefixes to their childs’ names and in few cases you would find prefixes such as ‘Raja’ and ‘Tengku’ even.

    So, you would find Syeds, Sheikhs, Shaikhs and Sitis who are not descendents of people from Yemen (Hadhralmauts) or Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries but from India. The darker skinned Rajas and Tengkus with sharp noses and big eyes are ‘so-called’ royalties from India but not the descendents of Sultans, Rajas or Yam Tuan from the unfederated Malay states of Malaya” and then, there’s even a Tengku Abdul Manaf a/l Haneefah.

    Besides having Malays with many types and styles of names, we also have Malays of many colours and some even look like Mat Sallehs – those Pan Asian types. Interesting hah!

    The Malays are still pioneers and very resourceful today but in many different ways.

    To carry on from the story above, as the country develops, the Malays would become civil servants, teachers, soldiers and policemen taking over from the British and they are very proud of that. The Chinese continue with their businesses and the Indians, some become civil servants, teachers, soldiers and policemen and some would continue with their businesses, until now. These people become richer than the Malays and control the country’s economy.

    Fast forward to the present time and you will find many Malays, men and women, in very high decision-making positions either in politics or the civil service and many would become lawmakers and planners.

    Malays do not clear jungles and hills anymore because the Chinese now have excavators, bulldozers, cranes, wheel-loaders, etc. to do that job and they sometime even do them without first getting approval because some YB, Raja or Tengku told them earlier that they could proceed, no problem. After that, money talklah, what else!

    You now hear a minister announcing the increase in taxi fares; during a period of recession mind you, but he totally forgot about the need to re-calibrate the taxi meters first and this would cause a confusion and dissatisfaction to many people because the effective date for the new rates takes place before all the meters in the taxis are calibrated. To diffuse the situation, he issued a directive to all taxi drivers not to charge the new fares until they have their taxi meters calibrated and, please do tell me Hon. Minister; which taxi driver would listen to you?

    He didn’t even think about how to enforce his directive before opening his big mouth! So, everybody gadolah – typically Malaysian – ‘Malaysia Boleh’.

    Due to some poor planning, sugar is now scarce. It used to be rice, chicken, cooking oil and then flour not very long ago and God knows what else will be in short-supply next.

    So, what happens next? Unscrupulous people with the help of people who are in authority start hoarding these goods. Prices of major essentials go up, what else! Who benefits? You know who, I don’t have to tell you …

    Do you notice how far the LRT and train stations are vis-a-vis the places you want to go; to your housing estate, to the car park, to the nearest bus terminal, to the shopping complex, to the schools, colleges, offices, markets and what-not? They never think about convenience.

    Why? Because they do not use these facilities at all. They all have big cars and drivers too to get them anywhere they want so, why bother!

    What about the commuters? To hell with them!

    The government builds huge, modern, state-of-the-art twin towers, skyscrapers, stadiums, halls, universities, colleges, schools, mosques, parks, roads and so on but they totally forgot about their maintenance and this is not even accounted for in the budget. Not long after that, they all become dilapidated and they would look like buildings that have been neglected for years and become eyesores. Why? The answer is: “Let others worry about it, I’ve made my money already”.

    We build high-rise residential units and some at choice locations near major highways and people hang their clothes to dry in full view of everyone and nobody cares. If it’s too neat and tidy, people may think this is Singapore, not Malaysia.

    Why Kuala Lumpur floods whenever it rains even though we have the Smart Tunnel?

    Because, the Smart Tunnel is for something else and generally the drains around the city are to shallow and too narrow, and already very badly silted. Doing drains do not cost very much so the few guys who are going to benefit from it will get very little. Geddit, you moron!

    They will probably build another bigger Smart Tunnel. Don’t be surprised!

    Even when it’s cheaper to build deeper and wider drains, nobody bothers because, building another Smart Tunnel costing billions of Ringgits would be more beneficial to the few selected and so-called privileged people, but not deeper and wider drains.

    Adam Road, Farrer Road and Thompson Road next to the Police Academy in Singapore used to flood very badly whenever it rains before and after all the drains there had been widened and deepened and continuously maintained, it doesn’t anymore even if it rains everyday for all the seven days of the whole week. There’s no Smart Tunnel there.

    And, why can’t we build bigger roads even when there is space available? Answer: If we build them now, in future, nobody will be able to make money.

    Do you notice where pedestrian overhead bridges which are built to help people cross busy roads are placed? Always far away from train stations, bus stands and the places you want to go to. So what happens? People, including schoolchildren and old folks do not use those bridges and they prefer to take the risks crossing the road at points nearer to where they are going.

    The next thing you would notice is insufficient parking space at government complexes, hospitals, markets, public parks, etc. I wonder why it is always like this. Don’t the developers, designers, planners and builders ever thought about this?

    Sometimes, you see perfectly working streetlights in some Majlis Bandaran township being changed to those with fancy designs and you and I know why. They could use the same funds better by repairing roads and bridges and other infrastructure at the kampungs or villages, but no, there are no BN/UNMO bigwigs staying around there and you can’t make money this way.

    Many would argue that the owners, developers, builders and even the contractors are not Malays. Yes, but who approve them especially after all the ‘approvers’ pockets have been very thickly lined with crisp new Ringgit notes.

    Why can’t things be done better here? The answer is: “Because we are Malays!”

    Then, you start seeing contractors building houses and condominiums on very steep hill slopes where even commonsense tells you that they are not suitable. Still, the construction continues, then the residential units were sold after the buildings were completed and the Certificate of Fitness for Occupation was issued. A few years later, during the monsoon season where the place was hit by not stop rain, the buildings collapsed and several people were killed. Fingers start to point at each other and what’s the cause they they eventually found out? Corruption!

    Money changed hands and the designer and the developer got their plans and designs approved. Not by one authority but by several and all have received their fair share with the biggest share going to some bigwigs, sometimes fronting for others, politicians especially, at the local council. However, after the tragedy and the disaster, people still never learn and continue to give approvals and waiting for the next disaster to occur. All should be blamed; developers, designers and the approving authorities and the biggest of all idiots: the buyers.

    No, some would answer: It is already fated that the tragedy and the disaster occurred and we must believe in fate otherwise you would be considered an infidel. That’s another story.

    Malays are known to be very tolerant, practise ‘give and take policy’ all the time and are very easily influenced. It used to be but now, they already know how to benefit from these and are able to name their price for a favour in return, regardless of the implications. And there are many people who are willing to pay!

    Worse still, they are now being used by some unscrupulous people to demonstrate the latter’s feelings and frustrations; these are also done without even thinking what would happen to them next, their families and their people.

    Melayu oh Melayu!

    See also this:, this:, and this:

    Best regards.

    Hussaini Abdul Karim

  2. One united people, regardless of race, language or religion

    I am a Malay, raised in Singapore until I was 19 years old and still keeps returning to Singapore regularly and I saw many important events during that 19 year period; the merger with Malaysia, the confrontation, the separation, and the direct telecast on TV showing Mr Lee Kuan Yew crying after Tunku Abdul Rahman announced the separation, the racial riots that went on for almost a week that erupted on 21 July 1964 on the occasion of the celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) birthday; the last big flood in Singapore in the late 60’s and the many non-stop campaigns by the PAP government since they took over in 1959, broadcast in Malay, Chinese, Tamil and English and participated in many of Singapore’s youth building, education and development programmes and the national service, amongst others. I moved to Malaysia in 1971 and became a citizen of this country, by choice, due to events and circumstances that happened to me and in what I believe, where my future lies, in 1979. I am just like Malaysians who move to Australia and become an Australian citizen, Malaysians who move to the US and become a US citizen, Malaysians who move to Singapore and become a Singapore citizen, Singaporeans who move to Malaysia and become a Malaysian citizen, etc. We all have our own special reasons and circumstances that led us to do so.

    As the Berita Harian editor Guntor Sadali said, “For Malays in Singapore,power is not about wielding the keris. For us, knowledge is … THE real power … We do not believe in getting any special treatment, because itwould only reduce the value of our achievements and lower our dignity …Dr Mahathir [Mohamad] and some Malay leaders across the Causeway do not like the way we do things here and have therefore warned Malaysian Malays not to be like us. On our part, there is certainly no turning back. Meritocracy has proven to be a good and fair system. It pushes us to work hard and makes us proud of our achievements”. These and all the rest that he said are all very true.

    The Malays in Singapore, no crutch mentality — Guntor Sadali

    My mother, brothers and sisters who are still in Singapore are all very successful, so are many of my relatives who are still there. We work hard and we are Malays!They do not complain unnecessarily about the PAP government, then and now. Those who do not make it, including some of my Malay relatives (I also do have non-Malay relatives there) who are there, know that they deserve it and they cannot complain. Even if they do, no one would listen to them. In Singapore, there’s no NGOs or political parties to help people fight or lobby for lost causes, they are just a waste of time and nobody is interested.

    Malays in Singapore have since a long time ago assimilated into the general Singapore society very well and we do not care what race people are or what religion they belong to, even amongst Malays there who are not Muslims anymore or Malays who claim to be Muslims but do not practise the religion.There’s never been a case like ‘Lina Joy’ in Singapore. This, to them, is a private matter between the individual and God. The ‘Natrah’ case, if some insist, was an ancient one, so to speak. As long as they are not troublemakers, they will be accepted by the society, regardless of race, language or religion.

    The Muslims in Singapore are all very well, thank you and they do not need to be told what to do and what not to do by anyone, any organisation or any institution or even the government, and as a matter of fact, the government of Singapore listens to them. Muslims in Singapore comprise a multitude of races, not just Malays. Many, if not most, of the mosques and madrasahs in Singapore are self-financing though they do receive some grants from the government and they do receive a very good support from the government on education including studying Islam up to the highest level. Their relationship with people from other communities and people from other religions is excellent and they do mix and exchange ideas regularly. Mind you, being a very small country, Singapore has more religions than most country in the world, including some ancient religions. There are still the Parsis there who practise Zoroastrianism and there are also the Ba’hais, the Orthodox Jews, etc., etc.

    Of course, there will always be some oddballs around like Mas Selamat, who wants to carry out their so-called ‘Jihad’ in Singapore. I and many of them in Singapore, the Muslims especially, believe that these people are misinformed and confused.

    So, I believe, Singapore is doing the right things and they have set their priorities right. They do not waste their time on things that are non-productive or things that are non-relevant any more. And the big thing is, there’s no corruption there. Singapore is, in many ways, more Islamic than Malaysia.

    There’s a lot that Malaysia can learn from Singapore.

    Of course, I also saw and was privy to the transformation of many Malay kampungs in Singapore to satellite townships and that includes Geylang, Kg. Kembangan, Kaki Bukit Teluk Kurau, Kg. Amber, Kg Ambo Solo, Kg. Wak Tanjung, Paya Lebar, Tongkang Pechah, Jalan Kayu, Lor Buangkok, Bedok, Changi, Pasir Ris, Tempenis (Tampines), Kg. Tai Seng, Kg Jawa, Kg Pachitan, Kg. Tengah, Pasir Panjang, Kg. Ubi, Kg. Pisang, Kg. Kelapa, and many others.

    The transformation of some Chinese kampungs needed more work and at times, the government resorted to arsonists to move the people. That was very sad. Nevertheless, the government made sure all facilities were ready and operable before carrying out such drastic actions. So, things progressed quite smoothly. After everybody moved to their individual well equipped SIT flats, later taken over by HDB, no one complained.The government also made sure that complete infrastructure were thoroughly planned, designed, constructed and completed before the displaced people moved in.

    Can our country Malaysia emulate that?

    I remember, Bt Ho Swee was the first Chinese settlement to be developed after Singapore’s biggest fire (organised arson?) and after that there were many campaigns about fire prevention broadcast on TV, radio, schools, public places, homes, etc. I was then still in primary school. There were many fires that followed in rapid succession but though property and belongings were damaged or lost, no life was ever lost. Lee Kuan Yew did what he had to do. I thought that was classic Singapore.

    In the early 60’s , just before and soon after the separation, Singapore’s Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, had several debates that were telecast live and his opponents included fellow PAP stalwarts, opposition political party leaders, local and foreign journalists, writers, political analysts, heads of the various communities, student leaders, etc. One of the debates that I remember very well was the one he had with the late Sheikh Abdullah Basmeh, Islamic scholar, journalist, author, teacher, state elder, politician and Malay/Islam community leader. He was a very strong and staunch supporter of Tunku’s UMNO and the Federation of Malaysia with Singapore in it. I watched the telecast together with my Malay, Chinese and Indian neighbours as well as their school going children. LKY was practically running rings around the Sheikh and we could sense that the Sheikh was uncomfortable and jittery and was ‘hot around the collar’ throughout the whole 1 hr debate and we also knew that LKY was not convinced with most, if not all, of the answers the Sheikh gave him. We were all very happy with the PM’s skill and ability to play with words. Mind you, my Chinese, Indian and Malay relatives (cousins) and friends and me were only about 9 or 10 years old then!

    One of the questions LKY asked the Sheikh that I still can remember word for word until today was, “Apa itu Sheikh?” Again, his (the Sheikh’s) answer to the question was not good enough and we all were laughing throughout the debate and the loudest laughter was when that question was asked. The next day at school, everyone were talking about that debate held the night before and the question if you wish to ask someone a red-herring question was, “Apa itu Sheikh?” followed by a roar of laughter by the person who asked and the person being asked accompanied by laughters of all the people nearby.

    I wonder what it would be like if that were to happen here in this country?

    Another landmark incident was when the government, in the early 80’s, decided to change the name of the new township Bt. Panjang (it lies somewhere between Woodlands and Bt. Timah) to Zheng Dong, during the peak of the first of many speak Mandarin campaigns held there without consulting the people and Bt. Panjang has always been a predominantly Chinese area. There was a huge hue and cry about the decision and people from all communities, in particular the Chinese, were complaining daily about it to the PM, ministers, MPs, town councils, TV, radio, newspapers including the vernacular newspapers, schools, colleges, universities, etc. The government quickly backtracked and retained the original name to everyone’s relief and satisfaction.

    Here, in our country, every community wants to have names of roads, among others, changed and to be named after their own leaders, regardless of the sentiments. What lah my fellow Malaysians!

    Mr Lee Kuan Yew did not achieve what he wanted to achieve in and for Singapore overnight. He took almost thirty years to do that!

    Soon after the separation from Malaysia on 9th August 1965 before the introduction of National Service, the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, introduced ‘The Pledge’ to be said by all all primary and secondary schools for both the morning and afternoon sessions which read as follows:

    “We,the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people,regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation”.

    This was done to instill loyalty, discipline and unity in all the young people of Singapore, both boys and girls regardless of race, language or religion to ensure that the state’s desire to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for the small nation.

    See here for more:

    Primary and secondary school students then were almost all from the baby boomers generation and they were the people who would become future leaders, politicians, and top civil servants in Singapore and you all can see for yourself the results now. His son, BG Lee Hsien Loong, the current Prime Minister of Singapore, was one of them and also are the many ministers and state minsters and top civil servants serving the country now. Granted, many of them come from Malaysia including the former and the current Chief Justice, among others.

    Of course, there were many other very successful campaigns and development programmes involving youths of all races that took place there even until today.

    For starters, how about if the Malaysian PM makes all primary and secondary school students take a similar pledge now. Any comments?

    On infrastructure, Singapore did not need to build a SMART Tunnel like Malaysia as part of their flood mitigation programme. They deepened, widened and increased the number of drains throughout the country and built huge, very deep and very wide canals at strategic areas which are very much cheaper than what we spent on our drains in Malaysia. For safety, especially for very young children, since some drains are as deep as six feet, all drains around markets, shopping centres, residential areas, etc. are fitted with steel grill covers and nobody steals them. Of course, the key thing is proper care and maintenance and this are done religiously.

    Notice that when you travel on the MRT, buses and /or taxis, there are terminals and stops located at places very convenient for the commuters. One walks only 100 or at the mot 300 steps to where you want to go after alighting from the MRT trains and buses and there you are, the places you want to go are all nearby. One need not walk 200 metres or more, for example, from the bus stop to the market, like what is very common here. And when you take taxis anywhere in Singapore, you do not haggle over prices.

    And Singapore is very proud of their cleanliness.

    Can we do the same thing here?

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