PETALING JAYA: Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has defended affirmative action policies in Malaysia, stating that they ensure the poor and marginalised are provided with equal opportunities.
In a Bernama report, Anwar said certain affirmative action policies must be continued as they help eradicate poverty and allow the poor and marginalised to improve their socio-economic standing.
However, he said such policies need not be race-based.
“You can be a Malay, Chinese or Indian, but if you’re poor, we will help you,” said Anwar during a question-and-answer session at the University of California in Berkeley, San Francisco, yesterday.
“The issue of poverty is not race-based, but need-based.”
He said some urban schools in Malaysia had much better facilities than their rural counterparts, necessitating some form of “additional support”.
“You can call it affirmative action or you can call it additional support, but you cannot have pure meritocracy without providing basic fair opportunities,” he said.
Affirmative action in public education was in the spotlight in August when Anwar said Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional would lose all future elections if the unity government were to abolish Bumiputera quotas in higher learning institutions.
Responding to an Indian student who had asked if he would scrap the quota system, Anwar said calling for the system to be scrapped would “lead to turmoil in this country”, adding that Malaysia’s history and “social contract” must be taken into account in the discourse on the Bumiputera quota.
He said that meritocracy, while necessary, was flawed as it placed students from under-resourced schools in rural areas who underperformed at a disadvantage.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, released in June, Anwar reiterated his commitment to reform Malaysia’s affirmative action policies to make them based on need rather than race, emphasising that the country needs to change.
“Unless there is a clear political commitment, a resolve to change, I don’t believe Malaysia will survive,” he said.