Is project Malaysia in long term danger?
There is a clear danger the Federation of Malaya may one day secede from Malaysia. This is not as far fetched as it seems. The Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Supremacy) narratives have become so contrary to concepts of inclusiveness, multi-culturalism, diversity, freedom of religion, and even democracy, that other ethnic groups living within Malaysia are feeling estranged, alienation, and marginalized to the body politic of the nation. This is not only a feeling within the people, but the state political elites of both Sabah and Sarawak both privately share these concerns.
A cultural hegemony has descended upon Malaysia and threatening the very basis of multi-culturalism, the prime tenant project Malaysia was conceptualised and agreed upon. Alternative ideologies and views of Malaysia are subverted and suppressed, with the federal government overtly pursuing Malay-centric policies, wrapped up within Bumiputera initiatives in fiscal policies and development priorities. The backbone and policy implementor of the government, the civil service is clearly committed to the so called ‘Malay agenda’, severely damaging the nation’s aspirations of multi-culturalism.
The view of the Semenanjung (Malay Peninsula) from Sabah and Sarawak is of an ideological Islamic government, intent on imposing its version of religion, culture, and social order, forcibly upon them.
Although this state of affairs is not yet unreconcilable at the present, a strong hard-line Malay-centric government could very easily change the dynamics of nationhood. With the Ketuanan Melayu doctrine becoming much more exclusionist in the view of how Malaysia should be, the tipping point could be passed, where any reconciliation may become inconceivable.
There have been a number of irresponsible comments made by politicians on the Malay-centric side of politics that have ruffled the feathers of Sabah and Sarawak’s leaders. In addition, Islam itself is being promoted as a hybrid nationalist theology that is combining Malayness with Islam.
This is potentially at great cost to the tenant of multi-culturalism. This Ketuanan Melayu hybrid is becoming the single most insurmountable barrier to the creation of a united Malaysian society.
The nature of federal politics today is centred around peninsula based parties gaining a majority of seats and then using support from Sabah and Sarawak’s political groupings to gain and hold onto government. These parties have been so contemptuous of Sabah and Sarawak politics, most peninsula based parties have entered into Sabah and Sarawak directly, trying to bypass local sentiment.
UMNO for more than a decade ran the Sabah state government, reneging of the chief minister rotation agreement. UMNO dominance was achieved through social engineering, where hundreds of thousands of migrants were let into Sabah and allowed to vote. The Kadazan-Dusun peoples who once had a strong influence in political and social life in Sabah have been marginalized.
Sarawak, has been much better at preventing federal influence, and is now almost an autonomous region within Malaysia, hedging out potential interference in every aspect of life the government has influence over.
The First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system adopted from the former colonial master Britain was accepted into Malaysian politics without considering the consequences. The FPTP system polarizes elections so one party can govern with a stable majority, at the cost of inclusiveness of minority views. Malaysia must shed itself of these old colonial relics and introduce an electoral system more conducive to enhancing Malaysian nationhood.
The federal government through the education system has indoctrinated generations of Malays with Ketuanan Melayu assumptions about the nature of Malaysia. They have been told of the threats against the Malay way of life and Islam, by internal and external aggressors. This mythical clear and present danger to Islam has made today’s Malays much more hard-line in their views to non-Muslims. The identity of a Malay and Muslim has been synergised, making the two personas inseparable.
Ketuanan Melayu is not just an ideology anymore, its part of the Malay personality in those who were subjected to the local education system.
The heartland Malays see that Malay sovereignty must be protected, and civil servants see themselves with a sacred duty to defend the mythical Malay agenda. Some see an Islamic state as the ultimate way of ensuring survival. Politicians have pandered to this ideology, which is eating away at the aspiration of a multi-cultural Malaysia, rich and strong with diversity. Malays have been led to believe that diversity itself is an attack on Malays and Islam.
Even though the parliament just passed a bill to realign the status of Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak within the constitution, the workings of the original agreement are greatly weakened towards the centralist tendencies of Putra Jaya. Not just Sabah and Sarawak have been the victim of this. State civil servants around the nation know of the condescending attitudes of federal civil servants towards them.
If there is not a change in the political narrative in the country, there is a risk that the invisible fabric holding together the three parties to project Malaysia could start to untether. This would be the ultimate cost of the Ketuanan Melayu ideology, which should have been an old political relic left back in the history of Malaya, before it became a part of Malaysia.
This should have been replaced with a new form of inclusive patriotic narrative that bonded the nation together as one. The South China Sea is still just as much a psychological, as it is a physical divide.
Some of the forces that brought together the parties into becoming the Malaysian nation, such as the physical threats by Indonesia and the Philippines on East Malaysia have gone. The dynamics of the region are also going to change with the building of the new Indonesian capital Nusantara on the island of Borneo. The future influence of Nusantara on Sabah and Sarawak will come to challenge that of Putra Jaya.
Slogans like 1Malaysia and Keluarga Malaysia are just empty drums. Ironically those leaders who espoused a Malaysian Malaysia over the years were put into detention over the decades, under the bequest of Ketuanan Melayu advocates. History has been revised to strengthen the ideology of Ketuanan Melayu at the cost of unifying the nation of Malaysia. Instead of cultures being assimilated into one nation, the nation is now a segregated as group of societies that only interact minimally.
Culturally, socially, and politically Malaysia operates as three countries in one. Unless there is a major effort made to rebuild the mantle of the Malaysian nation, Malaya will become estranged from Malaysia.
This is a tragedy for project Malaysia. Something must be done to rebuild a sense of nationhood before its too late.