Penang Malays: Icons of Reform and Tolerance


The lives of iconic Penang Malays make hugely interesting stories. Vocal, outspoken, occasionally incendiary but always significant, we need to reintroduce them to present and future generations of Malaysians.

Much of the discussion concerning Malays in Penang since Merdeka, spurred by the federally controlled Malay language mainstream media, has focused on their marginalisation. The alleged backwardness of Penang Malays has in fact been trumpeted so often that in the modern Malay imagination, the “Penang Malay” holds the dubious honour of being the rendering of what Malays in general would suffer should they lose control over Malaysia’s politics and economy.

In short, Penang Malays are claimed to have become victims of urbanisation and economic development steered by successive state governments invariably led by non-Malay politicians. To be sure, all of Penang’s chief ministers since independence, irrespective of party affiliation, have been of Chinese descent: Wong Pow Nee, Lim Chong Eu, Koh Tsu Koon and Lim Guan Eng.

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