Talk is cheap, KJ

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We know we are in the final sprint towards a general election when politicians start speaking in words that they think identify with the feelings of their audiences.

That’s what Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin did recently in a dialogue with Indian youths.

One participant who asked him if the quota system for Bumiputeras would be removed was probably shocked by his response. The minister’s answer was certainly designed to make the Indians warm up to him.

Khairy said Malays should feel insulted by the quota system that gives them the advantage in enrolment at local universities.

He urged Malays “to compete on a level playing field” to get rid of the stigma of being beneficiaries of a system which is rigged in their favour.

He claimed to be aware of discrimination and the notion that Malays entering local universities were below par and were accepted because of the quota requirements.

First. Will Khairy dare to repeat those remarks in front of a Malay crowd?

After all, the Malays are Umno’s lifeblood. Without them, the party could not have clung to power for this long. The more the Malays are reminded who gave them the quota system, the more they feel indebted and loath to bite the hand that feeds them, even though the quota system does not benefit them in the long run.

Second. Has Khairy only just realised that the quota system marks a stigma of disgrace on the face of the Malays? Or is this a realisation that comes every five years?

For years, some Malays have tried to tell the government that there is an unease over the advantage given to Malays in university enrolment. An oft repeated question is: “Was the Malay fast tracked into university despite his poor grades?”

The quota system is divisive, but to keep the people divided is the precise aim of Umno in maintaining it.

Third. Khairy seems to forget that he too is a product of favouritism.

If not for his “cable to the top” and a once-powerful father-in-law, would he have made such a meteoric rise? Despite his personal merits, it’s hard to imagine that he would be where he is today if he were just another ordinary son of a diplomat.

Fourth. If he feels strongly about the Malays being affected by the backchat concerning their ability to perform without preferential treatment, will he convince his peers to abolish the quota system?

Would Khairy tell his boss, the Prime Minister, to abolish the quota system, not just in universities but in all walks of life, like housing, entry into the civil service, qualification for small business loans, etc?

Many of the affirmative action policies were put in place after the May 1969 riots as a means of balancing the distribution of wealth and improving the economic wellbeing of the Malays. Soon after they were implemented, we were made to understand that they would undergo evaluation after twenty years. They have now been in place for nearly 50 years. This has undermined trust and respect for the Malays.

The Malays are perceived as spoilt underachievers who lack ambition. With a quota system to support them, few Malays strive to improve their character and attitudes. Many still expect and demand preferential treatment. – FMT

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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