Malaysia: The Making of a Nation

By Cheah Boon Kheng | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN

Epilogue

Nation-Building and Leadership in Malaysia:
Or, Manipulating the Social Contract
and Malay Dominance

Malaysia is a modern multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation, with a dominant ethnic Malay base. The Malaysian nation is a political community which reflects Malay political primacy; yet is not a “Malay” nation. Malaysian government policies on national unity are based on integration, not assimilation. The Malaysian nation is based upon cultural differences and is evolving a political culture that takes account of its plural culturalism.

Apart from language and education, the government's policies have been aimed at accommodation of non-Malays in the short term and at integration over a longer period, “but not to the extent of making non- Malays drastically alter their way of life or abandon their cultural heritage”, observe political scientists Milne and Mauzy, who added that, “In the Borneo states integration was to be even more gradual.” 1 Although the Malaysian nation has a Malay base, the ethnic and political boundaries are transcended by a Malaysian consciousness or Malaysian nationalism that consists of a nucleus of Malay nationalism enclosed by the idea of a partnership embracing Malays, Chinese, Indians and the natives of the Borneo states of Sarawak and Sabah.

There are, of course, competing notions of what kind of “imagined community” Malaysia should be among the various ethnic communities. For the Malay nationalists, Malaysia should be a “Malay” nation-state, while the non-Malay communities aspire to some kind of a multi-ethnic Malaysian nation or Bangsa Malaysia, as enunciated in 1991 by Prime Minister

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