Author: Nurul Izzah Anwar
Perkasa claims to defend Malay rights in a multi racial Malaysia. And these Malay rights are inalienable, non-negotiable and permanent. Those that disagree with their interpretation of these Malays rights are deemed treacherous and should leave Malaysia.
In the spirit of Ramadhan and Merdeka, I would like to invite Perkasa to a Constructive Engagement for a new beginning for Malaysia with me. I would like to ask Perkasa, several key questions to better understand, and together seek real solutions for the crisis it claims the Malays are facing.
I believe that Perkasa is the current vocal, and not necessarily the majority voice of the Malays. And by all indication, Perkasa is the alter-ego of Umno.
If Perkasa can be engaged constructively and a resolution found, then we would have answered the acid-test of Malay concerns once and for all?
To have an honest Constructive Engagement or dialogue, I suggest that we must decide on four fundamental principles.
First, we must base our dialogue on an agreed standard reference document. Should it be the Malaysian Constitution? The Umno constitution? Or the Perkasa constitution?
If we are unable to decide then our dialogue becomes futile and a monologue at best.
However, looking at how Perkasa continues to refer to Article 153 (even brandishing a copy of the constitution in media events) we can infer that the Constitution indeed is the preferred standard reference document for this dialogue.
Second, once we decide on the standard reference document, then we have to address the issue of constitutional interpretation?
For example, nowhere in the written constitution is it mentioned specifically of the existence of the term ‘Malay rights’. Instead the only term spelled out is the ‘Special Position’ of the Malays in Article 153.
The Article contains specifically, of the powers vested in the Yang di Pertuan Agong to ensure that places in the civil service and institutions of higher learning along with quotas in the allocation of scholarships, and permits or licences required for business and trade are reserved for the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak.
Another case in point is interpreting to reconcile the ‘Special Position’ of the Malays provisions with other non-Malay citizens with Article 8(1): “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”; and Article 8(2): Except as expressly authorised by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.
It would be ideal to have a mandated entity such as a Constitutional Court or at least a Constitutional Council appointed by the King to act as the final interpreter of any constitutional issues.
The role of the King is central to the issue of constitutional interpretation, as Article 153 of the Constitution states that: “It shall be the responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to safeguard the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities in accordance with the provisions of this Article.”
However, it should be noted that the existing judiciary already acts as an interpreter of constitutional matters in Malaysia.
For the purpose of this dialogue, both sides can present their interpretation of the constitution to be rebutted subsequently.
Third, the dialogue be made public and presented to the people for feedback and validation.
Again, it would have been ideal if a Referendum Process is legalised whereby such fundamental issue can be decided and resolved by the citizens and made binding to all.
As an alternative, the public feedback for comments and recommendation mechanism through letters or the internet would have to do. It is not binding but it would be a measure of public participation, which can only enrich our democratic process.
Fourth, the dialogue format is suggested as follows, I shall submit my point of view in the form of this open article to Perkasa for a rebuttal, and also later for Perkasa to provide their version for my subsequent rebuttal.
The outcome shall be presented to the public for comments and recommendations.
Then as a test of sincerity I invite Perkasa to a Publicly Televised Debate.
I propose both Perkasa and I will indemnify all political parties from our views.
Maybe Umno might disagree with Perkasa’s views or PR mine. And all political parties can participate at the comments and recommendations stage if it wishes.
To avoid being seditious, I propose that our views are qualified as an attempt to seek clarification and not to challenge or repeal the Constitution.
I believe that Perkasa and I are true Malaysians and Patriots, but that only our views may differ, hopefully for now.
However, if Perkasa refuses to engage on this matter at all, then it is sufficient for the people and history to judge this dialogue as my sincere attempt to reach out to them for the sake of our country.
My first question is; who is a Malay?
Article 160 of the Malaysian Constitution, defines Malay as being one who “professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay customs and is the child of at least one parent who was born within the Federation of Malaysia before independence of Malaya on the 31st of August 1957.”
Therefore, constitutionally, a Malay is one who speaks the language, practices the religion of Islam, and performs the rights and rituals of its culture.
My question to Perkasa is, spiritually and intellectually, does a Malay accepts injustices, power abuse, corruption, racism, anti-democratic laws, state institutional degradation to ensure that the Malays are a Supreme Race in Malaysia, with first class citizenship privileges not to be shared with other non-Malay citizens?
My second question is; what are Malay rights?
Malay rights is an ideological and philosophical and not a legal and constitutional construct.
Article 153 only mentions the ‘Special Position’ of the Malays, and not the ‘Special Rights’ of the Malays.
The term Malay rights is alluding to the unwritten ‘Social Contract’ that defines a ‘Malay Agenda’ which has been extended to include the term ‘Malay rights’.
The Social Contract outlines certain privileges that the Malay community enjoys in exchange for granting citizenship rights to non-Malays during independence by the founding fathers as contained in Articles 14-18, Chapter 1 Part III- Citizenship, of the constitution.
These privileges collectively, are referred to as the ‘Malay Agenda’ which includes provisions on the status of Malay rulers to be preserved, with the head of state, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to be elected from His Majesties. Islam would be the national religion, and the Malay language would be the national language. The ‘Malay Agenda’ also includes provisions of economic privileges accorded by Article 153.
It is also pertinent to note, that according to the Reid Commission that drafted the constitution, Article 153 was intended as temporary preferences to seek racial parity, subject to be reviewed after 15 years by Parliament as to its continued need.
It then should have been reviewed in 1972 but was preceded by the 1969 race riots. Efforts were made, that no sunset clause be included for Article 153, and that under the Sedition Act (1971), it is illegal to be discussed even by Parliament.
These economic privileges in the aftermath of the 1969 race riots, was then institutionalised into the New Economic Policy (NEP) which was then extended as the New Development Policy (NDP) from 1990-2000 and currently we are in the final year of the 3rd Outline Perspective Plan (OPP3 2000-2010) which also includes the National Vision Policy.
However, we welcome the announced change from a race-based to a need-based affirmative action policy as outlined in NEM, but if past practices are any indication, the initial affirmative action stance along with an affiliation-based discrimination will still remain. We will continue to find that the actual wealth distribution will still be skewed to the cronies of the ruling elite.
This has become a ‘Malay Right and Entitlement’ and the cornerstone of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’, which continues to even overshadow the New Economic Model (NEM) initiated by the Najib government today.
My question to Perkasa is, has the concept of ‘Malay Rights’ now become a permanent convention that supersedes even the written constitution in policy and practice that has to be accepted by all non-Malay citizens?
My third question is; what is the Perceived ‘Malay Anger’ about?
Can it be that the ‘Malay Anger’ built on ‘Malay Insecurities’, may appear to be racist in form, but in essence is a ‘Malay Siege Mentality’ defensive reaction, to the failure in achieving the NEP goals (reborn as the NDP in 1990, followed by the OPP3 and refined as the current NEM) after 40 years of implementation?
Can it also be that the false sense of losing Malay Entitlement and Privileges has crystallised into a political ideology of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’, that further divides the nation?
Can it be that the Malays feel that they are getting poorer, marginalised and disillusioned in their own country in spite of the NEP and billions spent?
Can it really be that the ‘Malay Anger’ is conveniently blamed on the industry of the non-Malays and reformed minded Malays?
It seems that the ‘Malay Anger’ is centred on economic entitlements rather than on cultural, royalty, language, legal, educational, religious or political power deficiencies, where the Malay remains dominant and rightfully unchallenged, as seen from the official affirmative action policies, institutions and civil service population composition.
Could it be that the real question nagging the Malay psyche is, what then is the value and utility of having the Malay traditional dances, Royal institutions, Malay language, Malay medium schools, Federal and State Religious bodies, Syariah court system, civil service and the Federal and State governments remain dominantly Malay, when the Malay feels poor?
It is this imbalance of achievements that creates a dysfunctional Malay identity of being only Political Masters in name and not in wealth that keeps ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ alive.
The ‘Malay Anger’ is purposely focused on the dismal achievements of NEP goals and targets that is used as the justification to continue it ‘permanently’ at all cost and beyond reason.
Instead the angry Malays should focus on the diminishing ‘enabling’ factors to equitable and sustainable economic growth (as increasing the economic pie to achieve NEP targets is the main premise to wealth redistribution policies in NEP) caused by cronyism, corruption, wastages, leakages, wrong resource allocations (big projects phenomenon), racism, anti-democratic laws and state institutional degradation and abuse that in reality subverts and undermine achieving the well intended NEP goals.
My questions to Perkasa are;
Where does the real blame for the ‘Malay Anger’ lie? Is it with the NEP results or is it with its selective implementation, where only the ruling elite few and their cronies benefit to the detriment of the Malay majority?
How can Perkasa explain just one example, which is the well documented NEP leakage of RM52 billion in equities originally allocated to the Malays that have been sold off?
What impact has cronyism, corruption, wastages, leakages, wrong resource allocations (big projects phenomenon), racism, anti-democratic laws and state institutional degradation and abuse have in shaping the ‘Malay Anger’?
Who has really betrayed the ‘Malay Agenda and Malay Rights’?
My fourth and last question is; what is the end-game scenario that the unresolved ‘Malay Anger’ will lead to?
In my final analysis, only through free and fair elections that the people can decide if ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ or ‘Ketuanan Rakyat’ shall define Malaysia.
Once the next general election outcome is determined, and if ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ is victorious, then some may choose to vote with their feet (emigrate with massive brain drain and a diminishing tax base), and some will choose to vote with their wallet (domestic capital flight compounded with decreasing FDI that further stunts our economic growth), which in turn will indicate the makings of a potential failed state with irreversible consequences.
What is left will be a shell of a former Malaysia that could have been a great example of a democratic and pluralistic nation to the world.
We are truly at a monumental cross-road for the soul of our nation.
As a reminder of a possible way forward out of this ‘Malay Dilemma’, a Malaysian statesman, the late Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman once argued that “the question (of the ‘Special Position’ of the Malays) be left to the Malays themselves because as more and more Malays became educated and gained self-confidence, they themselves would do away with this ‘special position’.” Ismail believed the special position was “a slur on the ability of the Malays.”
After 53 years, are we Malays not educated and self-confident yet?
After 53 years, are we Malays still ignorant to the real causes of our problems yet?
After 53 years, are we not Malay enough to act as the protector and provider of justice, equality, dignity, fraternity, liberty and peace for all who choose to co-exist as partners and fellow citizens yet?
In conclusion, we the Malays must stand up and do what is right for Malaysia and our children as they face the challenges of a competitive borderless world.
Would we be so blind and selfish to risk their future for our sins of the past and our deliberately induced insecurities of the present day?
Then my last question to Perkasa is; Will you allow our country to remain in name as Malaysia or be renamed as Malaysaja?
This article first appeared in Malaysian Chronicle
(Nurul Izzah is the MP for Lembah Pantai and the daughter of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim)