Malaysia’s Racial Politics

“Malaysia truly Asia”: The tourist board boasts beautiful islands, lush, green rainforests and a multicultural metropolis in the name of Kuala Lumpur. For the average tourist, that is probably what you will see. They try hard to hide the underbelly lurking the background: racial politics.

Malaysia is and has always been divided. Unlike the lights of the European system of class, Malaysian politics is more dynamic. It is a turbulent whirlpool of race, religion, place of origin and economic background. It is no longer as simple as whether you are Malay, Chinese or Indian. There is now a growing migrant class in Malaysia, attracted by relative political and economical stability. Without migrants, like most developed and emerging economics, the country would be a standstill; but they are treated as an underclass in society.

Petitions have been published and spread around the web calling for the governments of countries where most of these immigrants originate from to disallow them to vote in the general election. One petition states: “We have gathered solid and undisputed evidence that a great number of them are now being used by irresponsible parties to undermine the electoral process in Malaysia, as they have been granted dubious residential status to vote in our forthcoming general election.” It goes on to request that “those who are found to be involved should be duly punished under your national law.”

Such protesters for ‘fair and free’ elections go further to formate a petition written to President Obama, calling it a “democracy crisis in Malaysia”. It is not just through petitions and slandering quotes on the social media that we see such prejudice, it is also prominent at polling stations. A member of the public proudly publishes a video of other voters picketing a bus of voters, of whom they believe to be immigrants, to deter them from voting. But why do people care?

According to the census of 2010, the population of non- Malaysians is only 8.2%. However with the implementation of a new scheme to record and grant amnesty to over 2 million illegal immigrants, the actual number of registered immigrants could amount to roughly 15% of the entire population. This would make them a larger group than ethnic Indians which only accounts for 7.3% of the population. This act of registering illegal immigrants has obviously been seen as a coy to generate soft votes for the ruling party.

However this was one of many blatant exercises to win votes. Subsidies, government backed loans and bumiputra discounts on properties and other material goods are all symbolic of classical boom and bust economics. Yet there was little complaint of this from the opposition, maybe it was because they benefited. But they don’t feel that they benefit from immigrants.

Prejudice towards the immigrant class has been ingrained in Malaysia for years, and it is them who face the brunt of the unjust diversion of frustration with the ruling party. Most of those who have signed petitions and cooperated in ‘flagging up’ these ‘fraudulent’ voters originate from an ethnic minority. It is a gross contradiction to what Malaysian ethnic minorities are attempting to achieve: fair and free elections, and more importantly equal political and economical rights to all Malaysians.

It does not occur to many Malaysians that the majority of immigrants come from marginalised communities. Innocent people from Sri Lanka, Burma and other parts of Asia come to Malaysia to simply seek political asylum, and many of whom do what they can to contribute to the Malaysian economy. These people have chosen Malaysia to reside, they have the legal right to reside and they have the legal right to vote. Free franchise is a basic human right regardless of race, and yes, that also applies to immigrants as well. You never know, they might have voted for the opposition.

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British Food is dire: What the hell is sambal tempoyak?

Why is food in Britain so bad? It’s not bad I suppose, just heavy, bland and boring. Absolutely everything lacks one thing: chilli! For someone who names their blog after a traditional Malaysian dish, food is important. Even when I go back to KL, I find that searching for actual good food is increasingly difficult to find. Apart from a couple of random but trustworthy stalls in food courts in some dusty vintage mall built in the 80’s and of course the street food in an obscure residential or office block, food is hit and miss. But if it’s good, it’s amazing.
In Britain, good food comes at expense and is never traditional. OK there is the odd roast and pie, and maybe a burger done well. But it is nothing I would get excited about.
So to answer the question, what is that dish that my blog is named after?
It’s basically fermented young durian mixed in with chilli. It can be eaten like other sambals, ie as a condiment to your meal of nasi campur, or mixed rice. Or it could be a dish itself with addition to petai, which is a type of broad bean with an acquired taste (you have been warned), ikan bilis (dried anchovies) and daun kayu, which translated to wood leaf. From what I remember it is a kind of wild green that has to be cooked for a bit to soften it. Then a bit of lemon grass to enhance the flavour a little and coconut milk to thicken the sauce. Minus the anchovies I suppose it’s ideal for vegans.
Now that is how I remember it, and more than likely my mum would tell me that I have got this completely wrong. This is what happens when you watch Anthony Bourdain on the travel channel on an empty stomach: nostalgia and home sickness.
When is Malaysian Airlines going to airlift me from this gastronomic black hole of disaster?

Watching Malaysia

Whilst growing up I believed that all people were innately evil. Not once did I see an humble act of good will be performed for the general good of someone else. Everything I thought was done for an ulterior motive. As the receipt-ants of the NEP reaped their gains given to them on a plate purely due to their race and religion, the poorest of the minorities scraped a living to make ends meet. No one will ever say that we lived in an apartheid state because the economic climate made it difficult to realise how much discrimination ethnic minorities truly faced.

Sitting a cafe thousands of miles away and being a child of a mat salleh, I am in the firing line to be criticised of having no clue about Malaysian society. But possibly, maybe, coming from ‘the outside’ I would have a point of view that will help one look at the ‘problem’ pragmatically.

Every bus journey home illuminates injustice. Watching the condominiums and shopping malls being built, cleaned and maintained by immigrants being treated as third rate citizens. Seeing them walking home after their hard labour to their make shift shanty towns on the side of a development; and the shameful contrast of traffic consisting of BWMs and Mercs driving by. My academic performance showed that I took education as a gimmick and the bus home made me realise how much I took for granted, how much my peers took it for granted but I suppose I was the only one who realised.

KL seems segregated into class, race and religion. Some of which obviously overlap. Those that do, especially the upper class areas, seem to be characterless and numb. The malls of Bukit Bintang, the cafes in Publika and Bangsar, all seem to be dominated with rich wannabes who lack any form of individuality or taste. It seemed dominated by people who thought that their appearance in such location equated to status and power, looking down at those whom the thought were below them. Their appreciation of art and thought doesn’t come from within, it is influenced by what is popular in western media. It made stealing internet in Starbucks infuriating, you just look at all the fakes walking in- you just think: please, grow a back bone and get a personality; and possibly one day I will earn more than you.

Those who express themselves are in their rarity. They seem to mingle in the only segment of culture that DBKL have maintained: Central Market. Malaysian authors publishing their work in their native language, promoting alternative political and economic thought. It is refreshing, it’s  promising and my goodness it’s what Malaysia needs. In a developing country where growth has attracted more graduates to come home during a global recession, the flow of new ideas is finally coming alive.

Without immigrants, without our ethnic minorities, Malaysia would be a mere slither of ink drawn onto a map. It is them who build, fund and manage our infrastructure, economy and intellectual capacity. Do not get me wrong, there are Malays who work just as hard and have done some amazing work for the country but it is now that everyone should be treated as equal.

Anwar Ibrahim, a serious opposition?

The end of Sodomy 2.0, Anwar Ibrahim

As a newly made member of the Malaysian electorate, I have no idea who to vote for in the next election. Anwar has no real policy but simply to be anti- Barisan Nasional. And nepotism is prevalent in his party. I despise the fact that politics in Malaysia is racial, there’s always positive discrimination towards the Malays in which I admit my immediate family have benefited from. But in personal circumstances, I believe that if all races within Malaysia were treated equally the country would be more successful and competitive yet I understand why it is the way it is.

The race riots of 13 May 1969 have constantly been brushed under the carpet by Malaysian historians, but it is, in my eyes the cause of the Bumiputra benefits which was re-branded as the New Economic Plan of the country from there on.

With change under a charismatic, focused and straight leader then country has potential to correct the undertones of the obvious racial and economic factions within the country. Just there aren’t any capable candidates. It is a shame because the country does produce some brilliant people, who normally decide to recite elsewhere. (My mother was one of them, who did not return to the country for 18 years, she’s one of the amazing people FYI) I feel like I may follow suit until I can see Malaysia as a place without great economic and social boundaries, and I know many friends  who feel the same way.

So behind the opaque curtains that Malaysia hides it’s flaws, there is the government censored evidence of unhappiness with a governing party that has ruled for 54 years (since Independence in 1957, under different names and structures of course). Like the rest of South East Asia, it’s natural beauty, cool people and laid back way is shaded by a history of discontent that is often unmentioned. So in that way, Malaysia [is] truly Asia.

Another interesting feature on the Malaysian economy from the BBC : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14758417 It’s from last September but it’s still relevant.

I’m home-sick 😦