Even at the outset of independence, there were people who raised concerns on the perceived inequality between the Malays and the non-Malays. The question of whether the respective leaders of the communities were truly representing the community was also raised. Graham Page raised that point:
"It appears that the Reid Commission took one single Indian party as speaking for the Indians as a whole, the Malayan Indian Congress, which had sunk its identity in the Alliance Party. I do not think the Malayan Indian Congress spoke for all, or even perhaps a majority, of Indians, certainly not the business, professional and artisan class of Indian, in Malaya. There were many other Malayan Indian associations which gave evidence before the Commission, but the Commission did not seem to take account of their views, or to pay very much attention to them."
Arthur Creech Jones MP noted:
"It may be, and I believe it to be the case, that there are certain sections of opinion in Malaya who are not altogether happy. The fact that most hon. Members have received representations from the Malayan Party and the Pan-Malayan Federation indicates that, certainly so far as the Settlements are concerned, there is still some anxiety about what is likely to happen when the Constitution becomes effective."
For the Alliance, an Alliance Committee was formed to negotiate with the Reid Commission. It consisted of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, Tun Ismail, Tun H.S. Lee, Tun Leong Yew Loh, Tun Ong Yoke Lin, Tun Tan Siew Sin, Tun Lim Chong Eu and Tun Sambanthan.
Be that as it may, the Constitution was quite a massive achievement in itself as the task of balancing the rights and demands of various communities was not an easy one to fulfill. The fact that the non-Malays had to also compromise and tolerate the demands of the Malays - as opposed to the supposed absolute sacrifice by the Malays alone - was also recognised as Mr. Arthur Creech Jones, MP for Wakefield noted:
"A number of Members drew attention to the fact that in the working of this Constitution a great deal of tolerance will be required by the Chinese population, and, possibly, by other minorities, for undoubtedly important concessions are made to the Malays with regard to religion, language, land and the public services; but one can only hope that by the practice of co-operation an answer can be found to any deficiencies or defects in the Constitution as it is now presented to us."
It is therefore clear that the compromise entailed "sacrifices" on the part of all the major communities as opposed to the Malays alone. Every major community managed to have some of their demands met while some others were sacrificed for the sake of achieving and maintaining a balanced society.
In a nutshell, the special positions of the Malays were seen as inevitable in order to improve the financial, sociological and educational status of the Malays which were lagging far behind the Chinese.
In other words, there had to be inequality to achieve equality. It was said that:
"My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby asked whether we were sure that the special position of the Malay population was not to the detriment of the interests of other racial groups in Malaya. The answer is that during the very careful investigation made by the Reid Commission there appeared to the distinguished members of that Commission to be no evidence that the special position of the Malays was either to the detriment of other communities or was resented by those other communities. In those circumstances, I think that we can assume that the special position of the Malays is not likely to be an irritant in the body politic of the Federation after independence is achieved.
I believe that, taken as a whole, these long-established immunities and privileges provide the means of ensuring, not inequality between the various races of Malaya, but that those who have had some disadvantages in the past will, as independence comes, have a start which is relatively equal and will achieve the progress, development and prosperity which is already a significant feature of the life of many of the Chinese and Indian communities." (Cuthbert Alport MP)
Notwithstanding, the balancing of the rights and compromise was achieved mainly through the honourable and gentlemanly conduct of Tunku Abdul Rahman and his group of sensible negotiators, whose contribution was widely recognised historically.
Sir John Barlow acknowledged:
"We can congratulate the Malayas (sic) on having found a great statesman to manage their affairs. Much will depend on him (the Tunku) and his responsibility will be great. But those of us who know him have faith in him and we wish him well. He can rely upon our help. I was very glad when last autumn he went out of his way to indicate that British capital in Malaya would be dealt with justly."
The Tunku had apparently promised a just Malaya. And one cannot help but wonders what he would do now or how he would feel now if he was still alive. His honest and sincere deeds have surely been defiled, deconstructed, destroyed and demolished.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies was full of praise for the Tunku when he expressed:
"That is due largely to the prescience and wisdom of my right hon. Friend and also of Tenku (sic) Abdul Rahman, whom I may perhaps presume to call my friend because we were at Cambridge at the same time. As all who know him must agree, he is a wise, humane, just and far-sighted statesman. Malaya is very fortunate indeed to have him at the helm now. I am quite certain we can confidently leave the happiness of all Malayans in the competent hands of Tenku (sic) and his colleagues. They know as well as I know that the Chinese-Malayans and Indian-Malayans can and will contribute enormously to the well-being of their country. Self-interest alone, although there is much more, should ensure that those other races receive fair play and that they are welcomed as partners in the new venture. I would only express the wish that in the near future the Tenku (sic) will feel able to welcome Singapore into the Federation as a twelfth state."
Finally, everyone took comfort that the Tunku was a dignified gentleman who would rule post-independent Malaya fairly and justly. Furthermore, as and when the need arises, the Constitution could always be changed. The Secretary of State expressed his confidence thus:
"The fact is that under the Constitution as it is proposed, that review can take place at any time on the decision by the Head of State and on the advice of the Chief Minister. This is contrary to the proposals of the Reid Commission, but it is better that in a new Constitution which is experimental there should be as much flexibility as possible, and opportunities, at whatever stage is appropriate, of putting right any difficulties that may emerge in practice.
Indeed, the Chief Minister (the Tunku), in winding up the debate in the Legislative Assembly yesterday, said that the Constitution is not rigid and that it can be changed when need arises. I am sure that that fact will give to minorities who have natural anxieties and fears at present some reassurance that, if there is any need for alteration, that alteration can take place whenever the necessity appears to arise and is apparent to public opinion in Malaya."
Interestingly though, the founder of UMNO, Dato' Onn Jaafar had foreseen a citizenship issue, even for the Malays themselves. And he spotted the potential problems way back in 1950, a good seven years before the compromise was being negotiated and achieved, when on the 20th and 21st May, at the UMNO General Assembly at Majestic Hotel, KL, he said:
"Due to the fact that at present no such laws (citizenship laws) exist, hundreds of thousands of people descended from Indonesia, who have lived here all their lives, or who have the intention of living the rest of their days in this country, cannot be considered "citizens" of this country. Is this really what the Malay people want? I do not understand this myself.....
If one were to consider (the matter) as I do, then one (should realise) that because they are currently no (citizenship) laws, international laws should be applied. At present, there are 1.2 million people of Chinese descent, 270000 of Indian descent, and approximately 45000 descended from other races, who, by virtue of being born within the Federation of Malaya, may claim to be either British citizens, or the citizens of any one of the Malay Rulers."
So, was citizenship to the non-Malays a gift by the Malays as asserted by the proponent of the bastardised social contract? It would appear that even the Malays of Indonesian descent were "given" citizenship as well as the non-Malays. International laws had already recognised their citizenship anyway.
Do we hear loud screams by the "original Malays" about having to "sacrifice" their rights by granting citizenship to these non-original Malays of Indonesian descent? And don't we all know that Malaysia, as a country now, in 2010, is still granting citizenship to some Indonesians?
I would love to hear from Perkasa, Dr Mahathir, Dr Ridhuan Tee Abdullah and their ilks about the position of these neo-Malay-citizens.
The issue is this. They were not citizens. But they were, and are still now, granted citizenship. Their neo-citizenship ipso facto means they get to enjoy the "special positions" of the original Malays like myself and my forefathers, who are "originals Malay." So now, original Malays have to share their special positions with these neo-Malay-citizens. Doesn't that make the special positions of the original Malays less special? Isn't the special positions of the original Malays being eroded this way?
Be that as it may, did Dato' Onn, the father of UMNO cringe and sulk his way to a dark room in the thoughts of the non-Malays were going to be citizens? Did he wear a tengkolok, start unsheathing his Keris, kiss it and wave it like a mad man? Did he kick up a storm and whine like a small kid, demanding special positions and rights and the likes?
No. Because he was a true statesman who loved his country as opposed to himself and even his party alone. His answer to that was stated unequivocally on the 24th and 25th March 1951 (again at UMNO's General Assembly at the Majestic Hotel). He said:
"That is to say the laws that enable a non-Malay to become a subject of the Ruler of the Malay state. If, for instance, such laws were passed, and if other matters that have become clearly apparent to us were also approved, one of which will be discussed by this Assembly this afternoon or tomorrow, and if the issues were approved (by the proper authorities), it is my view that there should not be any objections to opening the doors of UMNO to admit non-Malays."
That was a response by a true warrior of Tanah Melayu. A true statesman. A visionary.
And what did they do to him?
He was kicked out of UMNO because of that proposal of his.
Other statesman have from time to time attempted to implement a fair society as clearly conceptualised by the Tunku and our fathers of independence. Tun Razak, for example, dispelled the notion that the Malays' special positions are meant to make the Malays supreme. He said:
"Many of you must have heard lately of allegations against the Alliance Government, that we believe in the supremacy of one race over the other and that we have not provided for equal rights to all our citizens. I would like to rebut these allegations because clearly our Constitution does not provide the supremacy of any single race or community. All Malaysians of all races are equal under the Constitution and their rights and privileges are zealously guarded.
The Constitution, however, provides for the safeguard of the special position of the natives.
This does not mean supremacy or privilege but rather a special position which requires special attention...It is known to everybody that the natives are economically backward, and therefore, in order to give them a fair chance to compete with other races they are given this special attention in the Constitution or in plain language a handicap. This handicap gives the natives a chance to have a share in the economic and business life of the country." ('Constitution: Equal Rights to All', p 304)
Notice that Tun Razak was very precise in his choice of words. He did not use the word "rights" (as is so popularly used nowadays) but the word as used in the Constitution, ie, "position". He also was careful to say it was the special position of the "natives" instead of the "Malays." How more honest and sincere can a Malay leader be?
He also made it a point to emphasise that the ultimate goal was to have a moderate, fair and just Malaysia, where every race plays a part for the greater good of the country. He expressed his wish thus:
"I ask members of Umno to be loyal to the Party, to the aims and objectives and to the top leadership. To all good friends of Umno of other races, I ask them to help Umno because it is the duty of us in Malaysia today to help strengthen the sensible, moderate leadership which alone can lead this country in peace, harmony and unity towards meeting the rising expectations of our people of various races for a better life and a more just society. If this sensible and moderate leadership were to fail, then the country would veer either to the right or the left. If this happens then I am certain that misunderstanding and misfortune await all of us.
"Let us therefore rally to the help of this middle-of-the-road leadership - the right road towards peace, happiness and stability of our people and our beloved country, Malaysia." ('The Turning Point in the History of This Country', p 386)
The words "social contract" were unheard of by the common people in Malaysia since 1957 (save probably for students of and graduates in sociology and philosophy). Not until 30th August 1986, at least.
This was when Datuk Abdullah Ahmad, the famous MP for Kok Lanas, made his now infamous "Ketuanan Melayu" speech in Singapore. He was perhaps endorsed by the then PM, Dr Mahathir. (Well, at the very least, Dr Mahathir has never ever said that he disapproved of that speech). He said:
"Let us make no mistake - the political system in Malaysia is founded on Malay dominance. That is the premise from which we should start. The Malays must be politically dominant in Malaysia as the Chinese are politically dominant in Singapore....
The political system of Malay dominance was born out of a sacrosanct social contract which preceded national independence....
There is thus no two ways about it. The NEP must continue to sustain Malay dominance in the political system in line with the contract of 1957...."
He then split hairs:
"Ours is not a system of discrimination but of Malay preservation which foreigners particularly refuse to understand. Ours is a system of Malay political dominance but not, as is often put across, of Malay political domination."
With that speech, delivered with the obvious tacit approval of the then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamed, all the honest intentions and sincere efforts of the likes of our father of Independence, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj, Dato' Onn Jaafar Tu Ismail and Tun Razak were immediately undone.
From thence on, the NEP and the special positions of the Malays and the natives were no more there to alleviate the backwardness of the Malays and the natives. The NEP must be continued to "sustain Malay dominance in the political system in line with the contract of 1957." How time has changed since the heady days of 1957.
Ketuanan Melayu was, on 30th August 1986 (one day short of Malaysia's 29th year of independence), born.
The bastardisation of the "social contract" was, on 30th August 1986, complete.
The seeds of racial disharmony, racial discontent, racial hatred and racial polarisation were sewn that day. What we are seeing today are the trees and fruits of racial bigotry from the seeds sewn in 1986, watered and fertilised from time to time.
Now, may I ask, who had hijacked the "social contract"?
1. All quotations from the British MPs are taken from the British Parliament Hansard
2. Excerpts of speeches of Dato' Onn Jaafar are taken from "Reflections of Pre-Independence Malaya" by Dato' Mohamed Abid : Pelanduk Publications, 2nd Edition 2004.
3. Excerpts of Dato' Abdullah Ahmad's speech are taken from "Off The Edge", February 2010.