Ketuanan Melayu: False premise and promise
Ketuanan Melayu: False premise and promise
M Bakri Musa – Jul 5
|||||| M BAKRI MUSA is a surgeon in Silicon Valley, California and
the author of The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia.
His views on Malaysia can be stated thus: Ours is a diverse nation; we can
accept and celebrate this reality or by default, it becomes a liability.
Malay leaders are again selling to their followers a bill of goods with the
doctrine of Ketuanan Melayu (Malay hegemony). These leaders delude themselves
and the masses into thinking that we Malays have been anointed Tuan (master) of
Malaysia, with all the implied glories and privileges.
Both the premise and promise of Ketuanan Melayu are false. The sooner Malays
grasp this stark reality, the better it is for us and for all Malaysians, as
well as for the nation. In this competitive world, you work to be a Tuan; you
must earn it! In feudal societies, whether you are fated to be master or
servant is determined at birth by your heritage.
Malaysia has long passed that stage though many are still entrapped in the
feudal mindset.Yes, our sultans are born to be so.
Perhaps that is where we acquire the belief that we too could be born Tuan
purely based on our heritage. False! Nowhere is it so written. Our sultans
could easily be reduced to the status of the Sultan of Sulu, as has happened
during the deprivation of World War II. It did not take long for our rajas to
behave as ordinary mortals then, joining their fellow villagers in scrounging
for food. There was nothing regal about your sultanah wrapped in a wet, cheap
sarong panning for fish in the rivers, like all the other poor villagers.
If that could happen to our sultans in the past, it could happen again. And if
it could happen to our sultans, it could happen to the ordinary rakyat. The
only sure path to spare us from such a fate is to ensure that we are
competitive and can contribute our share.
‘De jure’ Tuan vs ‘de facto’ Tuan
In our obsession to be Tuan, we have never learned or refused to learn what it
would take to be one. We convinced ourselves that we are Tuans simply through
the operation of the law, a social contract agreed upon by our earlier leaders,
or through the will of Allah.
While Malays fantasise being de jure (by operation of law) Tuan, non-Malays,
through their hard work, have become de facto (as a matter of fact) Tuans in
Malaysia. Outside of government offices, this is the harsh reality.
Through Ketuanan Melayu, Malays are led to believe that the world would be at
our beck and call. We use the constitution to confidently decree that our
culture, language, and norms be supreme. When the world ignores our command, we
become even shriller in impressing upon them our status as Tuan.
Increasingly, it is not just the greater world beyond that is ignoring us; our
own little world is contemptuous of our status. Malay may be the national
language, but Education Minister Hishamuddin Hussein is inundated with
applications from Malaysians wishing to enroll their children in international
schools where the language is other than Malay. Hishamuddin, of course, sends
his daughter abroad. Rest assured, they do not teach Malay there.
Malaysians may speak Malay but it is the debased (rojak) version. That is a
reflection of utter contempt for the language, and not just by non-Malays.
Malay may be the language of the land, but when I visit Malaysia I have
difficulty finding books in Malay. Malay media capture only a tiny portion of
the advertising ringgit, again a reflection of the markets valuation of the
language. As for Malay schools, now elevated as national schools, even Malays
are abandoning them.
More destructively, this collective delusion in our destiny to be Tuan
encourages a variety of non-productive behaviours. We have leaders content only
with endless speech-making rather than bucking down to hard work; university
vice-chancellors who debase their titles with their singular lack of scholarly
contributions; and civil servants who act as mini-sultans (or Little Napoleons,
in the prime ministers words) of their departments. Executives of GLCs engage
in nothing more than rent-seeking behaviours, despite their hallowed titles as
chairman, CEO, and investment banker.
Such are the meaningless consequences of the empty promises of Ketuanan Melayu.
It is a cruel hoax perpetrated upon our people by our very own leaders.
Ketuanan Melayu is premised upon false foundations. Tanah Melayu (Land of the
Malays) or not, Malays are not ordained to be Tuan, in our own land or
elsewhere. On the other hand, if Malays were competitive, rest assured that we
would then be Tuans even in lands other than Tanah Melayu.
In my forthcoming book, Towards A Competitive Malaysia, I outlined a strategy
for enhancing Malaysian, in particular Malay, competitiveness by focusing on
four basic elements: leadership, people, culture, and geography. They make up
my ‘Diamond of Development’, with each element forming one angle of the
diamond. Each element is being influenced by, and in turn, influences the other
three. When all four are favourable, they create a virtuous cycle, with each
synergistically reinforcing the other three. Conversely when all elements are
negative, there would be a rapid downward spiral.
Good citizens would insist on good leadership, and good leaders in turn invest
in their people. Saddam Hussein would never have a chance being elected
dogcatcher in America, and his sadism in turn has rubbed off on the Iraqi
Sophisticated leaders and citizens in turn would demand effective
institutions (an element of culture). With good leadership and institutions,
former poor fishing villages could become exclusive tourist resorts giving work
to local citizens and boosting the nations economy, as we see with Cancun,
With corrupt leaders and institutions, even sand could be made scarce in
Malaysia has over 100 inches of rain annually but its taps frequently run dry.
Las Vegas, in the desert, sports swimming pools and fountains. Again,
leadership and institutions make the difference.
Enhancing the quality of our people (human capital) require that they be
healthy and be educated and trained. Health has less to do with expenditures on
hospitals, doctors and modern medicine and more on such civil engineering
marvels as central sewer and water treatment plants, affordable housing, and
even availability of electricity (through better food refrigeration). Even
education leads to better health, but a good education system is necessary for
economic development. That the present system is wanting is obvious.
All these would be for naught if Malaysians were in conflict with one another.
For any society, more so if it is a plural one, peace and harmony is a
prerequisite for economic development. It is for this reason that I am alarmed
at the increasing fragmentation of Malaysians and the deepening polarisation
The special privileges of the NEP (New Economic Policy) should be used to
enhance the competitiveness of bumiputeras, not to narcotise us with the
delusion of Ketuanan Melayu. Before his elegant silence, Prime Minister
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi spoke bravely of the ‘The New Malay Dilemma’, of weaning
Malays of the special privilege crutches.
Characteristically, he recoiled at the first hint of resistance, he could not
handle the keris-brandishing Umno Youth leaders intent on having their regular
special privileges fix.
We delude only ourselves if we think we can use the constitution, heritage, or
some imagined social contract to make us Tuan. Malays have to disabuse
ourselves of the false premise and promise of Ketuanan Melayu.
The writer is completing his latest book, Arahan Baru Bangsa Melayu (A New
Direction for Malays).