Berbilang Bangsa and Multiracialism

By: Nur Diyanah Anwar  

The historic win from Malaysia’s general elections on 9th May 2018 saw Pakatan Harapan (PH) victorious in replacing Barisan Nasional as government. What should be particularly considered is the seemingly multicultural rhetoric adopted by PH in rallying support across different races during campaigns – as opposed to the largely Malay-centric approach taken by Malaysia’s previous government. While it may be early to assess the new government’s policies’ impact, the changes brought about by this recent election may bring new meaning to being Malay in a society which is “berbilang bangsa” (multiracial). Simultaneously, Singapore’s narrative of multiracialism has been comparatively stable, in which it largely espouses the Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others (CMIO) categories as representing its demographic make-up. However, being Malay in Singapore indicates being part of the minority ethnically – and to a large extent, religiously. How Malay identity is perceived within multiracial Singapore would therefore be largely dissimilar to that in Malaysia. This paper compares the Malay identity within multiracial Malaysia and Singapore. First, a comparison between the “multiracialisms” of the two states would be made. This considers the fact both Malaysia and Singapore has similar ethnic make-up consisting of the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities, as the majority or large minorities within their respective societies. Second, how Malay identity might be viewed within the respective societies is explored, most particularly with the change in political momentum within Malaysia. The paper concludes with an evaluation of the possible trajectory how Malay identity may be perceived in these states into the future.

Cultural "renaissance"
Identity and Belonging
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Nur Diyanah Anwar


Nur Diyanah Anwar is a Senior Analyst with the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Singapore. She attained her Master of Science in Asian Studies from RSIS, and her Bachelor of Social Science (Hons) in Political Science with a minor in Sociology from the National University of Singapore. Her focus in the Social Resilience Programme revolves around identity issues, social policies, inequality and the relations between state and society.