Special Rights Cannot Be Erased Unless The Malays Agree To It - Analysts

  By Haslinda Zainal
  (From Bernama of September 06, 2010)

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 6 (Bernama) -- The people, irrespective of their race, who question Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, which spells out the special rights and privileges of the Malays and Bumiputeras, are blind about history and the constitution, analysts said.
Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim said the special position of the Malays was recognised way back since the British era.
"When the British came to Malaya, they found that there were already Malay governments in several parts of the peninsula, and the British recognised these governments.
"These governments took care of a large number of people (the Malays). For the British, these people had their special rights. But those who came and lived in Malaya were not subjects of the rulers and therefore, did not enjoy the same rights enjoyed by the Malays," he told Bernama.
He said the non-Malays in the peninsula at that time were not citizens or subjects of the king, saying they only had the opportunity to apply for citizenship when the Federation of Malaya was formed on Feb 1, 1948.
"When the British planned the formation of the Malay Federation as a nation state, it was an extension of what already existed then, and by 1957, the Federal Constitution was formulated, incorporating the prevailing arrangement at that time," he said.
The people, especially those from other races, should therefore respect the rights and privileges of the Malays as enshrined in the constitution because when it was first formulated, the various races had already agreed to what needed to be incorporated in it, he said.
"The special position of the Malays started since a long time ago and based on the system of government existed then. In the peninsula, nine Malay kingdoms existed since 1895, and continued to exist until today," he said.
The Federal Constitution was formulated based on the recommendations of the Reid Commission. It took effect soon after the independence on Aug 31, 1957.
Article 153 spells out powers vested upon the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in safeguarding the special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak, as well as the legitimate interests of other communities.
It also spells out in detail the functions of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in ensuring quotas for the Malays and Bumiputeras in the public service, scholarships, public education as well as the provisions of permit and business licence.
Dr Khoo said the reason why there were groups questioning the rights and privileges of the Malays was because the society of today was "blind about history".
"They don't understand (the constitution) and are ignorant of what they can or cannot do. There shouldn't be any debate on the constitution because what is important is to follow what has been in use for so long," he said.
He said that if the constitution was to be amended, it would require the agreement of two-third of parliament and should be consented to by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
He added that anyone wanting to abolish or amend Article 153 should obtain the agreement of the Malays and Bumiputeras, the agreement of two-third of parliament and the consent of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
"If Article 153 is to be amended or abolished, the Malays, as a whole, should first agree to it. If they feel that they are not ready for it, then it cannot be amended," he said.
Last month, the MCA tabled 13 resolutions at the Chinese Economic Congress to strengthen the 10th Malaysia Plan, among them, asking the government to give importance to merit, not quota, to allow opportunities for all to compete in a fair and healthy manner.
The remark was seen by many as indirectly questioning Article 153 and the responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in safeguarding the rights and privileges of the Malays.
Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria, during a panel discussion on Malay unity in Ipoh last month, claimed the existence of a new constitution, which would expunge the special rights and privileges of the Malays, as well as provisions on Islam.
On Tuesday, Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, wrote in The Malaysian Insider news portal, that the idea of Malay rights as advocated by the right-wing group Perkasa was "a mere ideological and philosophical construct" which was not rooted in the constitution.
Nurul Izzah also wrote 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".
Political analyst Prof Datuk Dr Zainal Kling said Nurul Izzah should resign as an MP for making a wrong interpretation and for deceiving the people.
"She is ignorant and confused. She doesn't know that the Reid Report contained only recommendations which has been amended by the White Paper on the Malayan Constitution, published in London," he said.
Dr Zainal also called on the government to look into the statement by Nurul Izzah, saying those who questioned the rights and privileges of the Malays run the risk of violating the Sedition Act 1948.
"The government must scrutinise speeches like this whether they violated the Sedition Act. If it is, then those responsible should be brought to court," he said.
Dr Zainal, who is a professor at the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities of Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI), did not rule out the possibility of moves, championed by non-Malays, to eliminate the Malay rights.
"It is like the foreign ideology that prevailed in Singapore back in 1963 and 1964 which aimed at tearing Malaysia apart. The people should oppose the movement as it will only cause friction among them," he said.
He said each citizen should adhere to the law and the Federal Constitution or else, their loyalty to the country could still be questioned.
"They become a citizen because the constitution allows them to, so they have to show respect to the constitution," he said.
He said Article 153 of the constitution was also vital to protect and help the Malays and Bumiputeras, especially those in rural and remote areas.
"Villagers, Orang Asli, Bumiputeras in Sabah and Sarawak who are living in rural or remote areas must be assisted. The government must enforce Article 153 for the well-being of the people," he said.
Meanwhile, a social science lecturer from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Prof Dr Ahmad Atory Hussain said all races in Malaysia should respect the provisions in the constitution.
He said dissatisfactions over the constitution existed even during the fight for independence, but back then, it only involved the minority.
"Right now, the minority has gotten access to blogs and new media. Unlike previously, they now have the freedom of speech and what seems like a massive protest by many, is actually not the case," he said.
Dr Ahmad Atory said other races should not question the Malay and Bumiputera quotas because only by having such privileges could the Malays compete with other races.
"Without the quota, other races will take all and leave nothing for the Malays. Had we denied others their rights, there would be no Chinese billionaires," he said.
He said the government, as the executor of Malay rights and privileges, should have a certain mechanism to handle those who opposed the provisions stipulated under the constitution.
"The government should have a national programme. The history subject, for example, is important for the future generation to know about the history of independence," he said.
He said the leaders who drafted the constitution back then had not anticipated that in future, some of the provisions would be opposed vehemently by the non-Malays.
"If they had anticipated what was coming, some of the issues could have been fixed, but what's done cannot be undone," he said.