THERE is a narrative which has been perpetuated for many years that the majority of the Malays still live in rural areas and that the urban areas are dominated by the non-Malays, especially the Chinese.
This may have been true 40 years ago but the demographic landscape in Malaysia has changed significantly since the 1980s.
Since this issue has been in the news lately, I want to debunk this narrative or bust this “myth” using the latest available statistics.
Fact 1: The majority of Malays live in urban areas in Malaysia
According to figures from the Department of Statistics Malaysia, 75% of Malaysia’s population lived in urban areas in 2016.
Out of this 75%, a majority or 56% are Bumiputeras. In fact, the number of Bumiputeras living in urban areas outnumber those who live in rural areas by two to one.
In 2016, 13.2 million Bumiputeras lived in urban areas compared with only 6.2 million in the rural areas.  In other words, almost 70% of Bumiputeras (of which the Malays are the majority) live in urban areas.
These figures, in 2020, would definitely show an increase for the percentage as well as the number of Bumiputeras in urban areas.
Of course, Bumiputeras form the majority of rural dwellers but the larger point here is that the Bumiputeras, especially the Malays, are overwhelmingly an urban community.
This leads me to the second fact to highlight.
Fact 2: The majority of the largest parliamentary seats are located in urban areas with Malay voters being the plurality or the majority
Some of those who want to perpetuate the myth that Malays are a rural community often also want to perpetuate the myth that nearly all of the large parliamentary constituencies in the urban areas are Chinese-majority constituencies.
Forty years ago, it was the case that the parliamentary constituencies with the largest number of voters were Chinese majority constituencies located in Kuala Lumpur. This is no longer the case.
Table 1 shows the 20 largest parliamentary constituencies using figures from the 2018 general election. Only four are Chinese majority. Nine are Malay majority. Seven are Malay plurality (Malays form the largest bloc of voters but less than 50%) including my own constituency of Bangi.
Nearly all of these seats are urban or semi-urban seats (with the exception of Baling and perhaps Tumpat and Kemamam). The average percentage of Malay voters in these 20 seats is 55.6% compared to an average percentage of 31.3 of Chinese voters.
If the Malays were to register as voters were they live rather than going back to their kampung to vote, perhaps as many as 15 out of the top 20 parliamentary seats in Malaysia would be Malay-majority seats in urban areas.
Fact 3: There are more Malay rich households than Chinese rich households but Malays also the majority of the B40 (including the urban poor)
One statistic which may surprise many is that there are more Bumiputera households earning more than RM10,000 a month compared with Chinese households.
According to Khazanah Research Institute’s State of the Household Report first published in 2014, there were 280,000 Bumiputera households with monthly incomes exceeding RM10,000 compared with 254,000 Chinese households and 45,000 Indian households.
These figures were obtained from the 2012 household and income survey collected by the Department of Statistics.
Many Bumiputera, especially Malay households, are in the T20 category. This is part of the professionalisation and urbanisation experience of the Malays over the past four decades and this trend will continue as more Malays move to the urban areas and as more Malays obtain higher education qualifications (a subject for another post) and have access to better job opportunities.
Many high-paying jobs, whether in the civil service, government-linked companies or in non-GLC listed companies are held by Malay professionals.
Of course, it is also true that the majority of the B40 group are from the Bumiputeras. According to figures collected for the 11th Malaysia Plan, the Bumiputeras comprised 73.6% of households in the B40 category.
At the same time, it is also worth highlighting that Chinese households comprise 17.5% of the B40 category and Indian households 7.5%. The impression that all Chinese are rich towkays is clearly a mistaken one.
Furthermore, if we can breakdown the Bumiputeras into smaller segments, I am confident that we would find a larger percentage of the Sarawak and Sabah Bumiputeras which are more rural and also have lower household incomes compared with the Malays.
Why is it important to debunk these myths?
First, public policy must be designed based on updated statistics and facts, not based on mistaken narratives. For example, if governemnt policy is aimed at helping the marginalised Bumiputeras, it would be a mistake to focus the majority of resources in the rural areas since the majority of Bumiputeras actually live in the urban areas.
This is also why we need to update our measures of poverty, especially urban poverty, to capture the Bumiputera households which fall into this category and not pretend that we do not have any urban poor using outdated statistical measures.
Second, believing these myths would lead one to ignore the significant progress made in the creation of a vibrant Bumiputera middle class in Malaysia over the past decades.
Third, we need to understand these facts in order to know what policies have succeeded and what policies have failed in the past.
For example, would more middle and high-income Bumiputera households been created if there was less crony capitalism and more transparency in the creation of capable Bumiputera entrepreneurs and professionals?
Only with an honest appraisal of the facts and figures (and not relying to myths and mistaken narratives), can we answer these questions and find the right policy responses. – June 30, 2020.
* Ong Kian Ming is the Bangi MP and DAP assistant political education director.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.