By Kua Kia Soong
Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has said there is a need for more non-Malays to join the police force as they currently make up only 5% of the 133,212-strong force:
“Of the total, 80.23% or 106,871 are Malays, while Chinese make up only 1.96% (2,615), Indians 3.16% (4,209), Punjabis 0.21% (275) and others 14.44% (19,242),” he said in reply to a question by Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah (Amanah-Kuala Terengganu).
He added that taking care of the nation’s safety was a collective responsibility and not to be “shouldered by one particular race.”
This has become a familiar refrain by Umno leaders who pretend not to understand how such a situation has come about. We heard this in 2013 during the Lahad Datu incident when several security forces personnel lost their lives and the same aspersion was cast on non-Malays for not joining the armed forces and defending the nation.
1. Is it true that Non-Malays are not prepared to defend the nation?
In our nation’s history, the Second World War during which our country was occupied by Japanese fascist forces was perhaps the best test of who were prepared to defend the nation in the event of foreign invasion and to give their lives in the process. Cheah Boon Kheng in ‘Red Star over Malaya’ assessed that: “The Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) – which was made up of mainly ethnic Chinese Malayans – claimed to have eliminated 5,500 Japanese troops while losing 1,000 themselves.”
2. Non-Malays did not shun the security forces after Independence
After Independence, the non-Malays in Malaya did not shun the security forces. While we were at school, my eldest brother applied for a scholarship to the naval academy while my second brother had a passion for the army. When he became a doctor, he did become an army doctor for a period in the Seventies. In fact, during the Sixties, the top sportsmen and athletes in our school also participated in the Cadet Corps and quite a few joined the police and armed forces. The Air Force was definitely the most glamorous of the Armed Forces and non-Malays were certainly keen to compete to become pilots in the Air Force before 1969. The statistics for non-Malays in the Air Force before 1969 will certainly prove my point.
When the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) was first formed in the Sixties, it was made up largely of non-Malays. I can testify to that since we watched them going through their paces on our way to school. Perhaps the Home Minister could show us the statistics of the ethnic composition of the FRU before and after 1969.
3. May 13, 1969 and the NEP changed all that
In my 2007 title, ‘May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969’, we see a testimony to the situation in this British High Commission telegram:
“There is no doubt that some of the security forces are discriminating in favour of the Malays. For example, Malay troops are guilty of this whereas the Federal Reserve Unit (i.e. riot police) is not. Discrimination takes the form, for example, of not, repeat not, enforcing the curfew in one of the most violently disposed of the Malay areas in Kuala Lumpur (Kampung Baru) where Malays armed with parangs etc continue to circulate freely; with the inevitable result that gangs slip through the cordon round the area and attack Chinese outside it. In Chinese areas the curfew is strictly enforced.”
In my 2015 publication ‘Racism & Racial Discrimination in Malaysia’ I produced the statistics for the ethnic composition in the higher ranks of the police force before 1969 to prove the point that the racial discriminatory polices after 1969 changed all that:
Thus, we can see from the table above that before 1969, there were as many as 55% non-Malays in the top rank of the police force.
4. Do the non-Malays shun the civil service too?
The truth is that after 1969, institutional racism spread across the board including the civil service in which non-Malay composition was also below 5%. In the civil and armed services, racial discrimination applied not only to recruitment but also access to promotion and other aspects of the services.
Thus, the supposed logic of “Non-Malays shunning the police and armed forces” would have to apply to the civil service. And if we apply this logic to the civil service, especially to the education sector, it would be totally ridiculous to likewise maintain that “Non-Malays shun education” would it not?
Conclusion: Only a truly equal Malaysia can reconcile the nation
Only a race-free policy can convince the people that the government is socially just, fair and democratic with a new socially just affirmative action policy based on need or class or sector. The cost and consequences of the racially discriminatory policy in Malaysia have been immense, especially since the NEP in 1971. It has caused a crippling polarisation of Malaysian society and a costly brain drain.
If the government is serious about wanting to return to greater participation of all Malaysians in the uniformed services and in the civil service, the institutional reforms to eliminate racism and racial discrimination are actually quite straightforward. The question is whether the government has the political will to carry them out since the Bumiputera policies are a convenient populist tool to keep the ruling party in power and enrich the elite. Such reforms include:
Basing affirmative action on need, sector or class and certainly not on race;
2. Enacting an Equality Act and establishing an Equality & Human Rights Commission;
3. Outlawing racism and incitement to racial hatred with a Race & Religious Hatred Act;
4. Ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR);
5. Providing non-racial alternatives to national development based on justice, equality and human rights;
6. Promoting unity based on integration through greater democracy and shared facilities among communities.
7. Since the civil and armed services are already comprised of more than 95% Bumiputera, recruitment should now be based on merit.
Once we succeed in putting these policies in place, we have a foundation on which to begin the task of national reconciliation and reconstruction. In such a truly equal Malaysia, issues of ethnic composition of the civil and armed services will become history.
Kua Kia Soong is Adviser to SUARAM.
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