There are some rumblings within cabinet walls on dropping the required ‘third field’ that every Malaysian has to fill on every form in the country, regardless of its use – the question of race. The rumblings say that the government will consider dropping the field from official forms except where the issue of bumiputra status comes into being. While I think that the question should be dropped entirely, this is at least a step in the right direction.
In the UK, they ask for ethnicity profiling on many forms as well. However, these are invariably disclaimed as merely for statistical purposes and can be filled or not by the applicant. Even if the applicant chooses to respond to the survey, they are free to submit it anonymously as well. In Malaysia, we do not have this choice as we have to pick a side when filling any sort of official form.
You see, the government has nothing to lose by dropping the question. On the public side, people will see a visible change in the forms and interpret this as a subtle shift in government policy. On the government side, nothing needs to change as people can continue to be profiled by race. You see, it is far to easy to sort out most Malaysians from the way we look and from our names itself.
I have been playing around with the issue of race on official forms since coming home. I have tried filling all kinds of things into the field and ultimately, the person who is entering my information from a form into a computer database, inevitably selects ‘Cina’ as the field. This has happened in banks and also at government offices. I am invariably listed as a ‘Chinese’ in all the official documentation regardless of what I chose to fill into the form.
So, the government truly has nothing to lose and can gain a little PR victory. They would be able to earn some brownie points with the rakyat and use this in whatever campaigning that they do.