What is fuelling the protests and rallies and candlelight vigils and prayer gatherings?
If we look at the Hindraf protest, it would be easy to conclude that the main issue is ethnic and religious discrimination, which has left many Indian Malaysians feeling disgruntled.
But then again, it is not only Indian Malaysians who have protested. In the case of the Bersih rally, large number of Malay Malaysians, many of them low-income, have also turned up to voice their unhappiness.
Prior to that, during the MTUC demonstrations to demand a monthly minimum wage of RM900 and a cost of living allowance of RM300, the vast majority of those who protested were also Malay Malaysians.
There is a common denominator in all three of these protests. The majority of those who protested were from the low-income group. Why was this, I wondered. Could it have something to do with the wide gulf between the rich and the poor in Malaysia – a disparity which is the highest in the region? And if so, what has contributed to this huge divide, which cuts across all ethnic groups in Malaysia?
From my conversations with various people, I narrowed it down to two factors:
- abuse of affirmative action policies under the New Economic Policy to benefit a small group of the elite, their cronies (from all ethnic groups) and their favoured corporations;
- neo-liberal policies that have favoured a select group of well-connected individuals and corporations while undermining the working class. In the process, a new underclass has emerged, which is struggling to make ends meet;
- and, this is something that Rustam Sani suggested, a betrayal of political leadership – promises of reforms unfulfilled (remember how the Abdullah administration promised so much, raising the bar of expectations higher); a vision unrealised (whatever happened to all the hype of Vision 2020? We were supposed to be heading to the Promised Land of 2020, Bangsa Malaysia and all that)…
No wonder ordinary people are disillusioned and disgruntled. That is why, I believe, there is an air of restlessness in Malaysian society today as more and more Malaysians demand justice and accountability.
RIGHTS-MALAYSIA: ‘Neo-Liberal Policies Fuelling Protests, Not Race’
Analysis by Anil Netto
PENANG, Dec 18 (IPS) – After a series of street demonstrations in recent weeks top analysts and activists say the government is not tackling the economic roots of grievances among marginalised Malaysians, but appears stuck in its old mould of race-based thinking.