After all the controversy and polemic about Ketuanan Melayu, it is shocking to note that 50 years after independence the citizens of the whole country especially the Non Malays neither genuinely do not grasp or simply refuse to accept the fundamental basis of our unique nationhood.
Before this matter gets out of hand and becomes more toxic and turn ugly, it is high time to remind everyone of the simple facts and truth about the issue.
First of all, the world knows that before the successive colonizers; the Portuguese, the Dutch and finally the British came with their gunboats this country; the Malays were the original indigenous and legitimate owners or TUAN of this country. The Malay Sultans were the Rulers and the entire indigenous subjects and citizens were the Malays. There were no Chinese and Indians at all. The Chinese and Indians were subsequently brought into this country by the British colonizers as immigrants labour to work in their mines and plantations and help the British exploit and plunder this country.
By right when this country regained her independence, the British had to return this country to the Malays as the TUAN and restore everything to its original position as when they first set foot in this country. This was the legitimate and rightful premise of the nation.
But as a political plea bargain, the British requested for the immigrant population to be allowed to continue to remain and be citizens of this country upon independence. The Malays were well aware that by the time the Chinese and Indians who were open to much better opportunities during the colonial days have already achieved considerable economic and social progress and advantages compared with the Malays themselves who have been subjected to hundreds of years of systematic suppression, deprivation and marginalization. In fact the immigrant Chinese ‘apeks’ has already become towkays and Indian ‘thambys’ have become overseers, mandores, even engineers and money lenders while the Malay TUANs themselves have been reduced ti mere ‘Ahmads’ largely confined to the remote Kampungs wallowing in the mud with their buffaloes. Thoese who managed to leave the kampong were in uniform elevated to drivers, peons, mata-mata or Malay regiment soldiers to keep everyones’ peace.
However, despite the potential threat to their own position, the Malays with their typical magnanimity and generosity were still willing to take the risk of accommodating about 3 million Chinese and Indians, nearly as many as the Malays themselves and confered instantly citizenship BUT on condition that it would not prejudice or compromise their own position and status as the legitimate TUAN of this country.
This was the condition precedent or the prerequisite for the immigrant population to remain and be citizens of this country ie: they have to agree, recognize, accept and respect the precedence of the Malays in this country. This is what Ketuanan Melayu or social contract is all about. It is essentially about the reinstatement and restoration of the Malays as original and legitimate owners of the land.
To legitimise this fundamental agreement the Ketuanan Melayu was clearly articulated and captured in a special provision clause enshrined in the constitution as the cradle of collective consensus and conscience of all the citizens in this country and nation for prosperity.
In fact, in order to manifest and underline all the intents and purposes of the letter and spirit of this provision about Ketuanan Melayu even further, the constitution went on to constitutionally define the term MELAYU to highlight, differentiate and distinguish them from others. To emphasis the special status, position and powers of the Malays, the Malay Sultans were reinstated as Rulers of the states, with the AGONG regularly elected among them as King, Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces as the protector and keeper of the Constitution and the country. Furthermore, the mother tongue of the Malays, Bahasa Melayu was made the national language while the religion of the Malays become the official religion of the country. All these constitute and spelled the essence and veracity of the Ketuanan Melayu.
The simple and blunt answer to those who still question Ketuanan Melayu should question their own existence and presence in this country. It must be put to them clearly that this special provision would not have necessary if the Malays did not have to carry the burden of accommodating them, the immigrant Chinese and Indians and extend to them the privilege of citizenship which they enjoy until this very day. It was simply a quid pro quo for accommodating them. The term Melayu would not have been constitutionally defined if not for the existence and presence of others with the consent of the Malays in this country.
All the affirmative action policies and actions stamming from this provision such as the New Economic Policy (NEP) of the Bumiputera policies are to empower the Malays to redress themselves in order to restore their original and rightful position as the TUAN of this country. They are not privileges but inherent and legitimate rights of the Malays to do whatever it takes to restore their status and position that had been lost of hundreds of years of suppression and deprivation of the British colonial rule. It must also be clearly understood that the onus of this restoration process lies entirely with the Malays themsleves to devise their own strategies to achieve this ultimate end within their own time without any leave from others.
The truth is, until today, in spite of various affirmative policies and actions, the Malays have not been able to liberate themselves completely from the vestiges of grave setbacks suffered from the British rule. To a certain extent the process has been made even more difficult and complex, as it has been compounded by other strenuous constrains such as the need to compromise and accommodate Non Malay interest. All our policies have always been delibrately accommodative and never been at the expense of others. In fact, some of our affirmative actions intended to benefit the Malays have been riddled with constant leakages arising from exploitation by Non Malays causing serious cancellation effect.
All said and done, today, the Malays are still far behind in every sphere of life compared with the Non Malays, especially the Chinese who have enjoyed good head start with the indulgence of the British colonizers actually at large extent at the expense of the Malays.
Glib talks about equality, the Malays are intrinsically the least equal. Talk about justice, where is the economic justice for the Malays who have actually sacrificed and suffered the worst. In all things what matters most is tangible EQUITABILITY which remains very much an elusive dream as far as the Malays are concerned. If at all it is the Malays who should be shouting and clamouring for equality and justice but not others.
The thought of the Non Malays grudging the so called special privileges of the Malays is most grateful if not outright bad faith. After all, at the time of reckoning the forefathers of the Chinese and Indian immigrants had a clear choice; either they recognize, accept and respect the KETUANAN MELAYU and live with it for prosperity or remain as foreigners or leave this country as the British excess baggage.
However they wilfully chose to remain and be citizen of the country which has been the land of milk and honey for them. For them to question and repudiate the KETUANAN MELAYU especially while the Malays are still struggling and they having the best of both worlds means that they are trying to have both the cake and eat it. Whereas they know full well that never in history and nowhere in the world not even China or India can anybody be allowed to do so. It is as if they wish to abrogate or usurp the legitimate rights to the Malays to exercise their liberty to remedy their own position without leave or consent of the Non Malays.
The increasing audacity of the Non Malays is not at all surprising now that they are more entrenched and more daring to exert their presence perhaps emboldened by the emergence of their original homelands China and India as world powers. It is no coincidence that even the Indians who have been generally more docile have recently organised themselves as HINDRAF which saw it fit to take their grievances to India for political leverage. The Chinese of course with their more aggressive attitude has recently forced the government to apologise and pay homage to the Great Wall of China over a purported incident of mistreatment of Chinese citizen by an immigration department that turn out to be a farce because the actual victim was in fact a poor Malay lady. Indeed it was a great humiliation for the Malays as a whole. Perhaps these ugly incidents will haunt the Sino-Malay relationship for years to come.
In any case, our brief history has shown that the Non Malays especially the Chinese had never really lived up to their obligation to the Malays and this country right from their humble beginning. When the British left this country in a lurch in World War II, the Malays in the true spirit as the sons of the soil defended the country with their lives and soul to the last man. The Chinese on the other hand organised Malayan Communist Party (MCP) with the support of mainland communist China tried to take over this country from the British for themselves. They mounted viscious and savage guerilla warfare with unfold loss of the Malay unity lives and damage to this country until they were defeated.
Then, in 1969 when they smelt power after a strong showing in a general election they arrogantly taunted the Malays threatening to send them back to the kampongs where they belong resulting in bloody race riot.
Yet again, when Singapore gained her independence through Malaysia, the Chinese-based party PAP in Singapore spawned the idea of Malaysian Malaysia in order to undermine and upstage the position of the Malays resulting in the amputation of Singapore from Malaysia dealing another huge sacrifice on the part of the Malays and this country just to avert another political disaster. Till this day the politics of Chinese chauvinism continues to breed and spawn the same sentiments though with some subtlety through the DAP, as the 5th column and proxy and alter ego of Singapore’s PAP.
Should anybody think that the provision for KETUANAN MELAYU was uncalled for or a little ostentious, all above incidents prove that not only it was sound foresight on the part of our founding fathers but the fundamental protection of the position of the Malays as such prove absolutely necessary and completely tenable.
To say the least, it was this sound mechanism of KETUANAN MELAYU as the fulcrum of the equilibrium that provides the foundation that provides the foundation and framework for our grand coexistence that has seen this country and society achieve unprecedented success in peace and harmony that has made our nation an icon of diversity and en envy of the whole world. Thanks to the wisdom of our forefathers and the magnamity of the Malays.
Going forward therefore it is high time that leaders of all political persuasion should enlighten themselves with this fundamental issue and appreciate and embrace it with complete integrity of purpose. And without any apology the Malays should stand up and defend their special position with KETUANAN MELAYU with fortitude and dignity not only for the good of the Malays themselves but for the sake of the future of the whole country.
Datuk Nordin Bin Salleh
23 February 2009
* Nordin was with MNCs before embarking fulltime into politics. He won the Sg Pinang DUN seat in Kelantan during the 1990 general elections under Parti Semangat 46. He was one of the two Semangat 46 who crossed back into UMNO in 1991 for the sake of Malay unity. This paved the way for an effort to strengthen the Malays and eventually saw Semangat 46 being dissolved and its members returned to UMNO en bloc in 1996.