Nurul Izzah Anwar

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Nurul Izzah Anwar

Nurul Izzah: Needs-based affirmative action can calm racial sensitivities

Posted: 26 Jul 2013 11:39 PM PDT

27 July 2013
The Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, July 27 — With racial tensions in Malaysia coming closer to a boil, PKR's Nurul Izzah Anwar has outlined the urgency of taking focus away from society's racial divisions to embrace needs-based affirmative action that cuts across ethnic lines.

The PKR vice-president admitted the move may be construed as means to water down the Malay identity but insisted that this was the way forward to stop the endless racial clashes from ripping the social fabric.

"You need affirmative action, but it has to be based on needs. Some say it weakens our Malay identity, but it's all about getting the crowd of people to see it objectively," Nurul Izzah said in an exclusive interview with The Malay Mail Online recently.

The Lembah Pantai MP and outspoken "Puteri Reformasi" observed that impoverished Malays appear more easily influenced by racist rhetoric, particularly when they feel they are lagging behind others.

"When a large pool of the Malays, especially in urban centres or the rural areas, feel they've been left out from the economic development of the country, it makes them more susceptible to racist rhetoric," she said.

Malays, who form 60 per cent of the 28 million-strong population, are constitutionally defined to be Muslims.

Nurul Izzah stressed that it was important to focus on class issues like the economy and crime that cut across all ethnic groups, instead of representing communal interests that the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) and its predecessor — the Alliance party — have done for more than half a century.

You need affirmative action, but it has to be based on needs. Some say it weakens our Malay identity, but it's all about getting the crowd of people to see it objectively. — Nurul Izzah Anwar

Racial divisions have shaped the Malaysian political landscape over the decades. Pro-Bumiputera affirmative action policies were implemented since the 1970s, but opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has argued that such measures benefit the well-connected Malay elite at the expense of ordinary citizens.

The social impact of race-based economic policies and politics — where BN's component parties Umno, the MCA and MIC represent the Malays, Chinese and Indians respectively — is more complex.

Inter-racial and inter-religious relations have been uneasy, with the row between Muslims and Christians on the word "Allah" exploding in 2010 when the High Court ruled that the Arabic word did not belong exclusively to the former. A church was firebombed and other places of worship were desecrated.

Malay rights lobby Perkasa had once even suggested that Malay-language bibles which contain the word "Allah" be burned. The right-wing group also recently demanded that Putrajaya expel the Vatican's first ambassador to Malaysia, Archbishop Joseph Marino, for his views on the "Allah" issue that it deemed provocative.

Racial hostilities deepened when a Chinese pair of bloggers uploaded a photograph of themselves eating "bak kut teh" (a soupy pork dish), together with a Ramadan greeting, on Facebook several weeks ago. They were swiftly charged with sedition and even denied bail.

"What kind of issues are the Malays facing?" said Nurul Izzah. "They don't have any financial control over their lives. They're trying to make ends meet every single day. This kind of issue is easier for them to grasp, rather than other issues."

She noted that a survey by independent pollster Merdeka Center, which was released last February, showed that the majority of Malay respondents viewed "Allah" as a word that belonged solely to Muslims.

The eldest daughter of Opposition Leader and PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim also said that the "make-up" of PKR made the PR lynchpin the "natural choice" to push forth multiracial politics. PKR's two allies — the DAP and PAS — are viewed as mostly being a Chinese party and conservative Islamic party respectively.

"We have a good set of young leaders," said Nurul Izzah.

She named PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli — who shot to fame after exposing a national cattle-farming scandal and subsequently won the Pandan federal seat in Election 2013 — whom she described as "courageous".

Nurul Izzah also highlighted other young party leaders like Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin, Bukit Katil MP Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin and Bagan Serai MP N. Surendran.

"We're on the right track," she said. "Keadilan (PKR) must safeguard the future of multiracial politics."


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