Asia Sentinel: Singapore’s Malay Dilemma…


Singapore’s Malay Dilemma

They continue to be left out of the island republic’s prosperity

Jun 29

By: Murray Hunter

There has always been a feeling among Singapore’s ethnic Malays that they are second-class citizens within their own land. The government’s endless pursuit of building a strong sense of a Singaporean national identity has come up short within the 750,000-odd Malays who make up 13.5 percent of the population.

A paradox of communal introspection exists, a cognitive dissonance between being a Malay and being a Singaporean. However, this remains largely unspoken about today, particularly among the younger generation. 

The Singaporean constitution recognizes the special position of the Malays, who are officially defined as the indigenous people of Singapore. This section also gives the government the responsibility to protect, safeguard, support, foster, and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social and cultural interests, and their language.

Although Malays have progressed with the growing affluence of Singapore, Malays still earn 25 percent less than the national average, lagging far behind ethnic Chinese and Indians. Malays are still participating in higher-education below par with the rest of the Singaporean population, leading to a great under-representation within the professional classes, elite government positions, armed forces and police. Malays have a much higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart conditions and other fatal diseases, than the rest of the population.

What’s more, Malays have been blamed for this in the public media as having a cultural deficit, being stereotyped as undertaking unhealthy cultural practices.

They suffer discrimination in hiring, are the first group laid off due to business shutdowns from Covid-19 restrictions, are over-represented in crime, drug abuse and the prison population. Even with their status protected by the constitution, Malays are seriously hindered by regulations restricting the operation of traditional small-scale business enterprises (Niaga kecil/gerai) from home. Consequently, the incidence of social and economic poverty in Singapore falls primarily on ethnic Malays, with a prevailing sense of anguish within the community.

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