Study: Malaysians ready to discard racially-based parties

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KUALA LUMPUR: An Oxford University study disproves the notion that Malaysians are not ready to discard racially-based parties.

Malaysians, in fact, prefer racially-mixed political parties to single ethnic parties, according to the study. Even rural Malays are for it.

About 62% of Malays and 80% of non-Malays strongly agreed with the suggestion that political parties should be racially mixed.

The study authors say: “This is an extremely noteworthy finding. Malaysians are often told that they are not ready to move beyond communally-based political parties; that people will react badly to not having their interests championed by such parties.

“The explanation for this is that while the urban Malays may be comfortable with mixed-race parties, the rural folks are not. However, our data shows that 62% of rural Malays and 63% of urban Malays strongly endorse mixed parties.”

The study, carried out in Peninsular Malaysia in September-October last year, involved 503 Malays, 500 Chinese and 501 Indians.

The study titled Attitudes and Ethnoreligious Integration: Meeting the Challenge and Maximizing the Promise of Multicultural Malaysia, was done by Dr Ananthi Ramiah, Professor Miles Hewstone and Dr Ralf Wölfer with a grant from the CIMB Foundation.

The study notes that across the board, a high percentage of people from the different ethnic groups expressed strong agreement for better integration among Malaysians.

The Indians were the most enthusiastic for integration.

The authors asked respondents how much they thought a series of possible changes to government policy and neighbourhood ethnic composition might improve integration.

On creating more racially-mixed neighbourhoods, there was a significant difference between the three ethnic groups in level of agreement.

The Malays expressed a lower level of agreement than the Chinese and the Indians, and the Chinese expressed less agreement than the Indians.

About 60% of Malays, 70% of Chinese and almost 80% of Indians supported mixed neighbourhoods.

There was also a significant difference between the three ethnic groups on doing away with vernacular education at the primary school level, with the Malays agreeing to a much greater degree than the Chinese and Indians. The Chinese, especially, were very supportive of vernacular education.

Slightly more than 60% of Malays, 20% of Chinese and about 45% of Indians were for this.

On introducing fair competition for everyone so that no one group gets special privileges, Malays agreed to a lesser degree than the Chinese and the Indians.

Slightly less than 50% of Malays agreed to this while about 85% of Chinese and almost 90% of Indians agreed with this.

On the suggestion that all religions should be treated equally in government policy, there was a significant difference between the three ethnic groups. The Malays agreed with this to a lesser degree than the Chinese and the Indians.

About 60% of Malays and 90% of Chinese and Indians agreed with this.

“Thus, in general, we note the trend that the Malays expressed a lower level of agreement to most of the integration suggestions than the Chinese and the Indians, with the exception of the suggestion to do away with vernacular schools, about which the Chinese are substantially less enthusiastic than the Malays and the Indians.”

The study could not conclusively say that having friends from other ethnic groups influenced the answers to some of these suggestions.

Generally, the more friends they had who were of other ethnic backgrounds, the more they appeared to support integration. But this was not always the case.

For instance, the study found that Indians highly endorsed mixed neighbourhoods regardless of the number of outgroup friends they had.

It found that the Chinese respondents expressed low levels of support for the dismantling of vernacular schools, regardless of the number of outgroup friends they had.