Why we should bring back quotas

Hafidz Baharom

RECENTLY, Prime Minister Najib Razak promised that he would introduce a 30% women’s quota for senators in the Dewan Negara. 

The announcement was met with attacks, as some said that it was baffling that in this day and age, we still need quotas to give women equity in politics while half the population of this country are women. 

But what is not said, I think, is that there is a need for affirmative action for women not just in politics, but also in the private sector and civil service. 

This is because contrary to some wide-eyed feminist beliefs, Malaysians are not an equal treatment society nor are we even close to gender equality in all aspects of life. We still haven’t even gotten fair treatment across racial lines, for crying out loud. 

As an example, let’s go back to 2002 when the racial quota system was abolished for university intakes, and guess what happened. Instead of somehow having a system whereby students were chosen based on merit as expected, we instead ended up with an opaque and regressive system that gives the mandate to each respective university. 

And thus, here we are in a quagmire wondering why students of certain races with perfect results don’t get chosen. 

Similarly, looking at our civil service, it is a clear fact that there is a huge racial bias in the staff, which has caused similar headache in government handlings.

Case in point, we have a civil service that tries to implement its own beliefs beyond their boundaries, as is the case of  those offering batik cloths to those who wear dresses or skirts.

At the same time, the domination of the Malay Malaysian in the civil service impacts the private sector, as some use it to justify a tit-for-tat policy in their own hiring practices.

The setting of both racial and gender quotas and enforcing them will ensure equity among both gender and race issues. Furthermore, let’s not kid ourselves in believing that there isn’t a glass ceiling for race and gender in politics or even business in the majority.

Ask yourselves this, when has any political party had a woman as their federal level leadership?

Democracy itself as a system of governance means you follow the mob, and if the mob is against it, then tough luck. This is clearly justified in Malaysian politics where gender and racial representation in the form of candidates in general elections is a key aspect.

The incendiary example I used was this – you wouldn’t ask a political party to put a liberal Indian of Christian faith to become the candidate in Shah Alam where the population is almost 90% Malay Muslims.

They would lose because society – in this case, the voters of Shah Alam – would not be ready to look beyond race and religion.

Malaysia as a society is in its majority both sexist and racist. I alluded to this fact in an earlier piece on why we cannot have an anti-racism law. And thus, if we want to solve both problems urgently, authoritarian quotas is the way to go.

Of course, there is another way, which is to let society play catch up, to let society mature and evolve their thinking to be able to accept gender and racial equality. This takes time, perhaps even a period of two, three, maybe even four generations.

As a friend on my Facebook pointed out, we are a young nation of 60 years. Other societies which have now accepted both gender and racial equality as a whole, went through multiple periods of abuse, arrest, activism and liberation.

Some have gone all the way towards facing civil war before emancipation, before facing segregation, public killings, achieving legal equality. This is the summary of the history of the African American community.

In fact, if we were to compare race relations and gender issues now to that of the 1960s or the 1970s even, have we regressed or achieved some progress?

Are we better off now in interfaith, interracial relations and even gender equality?

Truthfully speaking, I personally believe we have become obsessed and have let race, faith and even gender  permeate into all our decision-making and actions in politics, business and many other aspects of life. We even segregate in eating places and cinemas, for God’s sake – in the most literal form.

Thus, since Malaysians cannot be trusted to look beyond race and gender, perhaps we should bring back the quotas and enforce it as much as possible. – December 15, 2017.

* Hafidz loves to ruffle feathers and believes in the EA Games tag line of challenging everything. Most times, he represents the Devil’s Advocate on multiple issues.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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  • Talking rot! All these everything to do with the government in office! Quotas will be better, what rubbish! There are enough of such rulings in present government to
    ensure some cronies are getting richer!

    Posted 6 years ago by Leong Kuy Leng · Reply

  • Quota is just legal discrimination. When those disenfranchised do it, in Malaysia, we simplistically see it as "balancing". But at some point, it inevitably just ugly over-entitlement and hate. The answer to prejudice is not hiding it with edict BUT to show it in full view and deal with all its messes.

    Posted 6 years ago by Bigjoe Lam · Reply

  • Well said, and if Shah Alam of all places is not ready to accept a non Muslim as their representative, where else? Shah Alam is a Royal city, well educated community and the most Malay vibrant area in the country ... And yet they are racist when it comes to voting.....it's not the people there but how this city was planned and develop initially. Just like Putrajaya....these 2 cities we're planned and built for a single race !!!!! These fundamental has to change.....my 2 cents!

    Posted 6 years ago by Crishan Veera · Reply