Do you think Elon Musk will care to write in Malay for his multi-billion-dollar investment in the country?
When then-Education Minister Anwar Ibrahim introduced “Bahasa Baku” or a standardised pronunciation of the Malay language back in 1988, he was trying to show that he was not only a hero of the Malay language, but also to impress upon fellow Malays that he was more Malay than the Malays – even more Indonesian than the Indonesians (Bahasa Baku is the official version of Indonesian language).
As the Minister of Education (1986-1991) serving Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar was a rising star whose ambition included becoming the next prime minister. He understood very well that to climb up the ladder in his party – the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) – he had to be the most vocal defender and protector of Malay rights and beliefs.
Due to Malays’ unique characteristic – the inferiority feeling of insecurity and being threatened, even though they are the largest ethnic group and have secured all the key positions – politicians could easily manipulate and exploit them. Malay leaders like Mahathir had continuously played the race and religion card to cunningly deceive them that they were being deprived by the minorities.
To create hatred and distrust between the Malays and non-Malays, the Malays were brainwashed that the hardworking minorities, especially the ethnic Chinese, dominated the economy because the Malays were lazy, untrustworthy and incompetent. Therefore, the Malays would lose their political dominance if they did not support UMNO, the so-called Malay defender.
It was because Anwar knew that he had to be seen as the defender of the Malay language that he had introduced “Bahasa Baku”. While the popular government-controlled TV3 news channel was struggling to pronounce “bank” like the “baa” in “baa baa black sheep”, students scrambled to watch the 8pm news largely because one of the news readers was a hot chick (and not because of the Bahasa Baku).
Not satisfied with Bahasa Baku, Anwar also tried to “kill” thousands of students, particularly the non-Malays, with a new rule – students who were sitting for the SPM examination would not get the full certificate if they scored only passing grade P7 or P8 in Malay language. They have to sit for the July paper and attain at least a credit. It was the darkest age for many Form-5 students – both demoralized and frustrated.
Essentially, students who got P7 or P8 in the paper had to further their studies at Chinese independent schools and hoped to get a credit in the July paper while studying for the STPM (Form 6). Alternatively, they could take courses, abandoning the STPM route. Those born in the early 1970s and who became the first guinea pigs of Anwar’s new experiment had very few options as private universities were almost non-existent back then.
Worse, many Chinese and Indian SPM students found out to their horror how their Malay schoolmates who did not do as well as them but were being “forced” to study overseas with full government sponsorships. The joke was that Malay students stuck in Malaysia were the worst of the worst, hence the quotas to help them enter public universities. That explains the production of unemployable graduates.
In fact, MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association), a component member of Barisan Nasional coalition, the former ruling government which lost power in 2018, revealed that Anwar’s introduction to “Bahasa Baku” in 1988 was the source of the deterioration of the English standard in national schools. As a result, many parents, including the Malays, sent their children to Chinese vernacular schools.
The best part was when some SPM students, unhappy with their P7 or P7 grades, had appealed for their Malay language paper to be re-checked only to find out that they had actually passed with credit (some even with distinction). Somehow, the markers had rushed through the papers without properly marking them or were under orders to fail the students deliberately to meet the quota.
But the damage had been done. Disgusted with the racial and religious politics as well as the “Ketuanan Melayu”, the ideology of Malay supremacy espoused by UMNO under the Mahathir leadership during his 22 years of iron-fist rule, the country saw a massive brain drain in the form of hundreds of thousands of technical skills went through a large-scale migration to other countries.
Today, about 35 years later, what has happened to the Bahasa Baku? The only people who spoke it were the Indonesian migrants. Not even the Malays are interested in speaking the standardised pronunciation of the Malay language. Heck, even Anwar himself pronounced the English version of “bank”, instead of Bahasa Baku – proof that it was a spectacular failure.
Now that Anwar has become the 10th Prime Minister of Malaysia after about 25 years in the political wilderness after having been sacked by his former boss Mahathir in 1998, he has again played the Malay language card to win over the Malay voters – 80% of whom did not vote for him in the November 2022 General Election. Official letters sent to government departments must be written in Malay, declared the premier.
“I want to remind the public and private sectors of the directive that those who correspond in a language other than the national language, their letters will be sent back,” – the premier boldly and arrogantly announced. Yes, Anwar Ibrahim actually gives the order to the 1.71 million bloated government servants to blindly reject any letters not written in Malay.
Internally, inter-government agencies have been corresponding in the national language since day one. Meanwhile, every single Malaysian knew that official letters to government offices may not necessarily be entertained even if written in the Malay language, let alone in English, Chinese or Tamil. So, there is no issue about people not using it domestically.
However, foreign investors and companies in Malaysia will not be impressed with the prime minister’s ill-thought instruction not to entertain letters written in foreign languages like English. American, British, French, German, Japanese, Chinese and even companies from neighbouring countries all correspond in English because it is the “lingua franca”. Malay isn’t an international language.
Do you think billionaire Elon Musk will care to write in Malay language for his multi-billion-dollar investment in the country, or his expected response when told that the government agencies have rejected his English-language letters and demanded that he resend those letters in Malay? Likewise, do you think China will still pump RM170 billion worth of investment over the silly mandatory requirement of the Malay language?
The prime minister’s idea was so moronic that even the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak have rubbished and mocked the order. Rejecting the executive order, the Sarawak government swiftly announced that it will continue to accept official correspondence written in English from local companies or public and private institutions – a slap in the face of Anwar Ibrahim.
Ignoring the federal government, Sarawak premier Abang Johari Openg already said as early as June last year that the state civil service would continue using English as the official language alongside the national language. And unlike racist policies adopted by “Malaya”, Sarawak also recognizes the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) for students from Chinese-medium schools.
Sabah too disagreed with Anwar’s unilateral decision to make Malay the exclusive language for official government correspondence, arguing that English is the international lingua franca for trade, communication, and diplomacy. Unlike the arrogant federal government across the South China Sea, Sabah understood the importance of investors and international companies.
In fact, to show its displeasure and defiance, Sarawak said not only it will “not follow” PM Anwar’s order, but will continue to use English in official communications and reminded the federal government that such letters – despite not being written in Malay – must be accepted. Apparently, the right of Sarawak to the usage of English is guaranteed under Article 161(3) of the Federal Constitution.
Perhaps the premier had forgotten how his predecessor “turtle egg” Ismail Sabri’s comical proposal to make Bahasa Melayu as the second language in Southeast Asia had backfired. Sabri was humiliated when Indonesia rejected the idea – even between both countries, which supposedly are part of the same Malay Archipelago and share common historical roots, cultural heritage and religion.
Adding salt to the insult, Indonesia’s National Agency for Language Development and Cultivation chief Prof Endang Aminudin Aziz said the use of Bahasa Melayu in Indonesia is more of a district language and not used nationally – suggesting that the Indonesian language is superior to the Malay language. This is perhaps why Anwar dares not push his foolish idea beyond Malaysia.
The unelected and illegitimate Sabri regime also ordered government officials to only speak Malay when representing the country at functions overseas. With a poor command of English, he had spoken in Malay at the Asean-US Special Summit held in Washington, claiming that US President Joe Biden understood his messages despite being delivered in the Malay language.
Like it or not, once you step out of the country, the Malay language is absolutely useless. Playing the same card again to win over Malay voters at the expense of the country’s trade and commerce is shortsighted and narrow-minded. All hell will break loose if the government servants follow strictly the order not to entertain letters written in foreign languages.
With the Ringgit plunging – RM4.80 to a US dollar and RM3.50 to a Singapore dollar – the last thing Malaysia needs is confusion and chaos among investors about the Anwar government’s policies. He is trying to assert himself as the ultimate Malay defender in the community who always feels insecure and lacks confidence. It’s also a great tool to divert attention from incompetency.
Coincidentally, the man who was the finance minister when the Ringgit dropped to a record RM4.885 per dollar in 1998 is the same finance minister who caused the local currency to hit the 25-year low again today. And he is about to destroy FDI (foreign direct investment) with Malay language letters, the same way he had destroyed many poor SPM students some 35 years ago. – Finance Twitter