Call for needs-based, not race-based, affirmative action

Malaysia's decades-old affirmative action policy is obsolete and should be needs-based rather than race-based, prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim said yesterday.

But he assured the Malay heartland - who currently benefit from cheaper homes, reserved spots at local universities and preferential access to government contracts - that those who are marginalised, especially in rural areas, will still be taken care of.

"So meritocracy has its basis and must be supported. But affirmative action policies that would cater for the plight of the underprivileged, the poor, the marginalised, must be continued, but it must be needs-based and not race-based," he said.

The national economic policy was just one of the many Malaysian reforms Datuk Seri Anwar spoke about during the S. Rajaratnam Endowment Dialogue at the Singapore Summit 2018. The former deputy prime minister, who plans to take over the reins from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in two years' time as agreed by the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, gave an overview of the state of the nation that not only outlined measures to move the country forward, but also offered a glimpse into his vision and priorities as Malaysia's next leader.

Among the reforms he outlined were moves to root out corruption and ensure the independence of the judiciary, media and agencies like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and Auditor-General's Office. "Never again will we allow the executive to wield so much power and do so much damage to the nation," he said, in a veiled reference to the financial scandal at 1Malaysia Development Berhad that occurred during the former administration of Najib Razak.

After announcing last Wednesday that he would run in a by-election in Port Dickson by the year end to become an elected MP, the former jailed leader faces some criticism that he is impatient to ascend to power. "Am I in a hurry? No. Because I told PM Mahathir that I will focus on parliamentary reform."

In his speech, Mr Anwar also commended Tun Dr Mahathir for several moves during his four months as leader - namely his efforts to reform institutions and rein in state spending. "We support him (Mahathir)," Mr Anwar later told reporters. "I don't think we should be rushing to it because he is playing a very critical role for the country, and the country needs stability and a strong leader... I want to make sure he is effective in his position."

Mr Anwar also told the international audience of mainly business leaders that Malaysia hoped to transform into "a new economic force in the region, with vibrant pro-growth policies and a stable and clear business environment where the rule of law prevails and democratic institutions are firmly in place".

Lim Ai Leen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 16, 2018, with the headline 'Call for needs-based, not race-based, affirmative action'. Print Edition | Subscribe