SINGAPORE: Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan government has faced backlash from the majority Malay community because it has succumbed too much to the pressure from the urban elite and civil society, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim said on Friday (Apr 26).
Mr Anwar, who was speaking at a plenary session of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) conference in Singapore, said the government must do more to focus on the bread and butter issues faced by the rural Malay population, such as the low prices of rubber.
"The urban elite sets a list of priorities which are a disconnect from the real problems of the poor, and at times, the elite seems to ignore these real problems. I’ve not heard them talking about … poverty, inequality,” said Mr Anwar.
“Human rights is an issue, judicial independence is an issue, and (this is something) which we should not delay in terms of implementation. But the crux of the problem is still the economy. Economic hardship is real, we will have to deal with this,” he added.
He also highlighted that these issues need to be dealt with “the greatest urgency” or risk a rise in “religious bigotry and racism”.
Mr Anwar outlined that the rural Malays are concerned that the present government is formulating policies that marginalise them. He added that it was important to reassure them that the government is upholding Bahasa Melayu (Malay language) as the national language and preserving the special rights of the Malays, as stated in the Federal Constitution.
“In Malaysia, Bahasa Melayu is the national language. It makes no harm if you really put emphasis so that every Malaysian master or is competent in the Malay language,” said the Member of Parliament for Port Dickson.
Mr Anwar also called for the urban community in Malaysia to volunteer and engage with the rural people through teaching them digital skills and showing them how to use technology, for example.
“I have appealed to (the urban people) … go to some of these (rural) districts and talk to them. Give them some facilities, buy some cheap computers and teach these young poor kids, then you engage with them,” he said.
“They will then know that some of these rich urban technocrats share some concerns over their welfare. And this sort of this engagement is the only resolution, but it’s for the benefit of the community. Because otherwise, potentially it’s a problem,” Mr Anwar added.
He also reiterated the importance of affirmative action, and that the government will continue to lend a hand to some of the rural poor to give them a leg up in getting university places.
On Wednesday, Malaysia’s Education Minister Maszlee Malik announced that the government is expanding the number of students entering the pre-university matriculation programme to 40,000 from the previous 25,000.
However, the 90 per cent quota for bumiputras will remain. The decision to retain the quota has sparked criticism from certain quarters, including Penang’s Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy, who said that the government made the decision as it feared backlash from sections of the Malay-Muslim community.
Mr Anwar said some people are “obsessed” with terms like meritocracy, but this concept might not be the most effective in helping some of the rural poor population.
“On meritocracy, it's ok if you live in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, but you compete against somebody from a Dayak tribe in Kapit (Sarawak)? No one in Kapit will ever get nine As (for their exams),” said Mr Anwar.
“So do you condemn them? No, you give them additional training so they can be brought up (to the same level as the rest),” he added.