The spate of calls to review the New Economic Policy or NEP, a social engineering process that came into being in 1971 has grown louder in recent times. Many leaders, such as Tun Daim Zainuddin way back in 2019 and most recently Datuk Sri Nazir Razak has joined the bandwagon of people saying that it should be replaced.
While there was a great success in the NEP that brought poverty down, helped restructure society, and created a breed of Bumiputera entrepreneurs, the policy had lately been rife with shortcomings and abuses.
The evidence suggests that the NEP had successfully reduced poverty in the rural areas but gave birth to a new group of bumiputras who grew rich at the expense of the poorer rural masses.
In an exclusive interview with Business Today, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir, when asked if the race-based policy should be replaced with a need-based policy, said that privileges accorded to Bumiputera were indeed based on a “need.”
Vintage Mahathir made no apologies as to why the privileges accorded to Bumiputeras remained for such a long time and should continue to do so adding that they were not as competitive as their Chinese counterparts.
While many had used a medical analogy that would strike a chord with Dr Mahathir saying that a crutch was only useful giving time for the defective organ to heal. If the crutch was used even after the defective organ’s health was restored, the organs would be impaired again.
Such evidence was apparent as many Bumiputera who were wealthy and from the elite stratum of the society continually enriching themselves at the expense of their poor rural masses.
Political analysts have sounded that no political elites would want NEP to end and they would deem those who disagree with NEP are automatically an enemy of the state.
They add that while NEP was designed on powerful themes of wanting to create social concord and cohesiveness by removing the underlying disparity of the races, the continual obsession with a race was only an excuse for the elites to enrich themselves
The evidence suggests that there was sharp intra-racial disparity among the Malay race compared to the other races suggesting that the elites might be enriching themselves to the detriment of the poor Malays.
Still, Tun Mahathir falls back to the argument that the “Malay Culture was not competitive and sufficient time must be given to the Malays” although he did not state the time frame.
“The Chinese have about 6000 years of culture and they can survive anywhere. Wherever they go, they create China Towns but the Malays cannot survive as their culture is not competitive,” Tun Mahathir said.
The former Prime Minister alluded to the fact that a need-based policy must be seen from the perspective of the whole community and not just that of an individual perspective.
Drawing an example in a “football team”, Mahathir said that one cannot have a football team with those who are 12 years of age competing with those who are 18 years adding that the handicap would be too distant as the competition between the Malays and the Chinese were not on the level playing field.
The call to review the policy comes at a time when there is intense jostling and scrambling for power among political elites and political parties without giving serious attention to the problem at hand, while the pandemic and the increased number of suicides on account of emotional and psychological pressure increases.
People appear to be exasperated by the feuding and infighting among the various political parties until a temporary respite with the signing of the MOU between the government and opposition parties recently.
The problem at hand is exacerbated by the fact that there was an increase in the number of Malay-based parties in the country counting on the same Malay electorate for political support, unlike one Malay dominant party UMNO that gave stability to the country in the past.
But Tun Mahathir said that while Malays were the majority in the country they provided stability in the government through UMNO and the “Chinese prospered with Malay rule”.
“The Chinese cannot rule the country because they did not have the numbers but with “Malays providing good governance, the-non Malays too prospered” he stresses.
A Malay majority government does not mean that it would be the party with the exclusion of the Non-Malays, it would be with the consideration of the Chinese and Indians as “we care for others.”
Still many had mooted the idea of moving away from race-based policies and parties. They add that it was time to have a multi-racial party that would represent the collective interest of all the communities as opposed to looking at communal problems purely from their respective ethnic lenses.
Mahathir cautions those with such idealistic aspirations that it was not grounded on reality and what was important was that “political parties must reflect the aspirations on the ground” and the people on the ground are not ready to accept that change.
This he said was evidenced when “Parti Keadilan Rakyat”, a multi-racial party could not win the elections to form the government but when it worked with “Bersatu”, a Malay-based party, it could win the elections.
Stressing on the future, Mahathir expressed his exasperation at the level of corruption in the country adding that people “were not working for the country and that there were pulling in different directions and there were many who wanted to become Prime Minister and everything appears to be rudderless..”
Malaysia, he adds, will be able to reset itself again in the 15th general election but the people need to support those who are not corrupted, Mahathir said.