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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 37, No 21. August 28, 1974

The privileges of the elite

page 11

The privileges of the elite

Artwork of men staring out from jail

"The Malay elite was nurtured by Britain and installed and defended at the helm of independent Malaya. Such an analysis, crucial to the under-development argument, would examine the history of relations between Britain and the Malay elite: the whole gamut of institutions and political devices (like citizenship laws) that have protected their political lives; continuing British strategic interests in Malaysia (as in the composition of Greater Malaysia); and the value orientations of Malay Anglophiles (Scott's 'constant-pies thinking', 'social distrust' and the authoritarian philosophies of Government). 'Special rights', the keystone to the Alliance's communal controls and Malaysia's unique contribution to development theory, cannot however be overlooked."

'Special Rights'

'Special rights' demonstrates in microcosm all of the dislocations, imbalances, and tensions of dependence and paternalism flowing from aid-agency sponsored development programmes.

'Special rights' is a system of controls developed by the British through land laws, public service admission and education policies, to preserve the traditions and structure of Malay society and so make the Raja class more effective junior partners of British colonialism; Expanded by the post-independence contemporaries of the same class, the same notions of rights and privileges are defended as an appropriate strategy for quite contrary objectives — economic uplift and the social transformation of Malay society. The 'control' component in the Alliance's special rights is however far more than latent.


'Special rights' tends to widen rather than diminish inequalities in wealth and opportunity, generates unfulfillable expectations, and creates a variety of other unintended counter-productive social effects including the basic ingredients for corruption — irregular transactions made to trade political power for private economic benefits. The Western aid-development paradigm results in the case of 'special rights' in the usual deepening dependence and corresponding paternalism.

From the underdevelopment perspective, the irony 'special rights' is that this colonial means of control moulded to the alliance's communal-compromise survival formulae as an instrument of controlled social progress, has within it all the contradictions most likely to bring down the whole alliance edifice.

Fundamental to the 'special rights' strategy is the assumption that political and economic roles and functional relationships within 'democratic' capitalism can be separated by constitutional means (section 153 of the Malaysian Constitution). That by making 'special rights' more immutable than the constitution itself the Malay elite hopes to buy survival time for itself by the suppression of any political or even academic attempt to analyse ( or even refer to) the problem. The two contradictory sets of expectations generated among the Malay and non-Malay communities as to the permanent and inalienable/temporary and transitional character of 'special rights' indicate that time is for the Malay elite, an expensive and scarce commodity. Furthermore, 'special rights' constitutes an ideological leverage for the Malay elite which both inhibits and binds the strategic options open to them.

Collective socialised development programmes amenable to Malay cultural values are precluded as ideologically dangerous (quite correctly) to the elite.

'Special rights' then, like all pay-off schemes for political loyalty, is thrust into a unilinear strategy. Continued loyalty requires a progressive upping of promises (and expectations) and hence a progressive widening of the expectation — achievement gap. The need for this unilinear strategy for survival is generated by the communal tension the formula controls and simultaneously generates.

The inherent instability of the strategy is apparent as the history of greater Malaysia and of May 13, 1969 demonstrates. May 13 testifies also the force of the above contradictions in preventing any frank account of the crisis, or firm action to meet it from the Malay elite other than 'more of the same thing' from the National Operations Council (NOC) and the New Economic Policy.

Loyal compradors

The Malay elite are a remarkable example of loyal and solicitous compradors. They offer to overseas interest an excellent 'practical partnership', 'mutual involvement', and have succeeded almost ideally in 'maximising rewards and minimising risks'.

The events of the Malayan Union demonstrate the remarkable achievement of British policy from the nineteenth century on, in cultivating the Malay Raja class as effective junior partners of British colonialism. The response to the M.U. served to consolidate the Malay elite, enabling the articulation of Malay aristrocratic values in more modern political forms, developing in U.M.N.O., the Federation of Malay Constitution, and the Alliance what was to both the British and Malayan elites a very satisfactory vehicle for the consolidation and preservation of their collective interests.

'Special rights', the keystone of the Alliance's communal controls, internalised by the British sponsored Raja class, survived independence with the dual functions of communal control and of economic uplift. 'Special rights' demonstrate both in its historic origin and in its symbiotic relationship with the consequences of Western growth-oriented development, how the Malayan elite have assumed comprador and exploitative roles.

The Alliance, as an inter-communal instrument of control representing the Malaysian bourgeoisie, is irrevocably committed to the neo-colonialist strategy that necessitates 'special rights' and repressive constitutional controls to attempt to counter the imbalances and dislocations caused by their neo-colonialist mentors, the owners and controllers of all significant sectors of the Malaysian economy. As such the Malaysian bourgeoisie is fatally compromised as an instrument of imperialist powers and is not possible to escape from the underdevelopment to which they have contributed so well,

—Abridged from W. Richards' survey

"The Underdevelopment of West Malaysia"

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