Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Historically Speaking, Screw Malay Supremacy

Written by johnleemk on 1:41:06 pm May 15, 2007.
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Some readers might have noticed the heated debate which has been going on in the site chatroom lately. (If you don't know where that is, it's right below the poll — in the right-hand column.)

The issue is that "joshvinder" takes exception to advocacy for change. He thinks that what the "minorities" have got in Malaysia is more than good enough, and we should all just shut up because otherwise the Malay radicals will take everything away from us.

Of course, there are some very intellectually flawed areas of his argument. For instance, he assumed that ketuanan Melayu is in the Constitution — of course, this isn't true at all.

When this error was pointed out to him, he argued that it doesn't matter because placing trust in the Constitution is "naive", because we will never have a non-Malay Prime Minister since he would be assassinated virtually immediately, and because my understanding of things lacks historical context.

Of all things, to allege that I lack proper knowledge of Malaysian history! I have heard the official side of the story up until the bullshit of form three, where Lee Kuan Yew is painted as a complete villain seeking to abolish Article 153 of the Constitution (which protects the "special position" of the Malays and other Bumiputra), Tun Dr Ismail is only credited for speaking against Indonesia's Konfrontasi in the United Nations, and UMNO is the great saviour of Malaysia.

But unlike most Malaysian students — and probably joshvinder — I have read much more than just the official storyline. I have read the official opposition storyline, which is available in books like Goh Cheng Teik's Malaysia: Beyond Communal Politics, Lim Kit Siang's Time Bombs in Malaysia, a compilation of Tan Chee Khoon's newspaper columns (I forgot the exact title) and assorted conspiracy theories on shady websites.

In this version of history, Tun Onn Ja'afar was a hero seeking to overturn communal politics, the government either has always been corrupt to the core or only became corrupt in recent history, May 13 was a a plot to overthrow the moderate Tunku, and everything will be fine and dandy as long as we throw out Barisan Nasional.

I have also read serious and/or unorthodox analyses of Malaysian political history, with books like W. R. Roff's Origins of Malay Nationalism, Bakri Musa's The Malay Dilemma Revisited, and Gordon P. Means' Malaysian Politics: The Second Generation. I have even referred to primary sources like a book attempting to forecast Malaysia's future in 2001 when the present was 1977.

To accuse me of not understanding Malaysian history and approaching it like an ignorant foreigner is simply...insulting. I do not enjoy bragging, but considering I have written a nearly 40-page long article on Malay supremacy with an incredibly long bibliography, reflecting both the official and the opposition points of view, it's highly difficult to accuse me of not knowing my history or political background. (It reminds me a bit of the time I was accused of underestimating the opposition's contributions to Malaysian history.)

My understanding of the Constitution and the rights of all Malaysians stems from what the Reid Commission had to say, what various members of the Alliance had to say at key points in our history, and most importantly, a belief that there is nothing wrong with looking to a future where all Malaysians can compete on a level playing field.

Joshvinder originally argued that there was a social contract giving non-Malays citizenship in return for Malay supremacy. But where is this in the Constitution? It simply is not there.

Moreover, if you actually look at the source material — if you look at comprehensive books written on Malaysian politics as recently as 1999 — the phrase "social contract" is virtually nowhere to be found. (The fact that you have to claim some dubious historical reasons for ketuanan Melayu being unshakable, rather than referring to the Constitution in the first place, should tell you that something is wrong already.)

Almost all the books allude to things like Article 153, the citizenship provisions, etc. being untouchable, but none say that there was any sort of bargain, giving this for that. The only place where this version of events crops up is in the official history as told today, and virtually nowhere else.

(I challenge anyone to look and find references to a "social contract" or explicit trade in historical sources. The closest you can get is a reference to these sensitive provisions being untouchable. There is no quid pro quo deal.)

The only real reference to a quid pro quo deal which can be sufficiently debatable is to be found in Ooi Kee Beng's The Reluctant Politician, which finds a reference to such a deal being made in Tun Dr Ismail's diary. The problem with this is that the only quid pro quo there was the establishment of Malay as the national language (as opposed to English or Chinese) in return for citizenship! If this is the true "social contract" at all, it's certainly far from what we've been led to believe!

Moreover, this is the only reference to such a deal being struck — and it is difficult to draw definite conclusions when there is only one source representing only one point of view. (This is something almost any historian would know.)

The fact that virtually none of the other sources I have read (which are numerous — the books named are just a sample) discuss such a trade indicates that if there was such a trade, it was struck privately between Alliance leaders and never made public — so as far as the common man was concerned, there was no "social contract".

Joshvinder is now forced to argue that Malay supremacy exists as a de facto thing, not de jure, since a non-Malay Prime Minister would be assassinated. This latter assertion in itself is questionable, since all it has a basis in is your garden variety conspiracy theory websites.

It is also said that most third world countries say one thing in their Constitutions, but do another. Well, so what? Does this make it okay for us to ignore the supreme law of our country because everyone else is doing it?

Why is there anything wrong with demanding the maximum extent of our rights under the Constitution? Is it because achieving change is impossible? It most certainly is not.

All the historical evidence indicates that the British and our government at the time of independence meant for Malaysians to be truly equal, both in political and economic opportunities. (The Tunku did subscribe to a strict but erroneous division of labour, a paradigm running counter to this equality, but the statements of the Alliance as a whole as well as other Alliance leaders indicates that this view was not the official one.) I leave you with the statements of these men:

Quoted from: The British
[our goal is the introduction of] a form of common citizenship open to all those, irrespective of race, who regarded Malaya as their real home and as the object of their loyalty.
Quoted from: E. E. C. Thuraisingham
I and others believed that the backward Malays should be given a better deal. Malays should be assisted to attain parity with non-Malays to forge a united Malayan Nation of equals.
Quoted from: Lim Swee Aun
[W]e are co-owners, not lodgers, not guests.
Quoted from: Tunku Abdul Rahman
For those who love and feel they owe undivided loyalty to this country, we will welcome them as Malayans. They must truly be Malayans, and they will have the same rights and privileges as the Malays.
Quoted from: The Reid Commission
Our recommendations are made on the footing that the Malays should be assured that the present position will continue for a substantial period, but that in due course the present preferences should be reduced and should ultimately cease so that there should then be no discrimination between races or communities.


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