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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 16, July 12, 1976.

The Malay Dilemma

page 9

The Malay Dilemma

The Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir and his Book the Malay Dilemma'

Said Hussein Onn:

"have made my choice and can only pray and hope that the choice is a correct one and that he (Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad) will he accepted and supported by the country generally" — Far Eastern Economic Review, 19th March, 1976.

This was an irresponsible statement made by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Hussein Onn, after the announcement of his new cabinet on 5 March, 1976. His selection of Dr Mahathir as his Deputy is not made on the basis of unanimous support of his people but on a personal choice which he hopes that with prayers things will turn out well.

Dr. Mahathir, who is a medical practitioner with a middle class background, has not only retained his former position, Minister of Education, but has also been promoted to Deputy Prime Minister.

This decision was made in the last few minutes prior to the announcement The former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ghafar Baba, the most senior vice-president of UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) after Hussein Onn, has quietly left the government after losing to Dr. Mahathir this high-ranking prestigious position.

This unexpected change of power - Dr. Mahathir as the Deputy Prime Minister - shocked the people because he has been publicily recognised as an extreme racist figure.

His blatant and unashamed racist stance is clearly indicated in his spurious and disruptive book "The Malay Dilemma" which is now banned in Malaysia. Dr. Mahathir belongs to a group whose ideology is, to put it in a word, "racialism." He would definitely prefer kicking out the MCA (Malayan Chinese Association) and MIC (Malayan Indian Congress) as well from UMNO so that a few Malays who are selfishly concerned with only their own power and wealth could monopolise the complete "political market" in Malaysia (refer The May 13 Incident" by Tunku Abdul Raman, former Prime Minister of Malaysia).

A Resume of Dr. Mahathir

1.He was born on the 20th December 1925 in Alor Star, State of Kedah, Malaya.
2.He had his Malay primary education in Province Wellesley and completed his secondary school in Sultan Abdul Hamid College.
3.After obtaining his medical degree from the Singapore University, he started his career as an UMNO doctor in Perlis and Kedah.
4.In 1964 he was the parliamentary member of the Kota Sitaman region
5.In 1969, he lost his seat to a member of Pan Malay Islamic Party (PMIP) and in the same year was expelled from UMNO by Tunku Abdul Raman for his misbehaviour" in criticizing the Tunku over the communal riots in May 13, 1969.
6.1972 - He was recruited again into UMNO by the late Prime Minister, Razak, and was then elected as one of the highest executive committee members of UMNO
7.1973 - He was appointed a member in the Upper House and also the president of Malaysia's Food Industrialized Limited Corporation.
8.1974 - He was the Minister of Education. During his appointment, the University and University Colleges Act (1971) was amended to the U & UC ( Amendment) Act 1975 which is purposely designed to strengthen government control over the universities and colleges and to suppress student activities. The amendment came out immediately after the mass demonstration in Baling and other places. The students united with the peasants and workers and demanded that the government take immediate action to alleviate the difficulties of the majority of poor people. This hunger strike occurred in December 1974. Of course, the "Tasek Utara and Student Demonstration" in Johore Bahru too contributed to this oppressive amendment. Students demanded the government for a just solution to the landless and homeless squatters and in reply the government introduced stringent and oppressive laws to deter them from further articulation and action.
9.1975 - He became the Vice-president of UMNO.
10.1976 - He is the Minister of Education and Deputy Prime Minister.

His Notorious Book "The Malay Dilemma"

"......Deep within them (The Malays) there is a conviction that no matter what they decide or do, things will continue to slip from their control: that slowly hut surety they are becoming the dispossessed in their own land. This is the Malay Dilemma."

Photo of Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysian Prime Minister

......Quotation from Dr Mahathir.

This statement is dangerously provocative, perhaps intended to be so by the writer. To whose hands has the Malays' lion share slipped into? To the majority of the Chinese? This is obviously not the case simply because a large majority of Chinese just like their non-Chinese counterparts are poor, "....that there are among them (Chinese) workers and peasants who are as badly off as the poor Malays......even among the Malays..... there are those who act as businessmen and even money-lenders and who also take advantage of their own kind through various type of usurious practices..." [S. Hussein Ali : Malay Peasant Society and Leadership, 1975

All "Majorities" in Malaysia are in the same position of poverty. Dr Mahathir, in this book published in Singapore 1970 analysed the root cause of the May incident which exploded in 1969, from an extremely biased racist viewpoint which should be strongly opposed and criticized severely by all Malaysians because racialism is not the solution to a plural society like Malaysia. It can only serve to stir up racial strife in an otherwise racially harmonious society where different races co-exist to build up a strong nationally united Malaysian people. He emphasised that "........ If race differentiates citizens, then there must also be race loyalty. Racial loyalty must involve privileges for one's race and denial of rights to others. Under these conditions each member of a race must be instictively guided by considerations of profit and loss for himself. It follows that the more the privileges of a given race the greater the gain for the individual member. Each member must therefore seek to enhance the position of his race so that he himself may gain in the long run...." His analysis founded on the above racist assumption undoubtedly cannot be a class-contradictory analysis.

Dr Mahathir should have realised that the present state of the Malays was created by the British Empire under the "divide and rule" policy so that the people in Malaysia could never be united and consequently the rich resources could be made easily accessible and the "cheap" labour could be ruthlessly exploited.

Our economic function has never been directed to develop our own country. Malaysia is only a 'raw-materials supplier' and is regarded as an valuable market for the expanding industries of the 'parent' countries. Our neo-colonial economy is structured by the colonists particularly the Anglo-American and the Japanese. These affluent nations have been developing their countries at the expense of the underdeveloped third world countries, Malaysia inclusive. They have thwarted any attempt towards any kind of autonomous and balanced development. They have created a new puppet class the "colonial middle class", of which Dr Mahathir is one.

Review of "Malay Dilemma"

In the review of the "The Malay Dilemma", G. Raman stresses that "to him (the ordinary Malay) ail rich men are the same, they are interested in maximising their own profits at the expense of the poor and the not-so-rich. Aren't there landlords belonging to a particular race who exploit members of their own race?"

[Singapore Technocrat, Vol. 5 No.2].

In fact in any community, Malay or non-Malay, there exists class conflict, as evident in the areas of production in agricultural products and in marketing in doing business. In the former, the landlords (probably about 8% of the total population in such community) always greedily look for crop-shares and rents to be increased. These high shares and rents will certainly be obtained at the expense of the interests of the poor peasants who are share-croppers and tenants. Quite often, those poor peasants who cannot afford to meet the landlords' demands may even be replaced. In the latter case, the shopkeepers and middlemen all the times try to maximize profits by 'selling high' and 'buying low' in their dealing with their clients. This illustrates how the rich and only the rich can exploit the poor within the same race. I really don't believe that the rich of any race would assist the poor of that race.

The Tasek Utara landless squatter issue and Baling Malay peasants demonstrations have clearly shaken the very foundation of the Dr Mahathir's 'Malay Dilemma'. These two issues also have unmasked the falsity of the statement made above ".....the policy of a government supported by a huge majority of poor Malay......". Although the Malays are supposed to be the specially privileged people as stated categorically in the constitution of Malaysia (that is they enjoy special privilege) in actual fact, it is only the rich Malays who have the opportunity to enjoy these privileged rights - the right to do logging, the right to have scholarships, the right to have all kinds of licences, etc. Dr Syed Hussein Ali, the associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology of the University of Malaya, who had been detained without trial in 1974 for assisting the landless peasants at Tasek Utara, argues that:

"It is the policy of the government to create a class of wealthy Malays and consequently in the rural areas there is a tendency for the leader-brokers to become more wealthy. Thus they have less time to articulate the needs and aspirations of the poor peasants who are hard-pressed, especially with the present trend of falling prices for their agricultural produce and rising prices of food and clothing. When these deprived persons try to get the help of the local leader-brokers, they find that they have to wait for a very long time and on most occasions in vain. Furthermore, the leader-brokers and those in higher positions above them tend to recommend their friends and relatives to be considered for acquiring land or gaining employment or they may insist on giving preference to party members or supporters. One consequence of this is that poor and landless peasants are forced to adopt illegal means of opening up land".

[Malay Peasant Society and Leadership]

What Dr. Hussein Ali has clearly pointed out here are:
1.Poverty is really a class not a racial problem.
2.Corruption has become a way of living.
3.Problems of landlessness and homelessness are acute and are due to the unbalanced development in the economy.


The political and economic structure of Malaysia is still basically neo-colonial. In other words, the people's destiny is dependent upon those powerful colonialists. Since "Independence" in 1957 until the present day, 60% of the country's economy is in foreign hands. Our markets are systematically controlled by the big foreign investors. Our most fertile lands are owned by outsiders. All these manipulations lead surely to a tremendous amount of capital outflow. That is why the majority of the people in Malaysia have never been emancipated from the yoke of hardship and oppression.

Dr Mahathir's attempt to reverse the tide of history, to avoid looking at the real root-cause of our backwardness should be strongly condemned. His argument is racially and emotionally biased and credely over-simplistic and lacks foresight and hindsight. He should have at least attempted to familiarise himself with the trend of historical development of British colonies I before he put pen to paper on his 'Malay Dilemma' which reflects nothing more than the dilemma of his own muddled - thoughts.

In fact the poor workers and peasants in Malaysia can be easily distinguished as a class by itself but so far have not yet been able to unite and act as a class for itself. It is because the Malaysian government by all ways and means, (eg via repressive laws and regulations) tries not to promote class politics and ideology and therefore that class consciousness has not been able to gain a foothold. This is a fact which has also escaped the attention of the Malaysian intellectuals at home and abroad

To the Malaysian Government, the students' responsibility is to make the best of a formal education. Social change has nothing to do with these "immature" students. This is surely sound advice for the selfish few. We should always bear in mind that "...we are all in the university at the expense of many others. Remember our responsibility to society, our responsibility to justice, equality and freedom". [Tan Wah Piew, former President of the Student Union of Singapore University].