By Chandran Nair

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--If you are Malaysian and do not belong to the ruling elite Malay class, you have to be depressed by the current state of affairs in the country and its slide towards a poor imitation of what it once was.

You will be so very aware that the root cause of the rot and decline is the institutionalised racism put in place by the elite Malay political class - a breed to themselves - who if not for their race-based privileges, would be unable to indulge in the excessive privileges and wealth they see as a right, much of it even accumulated illegally.

It is thus no accident that in the recent Pandora Papers revelations, Malaysia ranks fifth in terms of outflow of capital, allegedly up to RM1.8 trillion.

Rather than using the pandemic and the current dire state of the country to reflect upon and put in place draconian reforms, political elites have doubled down since they returned to power after the political crisis of the last year.

Certain individuals - who most decent Malaysians thought they would never see again - are back, including those with criminal records, a long list of charges and impeccable track records as racists.

Their shameless obsessions with racial politics to enrich themselves and their ecosystem of bottom feeders appears to be hard-wired into their pathological mindsets, allowing them to ignore the daily deaths of hundreds and the white flags across the country.

They continue with the only thing they seem to know and thrive on - self-serving race-based policies.

This is not speculation; this is evident every day in political decisions taken and the deals done.

It is so brazen and become so truly Malaysian that most Malaysians have become numb to the plundering.

Many have even unwittingly become complicit in the ransacking of the country’s wealth and its value system.

The latest example is a new law that Malay elites will leverage to get their hands on Malaysia’s leading logistics companies - which they shamelessly believe they have a right to, because these were mainly built by non-Malays.

Thus, it was interesting to see Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who most non-Malays view with great suspicion given his past attacks on non-Malays, talk about a “Keluarga Malaysia” in his inaugural speech as prime minister.

This newfound enthusiasm for solidarity and togetherness was also the basis of his talk to the UN in September when he mentioned the plight of the Palestinians and decried their treatment as a form of apartheid. The UN speech made him the butt of jokes given his track record and the apartheid system in Malaysia.

But then again, let us assume that people are capable of changing, especially when they are given the responsibility of leading a nation and a uniquely multi-cultural one at that.

Thus, one wants to believe that somewhere in the PM’s mind he holds sincere views about “Keluarga Malaysia” and understands that racism against non-Malays is unsustainable and even un-Islamic.

One can hope

One hopes that in meeting President Joko Widodo of Indonesia this week that he gained a few ideas from an exemplary leader – the need for a vision, to build trust, to unite the citizens, and accept people of all races and religions.

One can hope that he now wants to change things, though perhaps he is worried about the backlash from the murky ecosystem he is part of, which is now overflowing with leeches who have got so accustomed to using racial superiority as their operating system.

Why? Because they are incapable of playing and competing on a level playing field devoid of race-based social injustices to discriminate against non-Malays and non-Muslims.

If the prime minister is therefore sincere, we need to help him articulate a different future.

Here is a speech that he may want to deliver in the next few weeks as a very difficult year draws to an end Malaysians desperately look for hope in 2022.

This will allow him to earn the title of head of the “Keluarga Malaysia” - not just Malays and Muslims, but all citizens - as well as allow him to clean his reputation, which has been tarnished by past racist comments, and to be seen as having a vision, given the common feeling in the country that he was a failure when leading efforts to fight the pandemic.

It might read like this:

“My fellow Malaysians, you will all have noted my remarks about ‘Keluarga Malaysia’ and as we look to welcome 2022 I would like to use this opportunity to elaborate on what I meant.

“The most important change that I seek to make is to address the issue of institutional racism once and for all in our country.

“It has taken us backwards and we are beginning to pay a high price for it. Now is the time to reverse this debilitating political philosophy and dismantle the trends it has set in motion.

“As a country, we are now widely viewed internationally as having a government that has institutionalised blatant racism to an extent that cannot be found in other countries which claim to want to be part of the globalised world and also have a parliamentary democracy.

“This will take time to dismantle. But here are ten things I believe we can start to do soon, to send a signal to all our citizens that we are serious about tackling this issue of institutionalised racism.

1. Civil service - ensure that we set a target to ensure that our civil service has at least 30 percent non-Malays by 2030. We will ensure meritocracy is the basis for all promotions and there we will no longer tolerate the unwritten rule that all key positions must be reserved for Malays.

2. Police - ensure we set a target to ensure that our police force has at least thirty percent non-Malays by 2030. And in this, there will be no racial discrimination when it comes to promotions.

3. Armed forces - ensure we set a target to ensure that at least 30 percent of the armed forces will be non-Malays. As in the police, the current process of not allowing non-Malays to progress through promotions will no longer be tolerated.

4. GLCs have to be dramatically transformed so that they are not the safe haven for educated Malays who rarely have to compete with non-Malays for the best jobs. It is common knowledge that the vast majority of the leadership of Malaysia’s GLCs is held by Malays, and is a clear reflection of the inherent racism of the system.

5. Scholarships must be non-racial. We are committed to helping poor Malays with affirmative action, but we do not have to do that by actively discriminating against non-Malays who are also deserving. This is a source of much frustration amongst non-Malays and plays into the declining standards of the education system, as we have effectively told Malays that they can still get scholarships despite not meeting the standards. We will also no longer allow Malays who can afford to pay for the education of their children to abuse the system.

6. Access to housing loans and race-based financing – we will start to review all schemes that allow Malays access to favourable terms for housing, business etc, irrespective of their economic standing. This system has been abused for too long by the wealthy Malays and is costing the country a great deal.

7. The sale of bumiputera shares or companies will be offered and sold to all Malaysians, not limited to only bumiputera consortiums. Boosting bumiputera corporate equity ownership is only possible with the economic cooperation of all Malaysians.

8. Contract awards for government projects will be contested fairly in a transparent manner based on capabilities and merit. There is no need for the forced and unfair policy that automatically assigns 30 percent of all government contracts to the bumiputera.

9. A small number of elite Malays will no longer hold the monopoly on approved permits for various key sectors, e.g. imported vehicles. Currently, around 170 of these elites held the rights to import foreign cars and only they held the power to control the imported vehicle market.

10. Government-run mutual funds such as Amanah Saham Bumiputera have been extremely successful at protecting bumiputera investments, with consistent and competitive yearly returns.

“We must emulate the success of this fixed price equity income fund for all Malaysians, by removing investment limits from racial quotas, so that non-Malays can invest at the same rates as the bumiputera.

Biggest challenge

“Now let me address the biggest challenge that I will face as the prime minister in tackling these issues and the sickness in our society. This challenge will come from Malays and especially the elite Malays who have enjoyed fifty years of a system that has benefited them at the expense of others and to which they have become so accustomed.

“These ‘others’ I refer to are the poor Malays, who are victims of our sick racist system, and of course our non-Malay citizens, who I want to stress have equal rights as enshrined in the constitution of the country.

“To my Malay brothers and sisters, I would like to point out the following:

“The NEP (or NDP) is no longer an affirmative action programme aimed at addressing the plight of the poor Malays. It has become a racist policy because it is being leveraged by Malays with the power to enrich themselves by actively discriminating against our fellow non-Malay citizens. This is no longer acceptable in the 21st century and we should be ashamed of it.

“In addition, to the elite Malays who will use political and religious means to fight these reforms I am proposing, I would like to remind them that this racist system is the main reason that Malays remain the most disadvantaged segment of the population and continue to need help, yet have become dependent to the point that they also believe they are entitled to state support by virtue of their race.

“This is bad for the Malay race - we have created a systemic dependency syndrome - and this simply cannot be economically sustained. There is no other nation in Asean that has done this to its people; ask any economist.

“This ‘free ride’ system has destroyed the value system in the country and amongst us Malays primarily. Our young, and especially from the elite class, have very little understanding and appreciation of certain critical social values: honesty, integrity, fairness towards all, rejecting racism, the importance of hard work and respect for the public and common good.

“Far too many have a sense of entitlement based on race and religion. We have nurtured a generation who believe they are entitled and can be “rent-seekers” because the system will permit it.

“Too many have created wealth without having truly earned it. But we cannot blame them if we, as their leaders and elders, have created a system that spoon-feeds them and allows them to avoid competing with the best Malaysians - including non-Malays - and others.

“This system has thus also weakened our institutions from the civil service to GLCs, where there is no fair competition, meaning key institutions are dominated by Malays, and the best non-Malays are not given a fair chance.

“These weaknesses, which we have concealed for so long, are no longer sustainable in a post-Covid-19 world and in a 21st century where we will have to compete with the rising powers of Asean, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

“Our current race-based economic model is a recipe for disaster, socially and economically. It is sealing our fate, one that will leave us impoverished in more ways than one.

Racism should not be tolerated

“Lastly, we Malays as Muslims cannot and should not tolerate racism and worse still cannot be the architects and guardians of a racist system which exploits large segments of our own Muslim community whilst also inflicting injustice on our fellow citizens.

“To my non-Malay brothers and sisters, I would firstly like to apologise for some of my previous remarks and the wrongdoings of the last few decades, during which an affirmative action policy turned into institutional racism that allowed widespread rent-seeking and severely damaged the soul of the nation as basic values were trampled upon.

“They are unacceptable and wrong. I would like to ask you all for your support and to work with me and the government on this large-scale reform.

“I hope to set up an independent commission to investigate the grievances of the non-Malays with regards to the policies that I have termed institutionally racist. The commission will consult widely amongst all Malaysians but most clearly the non-Malays’ view on discrimination in their own country is critical.

“To non-Malays, I also would like you to tackle the issue of race-based politics and economic activity. Although you are the ones who have to confront the racist policies, you will be aware that there are those within their committees who have become partners in the racist ‘Ali-Baba’ system we are all too familiar with. I seek their help to dismantle it within their communities too.

“I will also be asking the Council of Rulers to set up a royal commission to look into how we can improve on the NEP so that it is no longer race-based.

“I believe we will need to replace it with a 21st-century version that treats all citizens equally and looks to make Malaysia a progressive and prosperous country, rather than one which is now considered a laughing stock of the world; is widely viewed as racist; and where the Malays are seen as an insecure race in their own country as global leaders in kleptocracy and corruption.

“I am also conscious that if we are to bring prosperity to our people we need to be seen as legitimate members of the ‘Keluarga Dunia’. How can we be that when we do not even treat our own citizens fairly and willfully discriminate against them on the basis of race?

“How can we call for supporting the Palestinians when some of our policies towards non-Malays are as bad as some of those used by Israel?

“It is not for us to point to injustices against Palestinians or racism towards blacks in the US when we have one of the world’s most blatant government-led racism towards non-Malay, non-Muslim citizens.

“There will come a time soon when the international community will shine a spotlight on us and our ugly racism and we should reform before that happens.

“Imagine Lewis Hamilton, who is sponsored by our national company Petronas, and who is a strong advocate of fighting racism, being questioned at a global forum about how he accepts sponsorship from the national oil company of a country that has one of the most institutionalised racist systems in the world.

“Apart from the embarrassment for the nation, there is the real possibility of global NGOs and the holier-than-thou Western nations boycotting or sanctioning us.

“How are Malaysian companies, especially GLCs, going to respond to increasing demands from investors to scrutinise their ESG policies when it is well known that their hiring practices are race-based? And Malaysian civil society may lead that effort.

“The government cannot afford to, as in the old days, arrest and silence them by invoking draconian measures like the ISA. Those days are over.

“We are better than this and need to change, not for fear of being bullied by others, but to come to terms with the brutal truth that when our majority bullies other races through the institutions of the state, we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction - morally, spiritually, socially and economically.”

*Chandran Nair is a businessman, author, activist and founder of independent think-tank The Global Institute for Tomorrow *