New study reveals empirical-based insights into the thinking, behaviour and living conditions of Malaysia’s majority population

FES-supported study from Malaysia uses empirical data to illustrate and analyze a fascinating example of a country in Asia, in which the majority population is split between those who generally welcome the multiethnic and multicultural composition of society in everyday life and those who strongly defend their exclusive supremacy in politics, and the third who can agree to either position hold the balance.

Data-based analysis for a better understanding of the Malays

For the third time, the “Malay Pulse” analysis has been published with support of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. This pioneer work on perceptions, experiences, values and the political attitude ​​of the Malaysian majority population – the Malays – has again been realized under the guidance of renowned social scientist Dr Wong Chin-Huat. Using a catalogue of 72 questions on topics such as social mobility, democracy vs. authoritarianism, Islamic conservatism, Malaysian nationalism, Muslim nationalism, market preferences and partisanship, 4,541 interviews (out of which 2,066 were conducted with women) were carried out nationwide. The resulting unique and valuable dataset provides an empirically based, up-to-date and meaningful insight into the thinking, behaviour and living conditions of the Malays. This analysis of the interviews and data seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the Malays and a more thorough public discourse – sensitive to socio-economic nuances.

Disproving myths with empirical data  

A common misinterpretation amongst casual observers for instance has long been that a majority of Malays are poorer, more rural, and generally less educated than their non-Malay counterparts, while the stereotype of a politically influential Malay rural heartland quite often characterizes the discourse on Malaysia´s political landscape. Yet, few have sought to quantitatively test these assumptions empirically on a large enough scale. The aim of this study has thus been to uncover the degree to which value and ideological differences exist between Malays across a set of different strata – ranging from age, education level, gender, income, region, and urban-rural location. One major motivation of this labour-intensive empirical study on a general level was therefore to make studies on Malay Muslims even richer and more sophisticated by presenting empirically based findings.

Inclusive in daily life, but exclusive in politics

The report also shows that a plurality of all age, gender and income groups leaned towards being religiously inclusive. The ethnic and religious make-up of Malaysian society is not only tolerated by Malays but is broadly looked upon favorably rather than negatively. Of major consequence, however, is the fact that this positive outlook towards plural society cannot be construed as support for a plural government. Does this imply that for Malays a plural society is considered to be beneficial, while it is indisputable to have a Malay-led national political leadership?

A significant finding of the Index Analysis suggests that Muslim-nationalism is secondary to Malay-nationalism. Malays were split three-way on between the Malay-nationalists, multiculturalists and the ambiguous on whether non-Malays should be treated as equal citizens. When it came to whether non-Muslims should be religiously marginalized, the inclusivists approached 40% while the Muslim-nationalists became a clear minority of just a quarter.

Progressive decision-makers and thought leaders could use this unique data set and the analysis of Dr Wong and his team to discuss and possibly answer those questions as well as to position themselves strategically against the background of these challenging times in Malaysia and worldwide.

Review the survey data and read the full analysis here.

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