Ramli Mohd Nor, a Semai man from the Cameron Highlands who won a by-election to the Malaysian parliament in late January, gave his first official speech last week. According to one of the news accounts of his maiden address, Ramli is the first Orang Asli individual elected to the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of parliament. It appears as if he will be a strong advocate for the Orang Asli people and their needs.

A Semai man wearing a traditional hat cuts durian fruits
A Semai man wearing a traditional hat cuts durian fruits (Photo by Georg Wittberger on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Ramli dramatized his indigenous heritage by wearing a traditional Orang Asli cap during a speech in which he called on the government to do more for the Orang Asli (Original People). There are 18 different societies in Peninsular Malaysia that are categorized as “Orang Asli,” three of which—the Semai, the Batek, and the Chewong—are included in this website. In his speech, Ramli cited provisions in the constitution of Malaysia specifying that equality must be provided for all Malaysians, including the Orang Asli.

As might be expected from a new politician from the Barisan Nasional party, Ramli gave credit to the previous BN government for the advances it had promoted for the Orang Asli. The BN party had ruled Malaysia for 60 years but it was defeated in national elections in May 2018. The newly-elected representative made a point of praising the Department of Orang Asli Welfare (JAKOA) for their work on behalf of his people.

He urged the new government to do more for the Orang Asli than even the previous government had done. He was quoted by the newspaper as saying about the new government that “they must achieve more than BN did. Don’t find excuses, tricks, and don’t break your promise to the Orang Asli. Don’t neglect them.”

A Semai child in Kampung Asli Rening
A Semai child in Kampung Asli Rening (Photo by tian yake on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Ramli elaborated on what he hoped for from the government. The children need to be encouraged to attend schools. Over 900 Orang Asli young people are attending public institutions of higher learning but that number can be further increased if the government makes supporting their studies an even greater priority.

He urged the government to both improve the road infrastructure that serves the rural communities and to support basic necessities such as decent housing. He said that the government needs to provide clean water and electricity to the rural communities. Furthermore, the government should move ahead with gazetting the lands of the Orang Asli to ensure that their rights are protected permanently.

Ramli Mohd Nor
Ramli Mohd Nor (Photo by Ramli Mohd Nor in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Finally, he urged JAKOA to be strengthened with additional financial resources so it can increase the number of people it employs and better protect the Orang Asli. He warned against turning the agency into a dumping ground for civil service employees who have problems in their jobs elsewhere in the government. He added that the number of Orang Asli who are, themselves, employed in civil service positions ought to be increased.

Another news source writing up the same speech quoted Ramli as suggesting that the organizational structure of JAKOA should be improved and strengthened. The workers in the agency should be people of integrity who are dedicated to the wellbeing and progress of the Orang Asli.

Ramli was sworn in on March 12.