Issue of 'marginalisation' of Singaporean Malays resurrected in Malaysia

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Mahatir Mohamad (left) and former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim (right).
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Mahatir Mohamad (left) and former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim (right). PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG/THE STAR

Former Malaysian prime minister, Tun Mahathir Mohamad, has again resurrected the issue of the supposed "marginalisation" of Malays in Singapore as part of his strident campaign to unseat Prime Minister Najib Razak.

But at least one prominent Malay politician has brushed aside the former premier's remarks, saying Singaporean Malays are not marginalised.

"I can't wait for Malays here to be like Singaporean Malays," said Mr Zaid Ibrahim, a former Umno member and law minister turned opposition politician.

In a video released on Sunday (June 21), Dr Mahathir said that if Mr Najib stays in power, the Malay community in Malaysia could become marginalised like their Singapore counterparts.

Dr Mahathir was seen telling his audience that the struggle for Malaysia is not for the personal goals of one man but for the survival of the nation, its race and its religion, Malay Mail reported.

"I think we are smart people. Do we want to protect Najib? Or do we want to protect the Malays and the country? This is what we have to ask ourselves," he said in his speech during a closed-door forum on June 17 with several non-governmental organisations at the Perdana Foundation.

Dr Mahathir cited again the example of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) controversy, his biggest pet peeve of the Najib government, and said that he found it difficult to imagine how the firm had racked up a RM42 billion (S$15 billion) debt.

"But if we don't acknowledge the crime that is happening here, there is a high likelihood that we will lose and we will be divided... And we will suffer the fate of the Malays in Singapore, in southern Thailand and other places," Dr Mahathir said.

"Now we are thankful because we are still in power but if Najib leads the country, we will lose that power in our hands and at that point, there won't be anyone there to offer us protection," he added.

The 89-year-old former premier, who has previously made strong statements about what he perceived to be the marginalisation of Malays in Singapore, has been launching attacks against Mr Najib and campaigning for his resignation.

On Sunday, Mr Zaid said he disagreed with Dr Mahathir's claim that Mr Najib's leadership would force the Malays in Malaysia to become as marginalised as Singapore's Malays. He said if Dr Mahathir's assertion were true, he would gladly support Mr Najib.

"Sorry Tun if under Najib Malays here will become like Spore Malays; I will give him full support. Malays under Najjb will be Talibans," the former minister wrote on Twitter.

Then on Wednesday (June 24), Mr Zaid clarified his statement after an online news portal reportedly suggested that his tweet meant that he would not mind Malays in Malaysia being marginalised as long as they do not become extremists like the Taleban.

"Malays are the majority ethnic group in Malaysia and have complete control over government and its apparatus, so to talk of Malay marginalisation is absolute nonsense," he said in a post on his blog The Zaidgeist. Mr Zaid reiterated that he did not want to see Malays being marginalised and poor.

"Malays should be given the best opportunities to improve and they deserve much more than what they currently have. But not all Malays in Malaysia are marginalised. In fact, they are first-class citizens at least on paper. Unfortunately, they have not been able to reap the benefits of first-class treatment because they do not have a good government with honest leaders," he wrote.

He then pointed out that Singaporean Malays do not have the same "special treatment" as their Malaysian counterparts.

"...so you could say that they are worse off than us. However, their leaders are clean and the transparent system of government there means it's a lot more difficult to siphon off public money for private use. That's what Malays here need. Good government with good, clean and honest leaders," he wrote.

Mr Zaid gave the example of Singapore's housing policy which he described as "good and fair" and said Malays in Malaysia "would be better off if we had the same thing".

"Singaporean Malays, although a minority, are also not marginalised. Many of them are happy with the Singaporean Government and it would be silly for the PAP to even think of discriminating against Malays and risk forfeiting 15 per cent of the vote," he wrote.

"The difference is this: Singaporean Malays reap the benefits of the modern advanced economy that is Singapore and are encouraged by political leaders to develop themselves. In Malaysia, Malays are happy to let their leaders make all the money as long as they promise to 'defend' bahasa, bangsa and agama (language, race and religion)."

"I can't wait for Malays here to be like Singaporean Malays," Mr Zaid wrote.