Mahathir Mohamad warns against marginalising Malays
Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has been accused of trouble-making, for saying Malays could be marginalised in their own land, unless they unite politically. Dr Mahathir, whose book, The Malay Dilemma, generated huge controversy 40 years ago, made the speech in the Muslim-dominated state of Trengganu. Civil society groups have accused Dr Mahathir of being provocative, as race and religion are sensitive topics in the multi-racial nation. However, one of Dr Mahathir's former colleagues has jumped to his defence.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speakers: Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, former Malaysian Information minister and former senior office holder in the ruling UMNO party.
FADZIR: There is definitely a debate in Malaysia about the position of the Malays and Bumiputras in general, in comparison with the economic status of the Chinese especially. Now, they know that everybody agrees that there is definitely a gap an economic and social gap between the two major races in Malaysia. And we agreed a long, long time ago that this gap must be brought down closer, otherwise it is a recipe for disaster. In any society, if there is one race who is very much left behind and another race is so much advanced, it is a situation for trouble.
LAM: Malaysia has had over 40 years of pro-Bumiputra, pro-Malay policies. Why do you think that gap still exists?
FADZIR: Yeah, because obviously somehow or other, the policy of closing the gap which was supported by all the races, slowly it got hijacked.
LAM: Hijacked by whom?
FADZIR: Yeah, hijacked.
LAM: Hijacked by whom?
FADZIR: Well by various people, so instead of helping the Malay masses to come up, you know, it became a policy of just entertaining a small group of elite.
LAM: So you're saying that a small group of elite leaders benefitted from the new economic policy, that it did not filter down to the Malay community?
FADZIR: That's right, that's right. If it is a question of just helping the masses, the masses who are left behind, who are poor, I think that everybody supports, the Chinese do support, everybody supports, there is no quarrel about that.
LAM; The rally was called Melayu Bangkit, or Malay Awakening. Some people would say that is quite a provocative title. Do you think Dr Mahathir was irresponsible in addressing a rally that is obviously attended by hard core Malay nationalists?
FADZIR: Not necessarily, because they were also members of the ruling party who attended the meeting.
LAM: This is the ruling UMNO Party?
FADZIR: Yes, and some of them are quite moderate.
LAM: But many of the people who attended were from this group called Gertak - this is the umbrella group for 45 Malay NGOs and Malay Nationalist groups?
FADZIR: Well I don't know, but from what I understand from the various debates going on, people just want to go back to the policy which was launched by Tun Abdul Razak a long time ago, when he launched the new economic policy, that's to help the Malay masses, the poor Malay masses to come out, to close the gap.
LAM: How different was Tun Razak's policy from present day policy and I might remind our listeners that Tun Razak was the father of the current prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak?
FADZIR: Yes, I think .. er well, you know, when Tun Razak launched that policy, there was very deep study before the policy was launched. And he got in everybody, all the races in this study and he ultimately, when it was launched, he had the support of everybody, including the Chinese Opposition Party. Eradicating poverty amongst all races. But when it was implemented, unfortunately, we left behind the poor amongst the Chinese and the Indians, especially the Indians. Even the policy of helping the Malay masses was slowly replaced by helping, just promoting a small group of Malay elite.
LAM: There has been a push by non-Malays in recent years, for more rights and better treatment. Do you think that some sections of the Malay community might feel threatened by it - that this group, Gertak, the umbrella group for Malay activists, that they might feel that it is time for them to seize back more Malay rights, rather than grant the non-Bumi population more rights?
FADZIR: It is quite obviously in Malaysia to everybody, the Chinese have done very, very well. But they did very well because they are prepared to work very, very hard, they are prepared to spend wisely and they are very capable, so they have a right to be rich. So even on their side, they should be more muted in terms of clamouring for more, because naturally, we are in a democracy, there's bound to be some noise and turmoil of democracy and obviously there is some reaction from some Malays.