Apartheid in Malaysia
|How the sausage is made|
Apartheid in Malaysia refers to policies though the country's structural institutions which has been noted by many opposition groups, government critics, and human rights observers as being analogous to apartheid. This has been noted specifically against its citizens who are of ethnic Chinese and Indian descent, as well as other various minorities.
Such comparisons have also been extended to those who are of a religious minority. In Malaysia, citizens who are of bumiputera status have numerous privileges over citizens without such a status. What classifies one as a "bumiputera" is directly linked to race and not social class, which means that no matter how successful you become, you will never be granted such a status.
As of 2017, bumiputeras make up 68.8% of the Malaysian population and are further divided into Malay proper, who make up 54.66% of the Malaysian population, and other bumiputeras, who make up 14.14%, most of whom belong to various ethnic groups related to the Malays. However, non-Malay bumiputeras also face restrictions not faced by Malays, such as land ownership, being the "second-tier" in a "three-tiered" system of citizen rights.
The term "apartheid" in a Malaysian context largely refers to the analogy in comparison with apartheid in South Africa. Malaysia, since its inception in 1957 and endorsed by successive governments, especially under the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition as well as various splinter parties, espouses a concept of Ketuanan Melayu, which directly translates to "Malay supremacy." Such a concept is indistinguishable from apartheid-era South Africa's Baasskap, which is connected to the English-language term "white supremacy".
- "The criteria for a person to be considered a Malay; which is to profess the religion of Islam, habitually speak the Malay language, conform to Malay customs and be born to a Malaysian parent."
- "If one of the parents is Muslim Malay/Orang Asli as stated in Article 160 (2) Federal Constitution of Malaysia; thus the child is considered as a bumiputera".
Malaysia is one of the only few countries (fewer than 10) in the world not to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) at the United Nations (UN), due to the possibility of "conflicts" with the Constitution of Malaysia and the "race and religious norms" that may jeopardise the special status of Malays in the country. One of the core provisions of ICERD, particularly in Article 3, specifically mentions its condemnation of apartheid policies and racial segregation.
When BN lost its majority after the country's 2018 Malaysian general election, there were fears among the Malay population of eventual ratification by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, which could possibly signal the end of bumiputera privileges and special positions of the Malays in the country. Race relations eventually severely deteriorated to the point where a mass rally was held in the country's capital of Kuala Lumpur to pressure the government against ratification. PH would eventually lose power just two years later amid the 2020–21 Malaysian political crisis, with pro-Bumiputera parties, including BN, regaining government control.
Such policies have caused significant rates of human capital flight (or brain drain) from Malaysia. More than 300,000 Malaysians commute to Singapore daily via the Malaysia–Singapore border, including for education and work. Many would move to Singapore permanently and take up Singaporean citizenship. Other reasons include the country's proximity to Malaysia, its higher standard of living, significantly more job opportunities arising from the country's international status as an economic hub, and most notably the higher currency exchange rate of the Singapore dollar over the Malaysian ringgit – S$1 equals to about RM3.10 as of 2022.
Analysts have stated that major pull factors have included better career opportunities in Singapore and abroad as well as compensation, while major push factors included corruption, social inequality, educational opportunities, and racial inequality such as the Malaysian government's bumiputera affirmative action policies. A United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs showed that close to a million Malaysians were in Singapore as of 2019.
According to the World Bank, human capital flight from Malaysia has also increased in pace – 305,000 Malaysians migrated overseas between just March 2008 and August 2009, compared to 140,000 in 2007. Non-bumiputeras, particularly Malaysian Indians and Malaysian Chinese, were over-represented in these statistics. Singapore is the foremost destination. This is reported to have caused Malaysia's economic growth rate to fall to an average of 4.6% per annum in the 2000s compared to 7.2% in the 1990s. In 2019, as many as 1.7 million Malaysians were employed overseas. Singapore is the most favoured country with 54% of Malaysians having moved there, followed by Australia at 15%, the United States at 10%, and lastly the United Kingdom at 5%, with the remaining 16% being miscellaneous countries.
A study by the Standford University highlighted that among the main factors behind the Malaysian brain drain phenomenon are the "less attractive salary and benefits" offered in the country, the lack of career prospects, and the unavailability of opportunities in certain fields. "A majority of Malaysia’s economy is based on production and manufacturing instead of research and development, which makes it a magnet for semi-skilled labour but results in the lack of skilled job opportunities," it stated. Another factor that contributed to the Malaysian brain drain is social injustice. It is inferred that the emigration of non-bumiputera Malaysians from the country is driven by discriminatory policies that appear to favour Malays/Bumiputeras—such as providing exclusive additional assistance in starting businesses and educational opportunities.
The analogy has been debated by various government politicians, critics, and human rights activists. Supporters of retaining such policies argue that such laws were "agreed" to as part of a "trade off" to grant non-bumiputeras Malaysian citizenship, known as the social contract.
In 2009, Democratic Action Party (DAP) politician Boo Cheng Hau, the opposition leader in the Malaysian state of Johor, compared "bumiputeraism" with state apartheid. In response, Boo faced intense criticisms and death threats by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which is a part of the BN coalition. Nik Aziz Nik Mat of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) subsequently added that the term bumiputera is itself "racist" and the that the policy prevented other races from receiving government aid.
In 2015, human rights activist Shafiqah Othman Hamzah also noted that the practice of apartheid policies against different religions in Malaysia is institutionalised and widespread, adding that "What we are living in Malaysia is almost no different from apartheid."
Some human rights activists also added that Malaysia's policies also extends to gender apartheid. In 2006, human rights activist Marina Mahathir, the daughter of Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohammad, described the status of Muslim women in Malaysia as similar to that of apartheid-era South Africa.
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- Jamie Koh, Stephanie Ho (2009). Culture and Customs of Singapore and Malaysia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313351167.
- "Flourishing ties rooted in shared history". The Straits Times. August 9, 2015. "Many Singaporeans and Malaysians had friends and family on the other side of the Causeway."
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- "Young Malaysians Tell Us The Honest Truth About What It's Like To Work In Singapore". Says. January 17, 2017. "it's relatively near to Malaysia compared to other places around the world."
- Lim, Ida (19 January 2020). "UN data shows Malaysians make up biggest migrant group in Singapore at 44pc" (in en).
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- "Putting the Malaysian diaspora into perspective". Stanford University.
- Chung, Clarissa; Zainal, Fatimah (24 May 2019). "Experts: ‘Social contract’ never in the Constitution" (in en).