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Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Supremacy): Power and the deep state in Malaysia Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Supremacy): Power and the deep state in Malaysia
by Murray Hunter
2019-08-14 07:53:20
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The three major components that make up what could be called a Malay deep state, the Islamic institutions, the Special Branch, and the monarchy were all discussed individually in previous articles. This article looks at the source of power for the so-called deep state; Ketuanan Melayu (or Malay supremacy). The Ketuanan Melayu narrative has enabled the embedded deep state to become the dominant political, social, and economic force in the country. This strong narrative is the primary tool the power elite has used to justify and cover their actions in pursing their covert objectives over national policy.

The deep state is a guileful legacy of colonial times. Prudently, the British built up the persona of the sultans as a buffer to thwart any potential revolt. Any political movement against the British would be construed as a revolt against the sultan. Further, the British knew that Malays would not challenge a ruler due to strong respect for their sovereign (Daulat) and the deific mystical aura the monarch was perceived to possess.

malaynat01_400Moving into the 20th Century, communist infiltration into the union movement, and the beginning of communist insurgency after WWII gave rise to the formation of Special Branch within the Malayan Union police force. Special Branch was Malayanized after independence and has ever since carried out a strong political agenda.

In 1969 the Alliance Government (forerunner to the Barisan Nasional) was returned to power with a greatly reduced majority. In a boiling political environment, racial riots soon erupted in what is known as the May 13 incident. After the riots Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman disappeared from day to day running of the country and eventually formally handed over power to Tun Abdul Razak.

Contradicting the official line that the May 13 incident was started by Chinese opposition and the Malaysian Communist Party, declassified British Embassy dispatches indicated that Malay political leaders from within UMNO had organized along with police and the army the May 13 incident as a coup d’état against Tunku Abdul Rahman for his perceived pro-Chinese stance. Not all documents relating to the May 13 riots have been, or are likely to be released by the Pakatan Harapan Government in the near future.  

Tun Abdul Razak developed a New Economic Policy (NEP) which was purportedly designed to enhance the economic position of Malays without disadvantaging other races. Rukunegara, similar to Indonesia’s Pancasila was promoted to encourage national unity among Malaysians, and the Barisan Nasional coalition government was formed with a spectrum of parties representing the major races in Malaysia.

Mahathir Mohamed, a Malay extremist politician who lost his parliamentary seat in 1969 to PMIP (the forerunner to PAS) wrote a provocative book The Malay Dilemma. Mahathir took up the old British narratives about the ‘lazy natives’ and argued the Malays’ non-confrontational approach to other races was dispossessing them of their own land. Thus, affirmative action is needed so the economy won’t be dominated by the Chinese.

Mahathir returned to UMNO politics in 1973. PAS became a fierce competitor for UMNO in the Malay heartlands. Article 153 of the Constitution guaranteeing special rights for the Malays (and other indigenous peoples) fueled a much stronger pro-Malay narrative, which became known as Ketuanan Melayu. 

The NEP drastically changed the nature of government policy and structure of the economy. State intervention to correct economic inequalities, regulation, license and permit restrictions, were introduced. State mercantilism on a massive scale was developed and the government became embedded within most aspects of the economy. Banks and agencies were utilized to dispense easy loans to Malays.

Although the NEP helped create a Malay middleclass, it also created a super-rich Malay elite. There were many other undesirable side effects.

An apartheid system was introduced into the civil service, eventually bloating it and making parts of it inefficient. With easy access to loans, Malays became risk adverse leading to many business failures and bankruptcies. Some industries became monopolies or duopolies with cronies yielding bumper profits. State enterprises in many cases were corrupt and inefficient and often competed directly with entrepreneurs and SMEs. Equity accumulation became more important than raising incomes, leaving many still in poverty. Licenses and permits fell into the hands of political cronies who rented them out to others for profit.

Cronyism and corruption became the norm throughout the country. The NEP ended up dividing the country even more and created a deep-seated resentment towards the Malays by other races.

After nearly 50 years of the NEP and its hybrids, distinct covert objectives can be observed.

The NEP has created a class based neo-feudal society. This has kept a small elite group in power. Even though there was a change in government last year, the small elite group still holds the reigns of power. A kleptocracy has been created, primarily based on rent seeking activities, rather than innovation. This has maximized return to monopolists but left a narrowly diverse, inefficient economy that needs urgent overhaul.

This has amassed great wealth to the elite where UMNO was reported to have over RM 100 Billion in assets alone. 

To achieve the above outcomes the government has reengineered society, relied on the politics of division, and created a culture of dependence.

The symbols within Malaysian society today reflect class and feudalism. Royal titles and VVIP rooms in government offices depict feudalistic class distinctions.

National narratives are shepherded by Malay ultra-nationalist groups to continually force capitulation of non-Malay groups in society. This is reinforced by nonsensical attacks on architecture that may resemble a cross on a building, the banning of non-alcoholic beer, the exclusive use of the word Allah for Muslims, and the banning of forums and books.

The Islamic renaissance in Malaysia has been associated with Arabism, so many Malays today appear so visually different than their non-Muslim peers in society.

Hantus or bogeymen have been created to unite Malays against others in what can be professed as hate politics. The narratives of pendatang, attacks on the Jews, the reaction against the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (ICERD), all served the purpose to create an aura that Malays are under attack.

A culture of dependency has been manufactured. This is based on the assumption that bumiputeras should be given continual help because Malaysia is their land. At election time politicians use this as a lever to seek gratitude from those in the Malay heartlands, where electoral malapportionment makes this the primary electoral battleground for power.

This has been soul destroying on Malay confidence to the benefit of the elite. Malays have been taught to fear, be dependent, and metaphorically wait for their savior. The culture of dependence is demeaning on self-esteem.  Politicians want to project themselves as saviors rather than enablers of society. This will be the psychic-battleground for the hearts and minds of voters next election.

The Malay persona of a peaceful village life, cooperation, self-sufficiency, living a within a rich Nusantara culture, where there is amenity towards others, once an integral part of self-identity, has been trampled on in favor of unemployment, lack of opportunity, drug abuse, and subservience. The middle-class is locked into debt and a conformity ridden lifestyle. There is still a large number of Malays living on bare means, totally ignored by the governing elite in Malaysia’s neo-feudal society.   

The mythical concept of Malay unity has been reframed to mean that any diverging opinions against the Malay agenda is a threat to unity. Arguing against Malay unity is viewed as disloyalty and even treason to one’s race. The mythology of Malay unity is keeping Malays within a psychic prison, stifling self-expression, self-confidence, and self-respect. Society has become super-sensitive to criticism where its now taboo to discuss many issues, even with a new government in power.

Ketuanan Melayu is still the philosophical basis of all policy making within government today. Members of the prominent elite like Tun Daim Zainuddin stand up from time to time to defend the need for maintaining the NEP, be it in some modified form.   

The narrative of Ketuanan Melayu is a fiction designed to keep its perpetrators in power. Those who benefit the most are the ones who shout out about the need for the NEP.

The history of Malaysia has been completely rewritten to suit the elite and preserve the feudal status quo. The British negotiated the Merdeka Constitution from Malaya with the Royals and elite of Malay society, while the voices of the Rakyat or people were totally glossed over. Massive national protests and a civil disobedience movement fought against the Merdeka Constitution. Opposition movements proposed a more egalitarian constitution, which was totally ignored by the Royals, Malay elite, and British. On 18th June 1948 the British rounded up protest leaders and held them without trial.  

Total de-classification of the May 13 documents would totally destroy the mythology the government created as the foundation of Ketuanan Melayu. There is a distinct possibility, if the British Embassy dispatches at the time are correct, that many of the elite, some still alive today, would be incriminated in instigating the incident. This is perhaps the real reason the Rome Statute ratification was sabotaged.

Today Malaysia is still chained to a feudal like society with a superrich elite at the top. The last election didn’t change that. Ignorance is the key to perpetuating the myths that are keeping Ketuanan Melayu in place, allowing the continuing plundering of the nation that has been going on since British times.

Malaysia is still colonized, just by a different group.  The different races making up Malaysia are kept divided to prevent true nationhood. This is the tragedy of Malaysia.

*This article was originally published in the Asia Sentinel

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