ESSENTIALLY, affirmative action is a public policy designed to address the socio-economic grievances among those who are disadvantaged in competing with the more dynamic social segments of society.
More often than not, affirmative action programmes are based on the needs of social segments without consideration of race or religion.
In some specific instances, affirmative action programmes can be applied to a particular ethnic group to uplift them and eventually place them on par with the advantaged groups.
There is nothing wrong to assist a specific ethnic community particularly if the community needs to be brought to the mainstream.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim touched on the question of affirmative action in his lecture at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) in the US very recently.
He said that affirmative action need not be designed to assist specific ethnic groups but could be used to assist those in the lower socio-economic bracket immaterial or race or religion.
Anwar was not wrong in extending affirmative action policy to communities on the question of need. However, he failed in his talk to disclose the nature of affirmative action policy in Malaysia where ethnicity is the main criterion.
Even if there are some government-assisted programmes to assist the poor immaterial of their ethnicity, affirmative action is focused on Malays as an ethnic group. However, if the focus is on the poor or socio-economically disadvantaged Malays, then affirmative action is justified.
However, in the Malaysian case, the principle of affirmation action is somehow race-based.
The affirmative action principle in the country was the product of the New Economic Policy (NEP) that was introduced in the immediate aftermath of the May 13, 1969 ethnic riots in and around Kuala Lumpur.
The ethnic riots were used as justification for the passing of pro-Malay policies including the principle of affirmative action.
It is well and good for Anwar to philosophically engage hiss mainly student audience at UCB on the applicability of the principle of affirmative action.
It is not that affirmative action should not be applied to Malays, Chinese and Indians provided the target are the socially and economically disadvantaged segments within the ethnic communities.
However, if affirmative action is applied to assist the advantaged classes, then this cannot be called affirmative action in the first place. It has been well established that the beneficiaries of the affirmative action policy in the country are the Malay elites with strong political and bureaucratic connections.
I wonder how a policy to assist the rich and connected can be justified as an affirmative action when the beneficiaries are not the poor Malays.
Not wanting to rock the boat
It is not that all the Indians and Chinese are rich in the country for there are also poorer segments of both ethnic groups that need assistance.
Yes, Anwar can talk about the applicability of the affirmative action principle to the needy but he is same person who aggressively defended the imposition of the quota system in the admissions to the matriculation and public universities.
He defended the admissions quota on the basis of the social contract system that has yet to be elucidated until today.
Anwar as the PM of the country and champion of the oppressed Palestinians should be frank and truthful about the domestic situation in the country.
He cannot be saying one thing to the Western audience and say another thing to Malaysian audience. The bottom line is that Anwar wants to last the one full term in office.
Despite the talks of reforms, Anwar is not going to rock the boat. He wants to give the impression to those in the West that he is doing the right thing in Malaysia.
However, Malaysians like me who once supported him feel disappointed and dejected that Anwar has lost sight of the reforms that he once assiduously championed while in the opposition.
There are only murmurs of reforms in the country. Anwar cannot be the proverbial eel that shows its tail to the snake and head to the fish.
In other words, by giving contradictory messages, Anwar cannot expect to be liked by those in the West and those at home simultaneously. – Nov 16, 2023
Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy was the former DAP state assemblyman for Perai. He was also the former deputy chief minister II of Penang.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.