Thursday, 5 March 2009

Of 5Cs and 3Ds...O-Levels?

The title looks like it may well have been the O-Levels result of our soon to be ex-Prime Minister (notwithstanding new efforts to try get him to here?) who is not known for his academic brilliance. Many may even say it is what his "report card" as Prime Minister would look like. Anyway, this post is not about him per se, it is about something that blew in from across the causeway. This article which I found in the Malaysian Insider is from the Straits Times Singapore and I think Malaysians must read it.

Of divine majesty, disloyalty and Darwin

MARCH 4 – While the Malays in Singapore may be chasing the 5Cs, their counterparts in Malaysia have been trapped between the 2Ds – daulat (divine majesty) and derhaka (disloyalty).
These terms refer to the patrimonial relationship between ruler and ruled. Traditionally, one challenged any of the country’s nine sultans at one’s peril.

Once so inseparable were ruler and ruled that anyone who went against a Malay ruler was deemed to have taken on the entire Malay community.

But the now-widespread outrage among Malays against the Perak Sultan’s recent assent to the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition taking back power in the state signals clearly that they are finally breaking free of that culture of subservience.

After all, the 2Ds are valid only as long as ruler and ruling elites protect and secure the future of the ruled.
Indeed, some say the Malays have embraced a third D – Darwinism – because they now see that this is a world in which only the fittest survive.

As sociologist Syed Husin Ali told The Straits Times: “We are in fact at the beginning of a major psychological change among the Malays.”

The deputy president of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat is also the author of “The Malays: Their Problems And Future”.

Some Malays, chiefly the Umno youth wing, accuse opposition leaders of lese majeste in challenging the Perak Sultan’s wisdom. They remind all that this year is the 40th anniversary of May 13, 1969, when the country’s most savage race riots broke out. But this time, they have not mustered support among the masses.

For so long, Malaysia’s Malays have framed themselves as a community wronged by British colonialists who, since the early 1800s, had let in hordes of Chinese and Indians to fuel economic growth, while curtailing Malay potential by confining them to rural pursuits and dissuading them from education.

Yet, barring the odd bloodletting – like when Malays killed Perak’s British Resident James Birch in 1875 for insulting the sultan by sheltering his slave girls – the Malays did not rise up against the British. They were held off from doing so by their rulers who, in turn, were browbeaten by the British to keep their subjects in check.

As human rights advocate Chandra Muzaffar once observed, the Malay patrimonial model demands a Malay’s overwhelming diffidence to his ruler, devaluation of one’s worth, and submission to the monarch’s will. Thus did the British exploit that to their own advantage.

But who is exploiting it today? And do the Malays today still feel that the non-Malays have wronged them? The answers to both these questions are as disquieting as they are embarrassing.
Since independence in 1957, the sultans have been increasingly displaced by an emerging elite class, led and shaped by Umno. It culminated in the elites stripping them of legal immunity in 1993.

Further down the social ladder, the rash of Malay migrations from country to town from the mid-1970s, in search of jobs, created a thick social layer of middle-class Malays who vacillate between sticking with the 2Ds and going with the 5Cs that have given their Singaporean brethren a better life.

Thirty years of affirmative action have resulted in large numbers of them competing for a slice of a pie that has not grown enough as the same race-based policy keeps some serious investors away.

Then there is a very wealthy upper class. As Dr Syed Husin says, Malaysia’s Registry of Companies reveals that a handful of retired public servants and politicians “almost monopolise” most company directorships today.

Of the 1,526 Malay company directors, 45 or 3 per cent of them own half the shares of all registered Malay directors. Most of the 45 were in politics or public service previously and their individual holdings are each worth RM7 million (S$2.9 million) or more.

Meanwhile, more than 100,000 Malay graduates with a poor command of English are unemployed. Then there are many Malays who are on drugs, with most resorting to crime to fund that addiction.

They have now all learnt that it is less a case of waiting for Allah to help them – a Malay is necessarily a Muslim, according to Malaysia’s Constitution – and more one of helping themselves, which is precisely what their richer brethren have been doing.
How many Malay tycoons today had had dirt-poor beginnings compared to their ilk in China, India or the West? More often than not, a Malay bigwig has either been born into the upper class or is otherwise favoured by it.

As Dr Syed Husin puts it: “People tend to be controlled too much in their early days in institutions. When they grow up and get out of these institutions, they tend to rebel against them because they now distrust the system.”

Malaysia’s Malays may be late to the lesson of self-reliance. But better late than never. – The Straits Times

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