UKM pioneers mechanism to measure ethnic harmony, predict potential conflict BY SHERIDAN MAHAVERA Published: 14 March 2015

March 14, 2015 at 2:23 am Leave a comment

Can ethnic harmony be measured?

A Malaysian university believes it has found a way to do so, and from a pilot run of its new mechanism, has found that perception of ethnic tensions in the media are largely manufactured by politicians and extremists, since the ordinary Malaysian has little problem in everyday relations with people of different races.

The Institute of Inter-ethnic Studies (Kita) at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) found this to be the case in the course of developing a mechanism, which uses the survey method, to measure inter-ethnic harmonies in local communities.

Called Kita-Mesra, it can be used as an “early warning system” to detect potential hotspots where conflicts can flare up, said its principal inventor Dr Anis Yusal Yusoff, a principal fellow with Kita.
“Year in year out the quality of ethnic relations is a subject of contention. So we have come out with a scientific, objective way to measure it,” Anis Yusal told The Malaysian Insider in a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.

To date, 20 parliamentary constituencies have been assessed by Kita-Mesra since 2010. The pilot was completed last year and the data tabulated for submission to the government.

Anis Yusal said Kita hoped that the mechanism can be eventually handed to the government and be put to use to measure ethnic relations in an unbiased and objective manner throughout the country.

The 20 constituencies were part of a pilot programme, in which Kita staff interviewed 300 residents in each area. Each of Malaysia’s 13 states and three federal territories were covered, and both rural and urban areas were included.

Explaining the mechanism, Anis Yusal said Kita-Mesra has three components which when used together, can take the social temperature of a given community through interviews with residents.

The first component measures quality of life and asks participants whether they were satisfied with their area’s schools, health care services, public amenities and their income.

These indicators are the same used by the government’s Economic Planning Unit to measure quality of life, said Anis Yusal.

Then, participants are asked for their opinions on a host of political, economic and social topics.

“We believe that there is a strong correlation between quality of life and ethnic relations,” said Anis Yusal, explaining why there is a strong emphasis on looking at “bread and butter” issues in the survey.

It is only in the survey’s third component that residents are asked on their ties with members of different ethnic and religious groups.

“We ask about how they get along with their neighbours, how long has it been since they’ve had a meal with someone of a different race or religion. These are some of the questions.”

Generally, Anis Yusal said, the Kita-Mesra interviews with residents found that ordinary Malaysians get along well with each other despite perceptions to the contrary in social media.

“They have no problems working and getting along with each other. There is still very strong social cohesion among us.

“Its only their political masters who are fanning the flames,” said Anis Yusal.– March 14, 2015.

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