Can bumiputera quotas be abolished immediately?
By Zan Azlee
I am a bumiputera. Sure, I come from a mixed parentage, but as we all know, in Malaysia, once you’ve married a bumiputera, your future generation benefits from it. But coming from a mixed family, I can also see the different effects it has on bumiputeras and non-bumiputeras.
I see how I can qualify for public universities and scholarships much easier than my non-bumiputera cousins. I also see how life choices are made differently by me and my relatives. The consideration made due to the bumiputera policy is big.
As we all know, the bumiputera policy is based on the concept of affirmative action, where a push needs to be given so that an underprivileged group can slowly compete on equal footing. Admittedly, the bumiputeras were this underprivileged group 60 years ago.
But we need to take a look at how the policy is doing now, in this day and age. Is it fully serving its purpose anymore? Or has it run its course and is now something that is more oppressive than helpful? After six decades, a re-evaluation is definitely in need.
Now, one of the reasons I have always wanted a change in government from the last Barisan Nasional administration was because, personally, I feel the country can do away with the bumiputera policy now. It doesn’t serve its purpose anymore.
So when Pakatan Harapan took over, deep in my being, I was hopeful that there was going to be a change in the policy too. But I know the Harapan government never made such promise and it always tries to assure the bumiputeras that their rights will remain intact, at least for the near future.
But I kept the faith…
But I kept the faith that at least the wheels of that change would slowly be put into motion. Then, Malaysia would gradually move towards a more meritocratic, fair and equal system for every single Malaysian, regardless of race, religion or whatever.
Why am I bringing the bumiputera issue up? Well, it should be quite obvious that this is in relation to the recent debate on the Ministry of Education’s decision on maintaining the bumiputera quota for the science matriculation intake this year.
For a long time, the quota has always been 90-10 percent in favour of bumiputera students. What that means is that 90 percent of those accepted have to be bumiputeras while the remaining 10 percent is allocated for non-bumiputeras.
This year, the ministry (and the rest of the Cabinet) decided that they will continue with that same percentage quota. They obviously knew that this would be a big issue once the public finds out about it (which, obviously, is already the case now!).
What the ministry decided to do was increase the number of those accepted into the matriculation programme. On his official YouTube channel, Minister of Education Maszlee Malik (photo) explained that the number for this intake has been increased from 25,000 to 40,000.
So, according to his explanation, even though the 90-10 quota remains, the number of non-bumiputeras being admitted into the matriculation programme still increases this year from 2,500 to 4,000, which apparently is the highest in history. But people are still unsatisfied. Honestly, so am I.
If I had my way, I would do away with the bumiputera policy entirely. I am sick of people telling me that I am privileged and that I probably wouldn’t have it so easy if it wasn’t because I was born a bumiputera.
Yes, I know, this is a very privileged statement, seeing that no matter how I disapprove of the policy, I still have benefitted from it, from the education system benefits right up to the financial and economic benefits it has provided my family.
But, I still think we no longer need it.
Can we do away with the bumiputera policy?
Here’s the thing. Can we actually do away with the bumiputera policy entirely and immediately? Is that feasible right now? It may be feasible from a policy standpoint, since the bumiputeras aren’t really a disenfranchised group.
Today, disenfranchised groups can come from both the bumiputeras and non-bumiputeras. So if there is supposed to be any affirmative action, something that is not race-based should be developed so that the right people can then benefit. Yes, the bumiputera policy is obsolete.
However, back to the question of the feasibility of abolishing the bumiputera policy. What happens if the government just throws it away tomorrow? How would the bumiputeras react? Are they prepared for this in terms of awareness and education?
Would their reaction be based on fact, logic and rationale? Would they be prepared to handle it emotionally? Or would they feel a huge dissatisfaction that could probably result in tremendous protests and demonstrations?
As of today, will the majority of bumiputeras understand that taking away the bumiputera policy doesn’t mean taking away the rights of the bumiputeras from being as Malaysian as any other Malaysian and – and that it also does not mean that the bumiputeras will now be oppressed?
So, I want to put it out there that maybe it isn’t the right time to totally abolish the policy. Maybe it’s baby steps to start the wheel turning and the increase in intake for the matriculation programme is one of those baby steps. Education and awareness are also needed to make the majority of the bumiputeras understand it should also be one of those steps.
However, with that being said, those who are fighting and pushing for equal rights should continue to do so. If they want to protest to abolish the bumiputera policy so that it is more fair for the other races, than please do so, because this voice is also part of the wheel that turns for change.
I, for one, will continue to push for it tirelessly. But I think I can also rest, knowing that things are moving in the right direction. It may not be happening as immediately as we want it, but it is happening – slowly but surely. Malaysia boleh! Tapi lambat sedikit! (Malaysia can! But a little slowly!)
[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]
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