In a previous discussion on Malaysia’s ethnic politics, I was surprised (and dismayed) to sense the depth of dejection some ethnic Chinese in Malaysia may feel toward the political situation in Malaysia. There however may be hope.
An article in the New York Times today discussed how Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is leading a campaign that promises to expand democracy in the country and to end various privileges reserved for ethnic Malays that have in part caused so much ethnic tensions in Malaysia.
Here is a quote of the New York Times article:
[Anwar Ibrahim] promises to repeal Malaysia’s toughest laws that give the government the power to detain opponents without trial, ban unauthorized protests, bar students from participating in politics and keep the news media in line by requiring newspapers and magazines to apply for annual publishing permits.
He would also free all “political prisoners.”
Perhaps most explosive, he said he would end many special privileges for his own ethnic group, the Malays, who are given a variety of advantages, including discounts on houses, exclusive rights to government contracts and a reserved quota of stock-market shares. The privileges have angered the country’s two other main ethnic groups: Malaysian citizens of Chinese and Indian descent.
It was that anger, directed at the ethnically mixed governing coalition, that helped the opposition win just under half the popular vote, by far the best showing for the opposition since independence.
Mr. Anwar contends, and many experts agree, that most of the special privileges are enjoyed by a minority of Malays connected to the governing party. Still, it remains to be seen whether Malays will accept Mr. Anwar’s proposal of policies based on need, not ethnicity. Ethnic tensions have flared in the past, notably in 1969 when at least 200 people were killed in race-related violence.
Mr. Khairy of the governing party argues that Mr. Anwar is moving too fast by proposing to scrap the country’s harshest laws: Malaysia needs them to guard against ethnic strife, he said in an interview.
“We are a maturing democracy,” Mr. Khairy said. “These issues, to me, still need a lot of debate. We need to continue the way the Abdullah administration has done it, which is to reform gradually.”
I’ve been “bad mouthing” democracy in the last couple of weeks… Now I find this.
Is democracy the solution to Malaysia’s ethnic problems? Is light genuinely at the end of the tunnel for Malaysia’s ethnic strife?
[Editorial follow up: the washingtonpost also has a similar story touching on the role Malaysia’s affirmative action system has played in fomenting ethnic discord]