While surfing, I chanced across a Bernama report dated 7 December 2009, posted on the Malaysiakini website. The caption ‘Dasar 50% kuota bumiputra ditangguh’ looks interesting and contentious enough I thought, given the current political development in Malaysia. Contentious I thought because it touches on some basic issues like the continuing tension between ‘liberalization’ or free enterprise and the question of Malay rights.
According to the Bernama report, the implementation of the new housing policy in Kedah which stipulates 50% allocation for bumiputra had been put off until a new clearer guideline is issued. This move was prompted by protests from NGOs and political parties of various races over the issue of Malay reserve land being converted to freehold land. The general policy of raising the housing allocation for bumiputra from 30% to 50% was announced by the Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak, to be effective from 1 September 2008.
To my mind, merely deducing from the scanty facts in the Bernama report, the problem starts when the state government made a serious blunder. Thinking in terms of ethnic quotas in relation to land matters proves to be very problematic in Malaysia, given its history. Take for instance the matter of Malay reserve land. The Malay reserve land policy was formulated and implemented long before Independence, even longer before the New Economic Policy. Therefore it is really a political blunder for the PR state government to extend its hostility towards the NEP to the Malay reserve land policy, as if they are one and the same.
The Malay reserve land policy was promulgated between the British and the Malay States, even before the birth of independent Malaya or Malaysia. Hence to carry over their phobia of ethnic quota of the NEP into decisions over land matters, particularly of Malay reserve land, reflect either unconscious or conscious anti-Malay sentiments on their part or simply ignorance of history.
It is such characteristic blunder of PR that contributes to the murkiness of Malaysian politics today. Too much had been lumped under the boogey man ‘NEP’. Now the question of Malay reserve land had been laid at the door of ‘NEP’. They had taken it upon themselves to ‘correct’, ‘liberalize’, ‘democratize’, ‘reform’ or to ‘equalize’ the anomaly called Malay reserve land. In this way, all things ‘Malay’ can now be maligned under NEP. It is the same proclivity to over generalize and caricature on the part of PR that blames all ills of Malaysian society explicitly on UMNO and implicitly on the Malays. Obviously such trends are not conducive for the development of a democratic discourse in our political process.
It is to be expected that the new housing policy of the Kedah stated government would encounter problems. I wonder what would be some of the protests from the NGOs and the various political parties? The Malay position would find it difficult to endorse or support the proposed policy. From their point of view, why should Malay reserve land be converted to freehold with only a 50% allocation for them? Isn’t this giving up part of their land? Though in all probability the Malay reserve land had been compensated elsewhere, normally in a less valuable or desirable location, naturally they would resent the idea of giving up their claims on half of the converted land, especially when the land value had escalated in that particular area.
As for the non-Malay position, I suppose it would be the old continual resentment and protest against Malay rights and allocation, all of familiar ring to their resentment towards the NEP. I suppose in their understanding or expectation, it should be just like colonial times when the dichotomy was just that of either Malay reserve land or freehold, with the later free of any form of stipulation, especially in favor of the Malays.
Hence massaging the figure from the magic 30% of NEP to 50% would not really endear the state goverment to the people of Kedah, be it Malays or non-Malays.Many would simply see it as a sleight of hand to favour the other party against their own community.
One lesson I would draw from this episode on the new housing and land policy of the Kedah state government. It is not that easy to push aside or ignore the reality of the ethnic imperatives in our politics, given the history of the nation. Another lesson would be, politicians of both divide, be it the ruling party or the opposition, in all states, and at the national level, should never loose sight of our history and historical context when championing their cause.