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Bumiputera agenda, Malay agenda … BUT what we need – an agenda for all poor Malaysians

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What sort of message to a nation endowed richly with racial and religious difference, is the PM and his government sending to all Malaysians, wonders Patricia Martinez.

Photograph: thesundaily.my
Photograph: thesundaily.my

I resisted posting earlier on this New Bumputera Agenda from Najib, to replace the NEP, which morphed into the NDP and now is back under a different title.

I wanted to think carefully about it, in terms of what I feel and believe for our nation. Here is the gist of my reflections:

1. I am not sure why the critical coverage by most media and reactions is about how Najib’s image as a reformer will be dented, especially abroad. Perhaps speaking outright about race is dangerous again or still. But, more importantly, we must speak up. Not to reject anything positive wholesale, but to ask critical questions.

2. I do think Najib lost credibility a long a while ago anyway, especially with his own people, Malaysians, not just Malays

3 I have stated this over the years: although very young but into reading newspapers and politics (I remember asking my father what ‘rape’ was and he almost fell of his chair), I remember that:

I supported the NEP. I come from a rural area in Perak. I was conscious even as a child: Malays were poor. And I supported the NEP because it had two prongs, the second one: eradication of poverty irrespective of race. That’s not been “addressed”, has it?

The abject poverty of Indians on estates (I was raised on one for part of my life) appalled me, even though we were isolated in a lovely bungalow on the estate. My parents made sure we saw how “the labourers'” children live.

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I have been to Sabah and Sarawak a number of times for over 20 years. I don’t see ‘quaint culture’ and ‘natives’: I see people who have little voice and many so desperately poor and innocent that they are grateful just for paltry handouts once in five years.

4. But abuses, warts and all, the NEP has given us an educated, solid Malay middle class. That is justice. That ensures ethnic peace (although more and more Malaysians know, despite Umno/ Tanda Putera’s best efforts, it wasn’t so much about poor Malays revolting. As the archival papers published by Kua Kia Soong and others who have written about May 13 1969 show, it was more about a weak and disenfranchised government after the elections taking steps to secure power – whatever way that meant.

5. So, with all of this as context, why is this new sweeping policy for Malays only? Let’s be honest: the word “bumiputera” is being invoked, but it is about helping Malays: like the NEP, the bumiputera natives of Sabah and Sarawak will ultimately get little.

As a retired Statistics Department senior officer told me, whenever they want to talk about poverty, they use the word “bumiputera” to include the poverty statistics of the native Sabahans and Sarawakians. Whenever they want to talk about supremacy, elitism, difference …. they talk about Malays.

6. But it cannot be denied: there are still poor Malays. But also poor bumiputera natives. And poor Indians. And poor Chinese. And poor Lain Lain in the tourist trap called the Portuguese settlement.

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There are now generations of young Malaysians who have not experienced affirmative action, but discrimination to effect affirmative action against them – depriving many of all of their right to a good university education … the best way upwards and out of poverty.

And there is also that common term, “Umnoputras” who have benefitted from the abuses of the NEP.

6. So why this non-inclusive ‘Agenda’ now? UMNO GA coming up?

7. Has the indifference to us all in our beloved nation reached abusive levels, just to hold on to power?

Malaysia Day has just passed.

What sort of message to a nation endowed richly with racial and religious difference, is the PM and his government sending to all Malaysians?

Dr Patricia Martinez is a scholar based in the Klang Valley.

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