‘Ketuanan Melayu’ is constitutional and not repressing anyone’s rights

HRH Raja Perlis Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Syed Putra yesterday called for the equal rights for all Malaysians be protected and preserved, as per stipulated by the Federal Constitution. In essence, those who tried to intimidate this should be sternly rejected.

The NST has the story:

Equal rights for all Malaysians, says Perlis ruler

KANGAR: The Raja of Perlis, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Putra Syed Jamalullail, yesterday took to task those propounding the “ketuanan Melayu” (Malay supremacy) policy, accusing them of using “narrow-minded ways to achieve personal objectives”.

He said every Malaysian, irrespective of age, gender, social status or religion, enjoyed equal rights.

The ruler said some Malaysians were making a big issue of the “ketuanan Melayu” issue and asking that supremacy or rights be given only to a particular race.

“It is very unfortunate to see these self-interested parties raising sensitive issues which could dampen the spirits and hopes of millions of people. In Malaysia, every race is tuan,” he said in his speech at the launching of a seminar on the Federal Constitution here. The seminar was jointly organised by the state government and the Biro Tatanegara.

The Raja of Perlis reminded everyone that no individual should be deprived of his rights and that sensitive issues should not be raised in a multi-racial country like Malaysia.

“Sensitive issues and disharmony in society will only bring harm to the country,” he added.

He said after 51 years, there was an understanding between the royal houses, leaders of all races and political parties in the country on the multi-racial character of the nation.

“This understanding is referred to as a social contract. It is to ensure that every race lives in harmony. The rights of every individual and race cannot not be taken away and at the same time Islam will remain the official religion of the country.”

The Raja of Perlis said the role of the Malay royalty should be upheld as they had played the most significant role in defending the rights of the people. He said it was the responsibility of the royalty to ensure that everyone lived in harmony.

“Today, many individuals redefine the social contract in the Federal Constitution in their own narrow-minded way for personal objectives.

“I believe that if everyone understands that every individual of any race, should not be deprived of their rights, then the efforts of certain parties who think that the supremacy or rights should only be given to a particular race can be stopped,” he said.

The ruler hoped that the contents of the Federal Constitution will be clearly understood by all, including the leaders of political parties.


What HRH Raja Perlis said in his titah was correct. However, the interpretations that precede this titah could be detrimental from the spirit of preserving unity, especially to those who would spin this for their own selfish interests. It is expected so many parties will manipulate this titah, for their own narrow political interests, especially in the wake controversies arising from the strong opposition of some people on HRH Paduka Seri Sultan Perak’s decision to deny former DAP-puppet MB Dato’ Seri Nizar Jamaluddin’s request to dissolve the State Assembly, his summarily dismissal and appointment of Dato’ Dr. Zambry Abdul Kadir as the 10th Perak Menteri Besar.

‘Ketuanan Melayu’, as made popular by former Political Secretary to the promoter of New Economic Policy (NEP) Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad, during a seminar in Singapore in 1986. Since then, so many skewed interpretations of the phrase were used, including some to spite the sensitivities of ethnic groups in Malaysia. Often, it was misconstrued, even adulterated for all the wrong reasons.

The true spirit of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ arisen in various perspective of interpretations. For starters, the common definition of the Malays is ‘Those of Malay ethnicity, speaks the Malay language, live the cultural practices of the Malays and embrace Islam’. The entire criterion must be taken in aggregate.

Then these are special mention on the special rights of the Malays, which have been embedded in the Federal Constitution, like Article 152 on Bahasa Melayu is the national language and Article 153 on the special rights of the Malays. Rightfully, the Federal Constitution has been enacted by the process of democracy and this was the fundamental basis in the birth of this nation on 31 August 1957.

Historically, Malaysia was the ‘Land of the Malays’, hence Tanah Melayu. The influx of immigrants grew in exponential rate when the British colonialise this land and brought in labourers from China and India for economic reasons and to support the British administration, development programs and their lifestyle. Majority of these immigrants were stateless and did not have any right, even to the point of the first General Elections in 1955, where Malayans gave mandate to HRH Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, then the Chief Minister and UMNO led Perikatan to negotiate for independence. On the other hand, the Malays then were  the only ethnic recognized as ‘subjects of the HRH Malay Sultans’.

When British High Commissioner Harold MacMichael conned the Malay Rulers to give up their rights as sovereign rulers beginning late 1945 and Malayan Union was incorporated, it was only the Malays who rose to protest and wanted to preserve the position and rights of the Sultans. This  movement led to the birth of UMNO on 11 May 1946 in Istana Besar, Johor Bahru, Johor under the auspices of HRH Sultan Johor. Subsequent to the failure of Malayan Union in 1946, the British  only  invited HRH Malay Rulers and UMNO to sit on the formation of the post Malayan Union road map and constitution. The 6-20 November 1946 negotiations resulted on a draft treaty, which was brought to British Parliament. However it was vehemently opposed by radical Non Malay groups.

On 21 Jan 1948, the Federation  Treaty was signed  (and eventually came to force on 1 Feb 1948) by British High Commissioner, representatives of HRH Rulers and UMNO and adopted the pre-1941 status quo. There were specific mention of Article 12 on citizenship, item (a) “Any subjects of HRH Malay Rulers who were born on on before the date”, (b) “Any British subjects who were born in the Strait Settlements on or before that date”, (c) “Any persons which was born on or before the date in any of the Malay States within the Federation who is practicing the Malay culture and speak the Malay language”. There was specific provision for the application to be citizens, which clearly state the requirement to be verse in Malay. No provisions for the rights of the Non Malays were mentioned. This was the basis of the Federation of Malaya Constitution, which came into affect on 31 August 1957.

UMNO Leaders were the first to work on the Kemerdekaan, through consultative ways which lead to the fruitful effort of negotiations throughout 1956. The tolerance and ‘give and take’ attitude and approaches Malays known for are reflected in very positive results.

Upon agreeing for independence, the British gave the nine Malay Rulers the first right of refusal to take the helm of power. After being convinced by Tunku, the HRHs instead collectively agreed to fore go the offer and opted for Westminster style democracy, on the principles of ‘constitutional monarchy’. The other condition was that the status of the 850,000 stateless Non Malays must be addressed as the British refused to bear responsibility of them post independence. Tunku agreed to offer these persons of stateless and immigrant status for automatic citizenships of Malaya, provided that special rights of the Malays be casted-in-stone within the Federal Constitution. The  British and representatives of the Non Malays concurred with this decision.

To prove the point of the Non Malay stateless persons deemed  immigrants is simple. When the Royal Malay Regiment was formed in 1933 as experimental unit for the army for the defense of Malaya, only Malays were allowed. The Non Malays were only allowed to serve the Armed Forces after Malaya gained independence. Meaning,  pre-independence the Non Malays were not accorded the same status to defend this land, should the need arises.

The final point is the literal interpretations of the word ‘Ketuanan’. Sociologist Prof. Shamsul Amri defined ‘Ketuanan’ not as ‘Masters’, but coming from the word ‘Tuan’, which carries the connotation of ‘respect’. Hence ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ should be interpreted as ‘respecting the rights and positions of the Malays’, against ‘Masters’ of the nation. Apparently, the Malays address HRHs as “Tuanku” (My master), unlike the English, “Your Royal Highness”.

Taking all of the points in aggregate and how history has recorded, then till present, the Non Malays were never denied any of their rights as citizen of Malaysia. Hence, Tuanku Raja Perlis’s reminder should be taken in the right context.

Expounding further on the historical point, UMNO President Tunku Abdul Rahman managed to convince HRH Malay Rulers to compromise their right to rule for the betterment of the majority  and this was the first hurdle on the agreement to gain independence which was achieved. Then only came the all-party agreement to award citizenship for the stateless Non Malays deemed as immigrants. This only proven the point, despite being given the right to be ‘Masters of the land’, the Malays not only tolerated but compromised for stateless Non Malays deemed immigrants to be accorded as citizens with equal rights. This was the basis of what is commonly known as ‘social contract’, which has been embedded in words and spirit, within the Federal Constitution.

If the political point is taken into consideration, UMNO compromised for the sake of ‘unity’ and ‘togetherness’ spirit by allowing 17 out of the 52 seats contested in the 1955 General Elections to be allocated for MCA and MIC, even though 85% of the eligible voters were Malays. This is was the point the Malays, as the majority and true subjects of HRHs made a ‘political sacrifice’. The near absolute victory resulted Tunku being accorded as ‘representing the voice of the people of Malaya’ and that started the negotiation process with HRH Malay Rulers and then the British. There onwards, UMNO representing the Malays were willing to compromise, but not upto when the position and rights of the Malays being challenged, especially in an insulting tone.

The true spirit of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ was never about denying the rights of the Non Malays. Far from repressing them. It is very wrong that parties adulterating all the mitigating points that define the spirit of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’, by manipulating facts for the sole purpose of provocation, antagonizing and stirring up the emotions , heating up situations and  capitalising on the sensitivities of certain quarters. The intention of persons and parties with such malice could only be seen as trying to taking advantage and capitalise at the point when there exist a serious racial, physical, religious and political turmoil. Anarchy, using intellectual nodes of human rights, civil liberty and society is very much their strategy to gain into power.

This is an act of treason.

In short, the spirit of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ was intended to preserve the sentiments and position of HRH Malay Rulers and the Malays, which is constitutional. This must be taken in the right perspective, context and intention; to preserve the Federal Consitution. For the XII HM Seri Paduka Yang DiPertuan Agong to remind all Malaysians in his ceremonial duty to remain magnanimous is timely.


Published in: on March 7, 2009 at 01:25  Comments (42)