Sunday, October 12, 2008

Do Malays Want NEP to End?

Shannon Teoh, in an article posted in The Malaysian Insider on October 9, quoted a poll by Merdeka Center for Opinion Research which suggests that a majority of Malaysians wants NEP to end. The poll found that seventy-one percent of Malaysians surveyed agree with the statement that Barisan Nasional's "race-based affirmative action policy is obsolete and must be replaced with a merit-based policy". The poll conducted between June 18 and July 29, involving about 3,600 respondents nationwide, shows that 65 per cent of Malays agreed with the statement, compared with 83 per cent of Chinese and 89 per cent of Indian respondents. Based on the finding, Shanon concluded that “a majority of Malaysians are now ready to do away with NEP-type policies”.

Shannon might be correct in making such a conclusion. But as one of the researchers who involved in the survey, I would like to point out some “nuances” captured by the survey as far as the Malay attitude toward the New Economic Policy (NEP) is concerned.

The finding quoted by Shanon is based on the respondents’ answer to a “generic” question. To be sure, out of 65 percent of Malays who “agreed” to do away with race-based affirmative action policy, 40 percent said they “strongly agree” while 25 percent said they “somewhat agree”. 19 percent said they "strongly disagree". To further probe the Malays’ real attitude toward race-based policy such as the NEP, we did ask specific questions about the NEP itself. Not surprisingly, the survey found that 58 percent of Malay respondents believe that NEP is a symbol of Malay privilege and 67 percent said that “the Malays need all the help that they can get to move ahead so programs like the NEP should be welcomed”. It seems the same Malays who agreed with the doing away of the race-based affirmative action policy wanted the NEP to continue. Why the Malay respondents reacted differently to the “generic” and the “specific” questions is difficult to explain.

But like their non-Malay counterparts, significant numbers of Malay respondents too are not satisfied with the NEP. The reasons for their dissatisfaction might be poles apart. 42 percent of the Malay respondents said that “programs like the NEP typically benefit ordinary Malays” while 47 percent said “they generally benefit the rich and politically connected individuals”. This might provide us with some clues to the Malays’ ambivalent attitude toward a race-based affirmative action policy like the NEP. Should a majority of Malays perceives the NEP as typically benefiting ordinary Malays, they might have come up with more coherent answers to both the generic and the specific questions.

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