Published in Free Malaysia Today 10 November 2016

KUALA LUMPUR: Inequality among Malaysians will worsen if the scope of privileges for Bumiputeras continue to be widened under Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) has warned.

The think tank’s Manager for External Relations, Azrul Mohd Khalib, cautioned against misinterpreting these privileges as rights.

Article 153, which has long been considered a sensitive issue, states that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is responsible for safeguarding the special position of the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities

“The privileges, such as university quotas or housing discounts, were never meant to be permanent,” Azrul told FMT. “These are temporary measures to assist the Bumiputera community and are specific to certain areas.”

He noted that the government had been adding to these privileges through the years and that these had come to be interpreted as entitlements or rights.

“It is important to note that nowhere in Malaysia’s Constitution is there a reference to the term ‘Malay rights,’” he said.

“Article 153 only indicates the special position of the Malays and there is also no mention of the term ‘Bumiputera’ in the document.”

“Article 153 also protects the rights of the non-Malays,” he said. “It protects them against discrimination.”

He said opportunities for non-Malays could not be denied just because there were quotas for Bumiputeras.

“For example, Parliament cannot restrict any business or trade solely to Bumiputeras, civil servants must be treated impartially regardless of race and laws reserving quotas for trade licences cannot deprive any person already holding a licence of any right to renew his licence.”

He noted that right-wing Malay groups would often cite the constitutional role of the King to discourage or prevent discussion or questioning of excesses in the granting of privileges to Bumiputeras.

Hence, he said, affirmative action policies which did not serve their purpose or were open to exploitation were allowed to continue.

“Affirmative action policies must be needs-based and not race-based,” he said. “Why should someone get a discount for buying a RM5 million house? Why do we need Bumiputera-only universities and boarding schools?

“Because we cannot question Article 153, its scope is continuously being expanded according to political expediency.”

Azrul said the New Economic Policy, while appearing to put Article 153 into operation to increase coverage of social equity and reduce economic inequalities, had in reality enabled the Malay political elite to control large segments of the Malaysian economy.

“Though it has generally been a successful policy, it has created new class gaps which will fester for generations to come,” he added.

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