Read here Malaysiakini's posting on John Malott's article
The Price of Malaysia's Racism
(Slower growth and a drain of talented citizens are only the beginning.)
(posted on Wall Street Journal on 7 February 2011)
JOHN R. MALOTT
(Mr. Malott was the U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia, 1995-1998.)
Malaysia's national tourism agency promotes the country as "a bubbling, bustling melting pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony."
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak echoed this view when he announced his government's theme, One Malaysia.
"What makes Malaysia unique," Mr. Najib said, "is the diversity of our peoples. One Malaysia's goal is to preserve and enhance this unity in diversity, which has always been our strength and remains our best hope for the future."
If Mr. Najib is serious about achieving that goal, a long look in the mirror might be in order first. Despite the government's new catchphrase, racial and religious tensions are higher today than when Mr. Najib took office in 2009.
Indeed, they are worse than at any time since 1969, when at least 200 people died in racial clashes between the majority Malay and minority Chinese communities. The recent deterioration is due to the troubling fact that the country's leadership is tolerating, and in some cases provoking, ethnic factionalism through words and actions.
For instance, when the Catholic archbishop of Kuala Lumpur invited the prime minister for a Christmas Day open house last December, Hardev Kaur, an aide to Mr. Najib, said Christian crosses would have to be removed. There could be no carols or prayers, so as not to offend the prime minister, who is Muslim. Ms. Kaur later insisted that she "had made it clear that it was a request and not an instruction," as if any Malaysian could say no to a request from the prime minister's office.
Similar examples of insensitivity abound.
In September 2009, Minister of Home Affairs Hishammuddin Onn met with protesters who had carried the decapitated head of a cow, a sacred animal in the Hindu religion, to an Indian temple. Mr. Hishammuddin then held a press conference defending their actions.
Two months later, Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told Parliament that one reason Malaysia's armed forces are overwhelmingly Malay is that other ethnic groups have a "low spirit of patriotism." Under public pressure, he later apologized.
The leading Malay language newspaper, Utusan Melayu, prints what opposition leader Lim Kit Siang calls a daily staple of falsehoods that stoke racial hatred. Utusan, which is owned by Mr. Najib's political party, has claimed that the opposition would make Malaysia a colony of China and abolish the Malay monarchy. It regularly attacks Chinese Malaysian politicians, and even suggested that one of them, parliamentarian Teresa Kok, should be killed.
Ethnic Indian Malaysians protesting in 2007.
This steady erosion of tolerance is more than a political challenge. It's an economic problem as well.
Once one of the developing world's stars, Malaysia's economy has underperformed for the past decade.
To meet its much-vaunted goal of becoming a developed nation by 2020, Malaysia needs to grow by 8% per year during this decade. That level of growth will require major private investment from both domestic and foreign sources, upgraded human skills, and significant economic reform.
Worsening racial and religious tensions stand in the way.
Almost 500,000 Malaysians left the country between 2007 and 2009, more than doubling the number of Malaysian professionals who live overseas. It appears that most were skilled ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians, tired of being treated as second-class citizens in their own country and denied the opportunity to compete on a level playing field, whether in education, business, or government.
Many of these emigrants, as well as the many Malaysian students who study overseas and never return (again, most of whom are ethnic Chinese and Indian), have the business, engineering, and scientific skills that Malaysia needs for its future. They also have the cultural and linguistic savvy to enhance Malaysia's economic ties with Asia's two biggest growing markets, China and India.
Of course, one could argue that discrimination isn't new for these Chinese and Indians. Malaysia's affirmative action policies for its Malay majority—which give them preference in everything from stock allocation to housing discounts—have been in place for decades.
So what is driving the ethnic minorities away now?
First, these minorities increasingly feel that they have lost a voice in their own government. The Chinese and Indian political parties in the ruling coalition are supposed to protect the interests of their communities, but over the past few years, they have been neutered. They stand largely silent in the face of the growing racial insults hurled by their Malay political partners.
Today over 90% of the civil service, police, military, university lecturers, and overseas diplomatic staff are Malay.
Even TalentCorp, the government agency created in 2010 that is supposed to encourage overseas Malaysians to return home, is headed by a Malay, with an all-Malay Board of Trustees.
Second, economic reform and adjustments to the government's affirmative action policies are on hold.
Although Mr. Najib held out the hope of change a year ago with his New Economic Model, which promised an "inclusive" affirmative action policy that would be, in Mr. Najib's words, "market friendly, merit-based, transparent and needs-based," he has failed to follow through. This is because of opposition from right-wing militant Malay groups such as Perkasa, which believe that a move towards meritocracy and transparency threatens what they call "Malay rights."
But stalling reform will mean a further loss in competitiveness and slower growth. It also means that the cronyism and no-bid contracts that favor the well-connected will continue.
All this sends a discouraging signal to many young Malaysians that no matter how hard they study or work, they will have a hard time getting ahead.
Mr. Najib may not actually believe much of the rhetoric emanating from his party and his government's officers, but he tolerates it because he needs to shore up his Malay base. It's politically convenient at a time when his party faces its most serious opposition challenge in recent memory—and especially when the opposition is challenging the government on ethnic policy and its economic consequences.
One young opposition leader, parliamentarian Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, has proposed a national debate on what she called the alternative visions of Malaysia's future—whether it should be a Malay nation or a Malaysian nation.
For that, she earned the wrath of Perkasa; the government suggested her remark was "seditious."
Malaysia's government might find it politically expedient to stir the racial and religious pot, but its opportunism comes with an ECONOMIC price tag.
Its citizens will continue to vote with their feet and take their money and talents with them.
And foreign investors, concerned about racial instability and the absence of meaningful economic reform, will continue to look elsewhere to do business.
(Mr. Malott was the U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia, 1995-1998.)
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Read here for more in Malaysiakini and Malaysia-Today
- Only a 100 Malay NGO's shouted that no Indain Malaysian political leader will be supported in the future elections. After Mallot's write up, I guess all the Malay NGOs are going to scream and shout at US Embassy soon. Mr Malott, it was pleasant to read your truthful article than by one obscure professor from an obscure university at LA. You have lived here and knew the ground truth than that money-can-buy author who sells falsehood without any fundamental knowledge. Hope your article does some change in the hearts of many who care for all races to live in this land of milk and honey.
- The adverse publicity that this article will garner is bad for our FDIs. The article was published in today's Wall Street Journal , which is the staple global business newspaper. I bet you that almost all Fortune 500 CEOs and Asian/European CEOs will be reading this article. So will countless bankers, equity managers and decision makers around the world. The Wall Street Journal is also translated into other languages. So Malaysia will known globally as a COUNTRY THAT PRACTISES RACISM. Thats the unfortunate label that will stick in the minds of global leaders. MALAYSIA=RACISM. Lets thank Perkasa , Utusan Malaysia and our leaders for this great accolade.And from now on, any attempt to attract FDIs would be a joke.
- One of the best pieces to appear in MalaysiaKini in recent months - factual and succinct. This frank and fearless commentary by an ex-diplomat adequately sums up the frustration of peace-loving Malaysians to the present chaotic and hopeless state of affairs in the country where a right becomes a wrong and vice versa. It should serve as a handy dossier for the people, already fed up to the core, in the coming general elections.
- The US political mirror may have its cracks but the Malaysian one is a total farce. Full of lies to mislead the world into believing that Malaysia is a model Muslim democracy that promotes tolerance and fairness to all of its races and religions. Instead what we have is the most entrenched and systemic form of racism and intolerance that is now further augmented by religious bigotry never before seen in any other part of the world since the demise of the Nazis in Germany and the Apartheid regime in South Africa. To compound this terminal decline, we have a state where all the institutions of government, the press and even civil society have been compromised, corrupted and destroyed to the point of rendering our alleged democracy a sham. The only people happy in Malaysia at present are the ruling elite and their cronies.
- Spot on,Mr.John Malott and thank you for speaking out frankly and sharing your keen observations on the happenings in Malaysia.Now malaysians also have the name of that scumbag PM aide, known as Hardev Kaur, who instructed for crucifixes and christian symbols be taken down during Christmas, before the 1Malaysia PM Najib arrived for the Christmas function organised by CFM. Let me ask you a question Hardev Kaur,how would you like, if an instruction is given to the Sikhs,during their holy day celebration,to take down all their symbols,before the 1Malaysia PM arrived.Dont sell your soul to the devil for the few miserable pieces of silver,it is not worth it Hardev Kaur, and you owe all Christians in Malaysia an apology..
- What John Mallot said is nothing new as we all knew about it. Of course what John said has greater impact than a combine of us said together. I suppose Najib blue eye boy who is now Malaysia's ambassador to US must be jumping up and now on what John Mallot said. I suppose after serving as US ambassador for several years, he too came to love this country. He must be frustrated to see the country with rich resources and large number of education citizen go to waste which could otherwise a force to be reckon. Look at Singapore they share common history with us andhaving the same multi racial citizen. But they have nothing in term of natural resources. They don't have enough land mass. But in spite of that they miles ahead of us. Why? One choose the merit approach while the other race approach.
- I think most right-thinking Malaysians will echo John Mallot's sentiments, obviously based on his experience as Ambassador here. Unfortunately, things have deteriorated further since his tenure in Kuala Lumpur ended. As many others have commented, we can now expect the Perkasa goons to be out on the streets on Friday with their silly banners and ranting like mad things. Should make for some entertainment!
- Malott (ex-US ambassador) knows what he is talking about as he had first hand knowledge of the situation in Malaysia. The world now knows the extent of "racism' in BN/Umno and the hollow 1Malaysia con slogan. Although MCA/Gerakan/MIC knows about it, they still play along for their own narrow interests. Only hope is a 2 party system and say no to racism! Go for change!
- Tomorrow the American embassy will be VERY busy with hooligans from Perkosa, nit wit DUMNO clowns, BN dungu's all bringing down hell on them and burning effigy's an all. Lets all go and watch this fun. Its very rare we get these kinda of clowns in the act! Our festivals and cracker burnings are a norm, but these shows you seldom get to see.
- In the BTN course , it is taught (as revealed by some Malay participants) that the non Malays in Malaysia is robbing the Malays. That being the case , I do not believe that the Talent Corp.'s objective is to coax non Malay Malaysians to return home. Their target is the MALAY disapora.
- It is a national shame for the country when former Ambassadors like John Malot and other foreign analysts seem to have a better grasp of the real economic and political situations of our Nation and put it up openly in a most succinct manner.. Yes, if what is ongoing now is to continue, then not only John Malot but many discerning Malaysians could also clearly expect what this once good and fair nation would become in future. No one in his right mind can argue what he had said here is untrue. He had said it factually and in a very concerned way. After so many years, only sincere friends of this country would continue to do what he had done and is still doing, voicing out his frank and valued opinions on a personal level.
- Umno’s reply will be “Why cares what other people say. We are the master of our own country.” There seems to be a clear motive to ensure the country is populated with Malays only, and this overrides the economic price.