When I was back in Setapak Garden during the Asian
financial crisis, my bedroom window looked out onto a street where there
was a Chinese coffee shop and a stall selling goreng pisang in the
afternoons, nearby. The coffee shop was open until 4am every night. It
was full of noisy beer drinkers, singing and occasionally smashing beer
bottles on the street in the early hours of the morning. In the
afternoons, a young Malay guy, who lost his job during the crisis, sold
goreng pisang to feed his family. Then, one day the DBKL officers came
in large numbers, confiscating the stall and fining the poor guy, in
what could be best described as a humiliating scene for him.
Notwithstanding all this, the coffee shop continued to open unimpeded making a racket every night.
I was living in Alor Setar, I used to regularly visit the old Pasaraya
Peladang, at Wisma PKENK. I liked this outlet because they supported all
the small Malay businesses which supplied traditional Malay food
products made at home. One day, some health department officers came and
gave a compound to a Pakcik and Mahcik from Kuala Kedah who were
supplying Paladang with a kampong made balacan. No warnings or
opportunities to correct the packaging were given by the officers. No
advice and assistance on how to correct it. Just a nice big compound. I
could see the Pakcik, who had probably never broken any law in his life
crying in the corner of the store.
lived at Batu 9 Berseri in Perlis, I saw many houses within the area
had earthen floors, and no furniture, fridge, or TV. The people there
struggled so hard to make ends meet with the jobs they could get, some
paying as little as RM 20 per day at the time, while the former YB for
the state assembly seat drove around his electorate in his Merc. This
was an area where the weekly donations at Friday prayers didn’t even
With all the kris waving and Ketuanan
Melayu rhetoric, one would think that the above three situations would
not occur within Malaysia.
Nonetheless, over the pandemic, there
have been countless examples double standards, where struggling Malay
hawkers were given excessive fines for breaches of Covid SOPs, while
politicians have either got away without any fine, or given minimum
Malays, second-class citizens?
Some of the major assumptions behind the Ketuanan Melayu narrative place Malays under the ‘care’ of their leaders. The 1971 book Revolusi Mental, published by UMNO portrayed Malays as weak and backward, and Mahathir Mohamed in his book The Malay Dilemma talked about the ‘lazy Malay.’
The UMNO politicians made themselves the guardians of Malay rights.
However, history since the 1970s shows how Malaysia’s leaders have
continually abused this self-given trust.
those Malays who are self-made, and many will tell you how they feel
berated, insulted and angry over such assumptions. The hardworking
everyday success stories are ignored by the elite because it threatens
The so-called privileges that Malays are
supposed to get such as university scholarships, seem to go primarily to
those who have connections. Many Malays feel these privileges are out
of their reach and they must survive to pursue their careers and
livelihoods without assistance.
One lady I spoke to at the pasar
Yan in Kedah asked me around 2004, how would the biotechnology industry
(launched with much fanfare at the time) benefit her community.