Why So Few Non-Malays Join the Malaysian Armed Forces, by Major (Rtd) Warren Lau

2Lt Warren Lau (1969)

In 1968, I was among a group of non-Malay students from the Federation (now ‘Royal’) Military College who joined the Armed Forces as engineering cadets immediately after our Cambridge Higher School Certificate (HSC). We were sent to the University of Malaya where we graduated with an engineering degree 4 years later. We were then assigned to various positions in the army, navy and air force as Second Lieutenants (or equivalent).

A few years later, all of us passed our Lieutenant to Captain promotion examinations and were promoted to Captains. Another 4–5 years later, all of us passed our Captain to Major promotion examinations and were promoted to Majors. After eventually serving a total of about 20 years each, all except one chap in the Air Force were still Majors.

Some of us served as long as ten years as Majors. In these ten years, while ‘marking time’ as Majors, we watched as our Malay counterparts were promoted to Lieutenant Colonels, one by one with no exceptions. We watched as some of our more senior non-Malay officers were by-passed for promotion by Malay officers junior to them. Then our worst nightmare came to pass: we watched as Malay officers who were our juniors (and who once called us ‘sir’) not only caught up with us, but also got promoted to Lieutenant Colonels (from which point it was our turn to call them ‘sir’). None of these Malay officers even had an engineering diploma (some went to Technical College, but failed and were kicked out of the college), let alone a degree.

Capt Ismail used to be an Adjutant, and arranged things for me when I visited his base in Terendak Camp, Malacca. A few years later, he became Major Ismail, then Lt-Col Ismail and even became my immediate boss. 2Lt Rahman and I used to serve in Taiping together when I was a Captain. By the time I left as Major, he had become Lt-Col Rahman. The list goes on.

Remember Jen Tan Sri Zahidi, former Chief of Defence Forces? He was actually a very nice guy, but I wonder whether he remembered there was a time when we were Majors together in Mindef.

So, never listen to idiots (like Zahid Hamidi, formerly Defense Minister) who want us to believe that non Malays don’t join the Armed Forces because of “lack of patriotism”.

Edu-trainer, Žižek studies, amateur theologian, columnist.