I went to have a foot reflexology massage last Friday. My foot massager was a Malay man from Sabah. He thought I was Malay and he went on discussing the topic of Malay Supremacy (Ketuanan Melayu) with me. He said that the country belongs to the Malays and therefore Malay rights reigned supreme over all the other races who were immigrants in this country until the Father of Independence, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman made a mistake and decided to give them citizenship. He said that if the Malays were not careful, they would lose everthing to the non Malays and this country will end up like Singapore. He was disgusted with the way the Malays were fighting among themselves. He wanted unity of the Malays. He encouraged me as a lawyer to fight for the rights of the Malays to ensure the Malay Supremacy reigns in this country. UMNO is the only hope for the Malays. I felt very disturbed at the way the conversation was going but tried my best to put myself in the position of a Malay to emphatize with my massager. How would I feel about the concept of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ if I were a Malay? My question was what gives me the special right? The answer lies in the Federal Constitution. So that is where I would have to start.
The important article would be Article 153. Briefly it speaks about the safeguarding of the special privileges of the Malays by the Yang Di Pertuan Agong. ‘Malay’ is defined in the Constitution as mainly ‘a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaking the Malay language and conforms to the Malay customs’. So anybody can be a Malay by this definition if they just satisfy the conditions to become a Malay.
Next, how is one to interpret the article? One must look at the notes or reports of those who were entrusted with preparing or drafting the Constitution - the Reid Commission. The Commission, formed to draft the framework of the Constitution prior to independence had released a report in 1957. According to the Commission, the Article was included in the Constitution to protect the Malays from the other races in the country at the time namely the Indians and the Chinese as the Malays were still lagging behind in many areas – education, business, professionals etc and therefore the special privileges should be given to allow the Malays to progress educationally and economically in all areas in the public and private sector to enable them to compete with the other races. The intent was not to give permanent special privileges to the Malays. It was to be a temporary measure and that can be verified from the Reid Commission report.
The Commission reported that "there was great opposition in some quarters to any increase of the present preferences and to their being continued for any prolonged period." The Commission recommended that the existing privileges should be continued as the "Malays would be at a serious and unfair disadvantage compared with other communities if they were suddenly withdrawn." However, "in due course the present preferences should be reduced and should ultimately cease."
This view is echoed by one of the founding fathers of the nation, the late Tun Dr Ismail who did say that the special privileges provision was to allow the Malays to have a handicap (to borrow an expression from golf) which would place them in a position of fair competition with better players. Therefore like a golfer, it should not be the aim of the Malays to perpetuate this handicap but to strive to improve their game and thereby reducing and finally removing the handicap completely.
Thus from the above, this concept of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ cannot be sustained. It was never the intention of the founding fathers of this nation. In fact it would go against the spirit of the founding Fathers who were really very simple, humble, principled, selfless but very capable individuals. It is unthinkable that they would have condoned such a title or concept. In fact the concept reminds one of Hitler's Aryan Race- the Master Race and something which our founding Fathers would NOT want to be associated with. It is so egoistic and an unthinkable title for the Malays who were lagging behind the other races at the time. A Tuan cannot lag behind.
After the May 13 1969 riots, Tun Dr Ismail angry with certain extremist Malays warned against such a concept - 'these ultras believe in the wild and fantastic theory of absolute dominion by one race over the other communities, regardless of the Constitution'.
Now assuming i am wrong and assuming that the Malays are the Master Race, then they must qualify to merit such a title. Would the label 'Ketuanan Melayu' make them superior? If they are imbeciles, incompetent, mediocre, inferior and weak, are they fit to be called 'Tuan'? Can they honestly believe themselves to be superior? They live a lie if they think so. It would make a mockery of the title.
To be a "Tuan" or master, the Malays have to earn the title. So they have to be the best in equal competition. They have been given a handicap for 51 years now. Its time they compete with the other races on merit and prove that they are better. They have to show they are a highly moral principled people, a hard working people, a people who excel in whatever they do. They have to show themselves competent and worthy of respect. They have to be the shining example of execellence. They have to show they are clean, efficient, trustworthy. They have to earn the respect. Then even without the title 'Tuan', they will be recognised as 'Tuan'. Even without the title they will feel like a 'Tuan' and people will acknowledge they are 'Tuan'. Only inferior people need titles. A superior people do not need titles. They are superior by thought, word and deed and will be respected and honored by all.
In the case of my foot reflexology massager, instead of just being an employee of a chinese boss, he should own his own reflexology center, be the best foot reflexology massager in town that even the other races would recognise him as "Tuan' in his field.
So for all the Malays out there who believe in 'Ketuanan Melayu', i challenge you to be the best in the chosen field of your endeavor and earn your title. Then and only then, can you even start to talk about 'Ketuanan Melayu'.
Otherwise, better to follow the US declaration of Independence - "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"