Commentary Local

The Malaysian concord (part 3) – Malay and Bumiputera special rights

November 19, 2018

By Abdul Rahmat Omar

ONE of the functions and roles of the Malay Rulers is to safeguard the interests of the Malay and Bumiputera communities enshrined in the Federal Constitution.  

That is what HRH The Sultan of Selangor did when he voiced out against ICERD and liberalism.

In the previous posts, I have shown you why Islam was made the religion of the Federation, and why the Malay language was made into the National Language.

I also explained why the Reid Commission was just a commission and not a party to the discussions and negotiations to the independence of Malaya and whatever put forth by the commission were recommendations for the Constitution, not the hard-and-fast rule.

The Malay precedence had always been the mantle of the British Residents.  Frank Athelstane Swettenham, the first Resident-General of the Federated Malay States, saw himself as the patron to an heir (the Malays) who was in danger of losing his inheritance to the immigrant Chinese and Tamils.  He wrote:

“The position he occupies in the body politic is that of the heir to the inheritance. The land is Malaya and he is the Malay. Let the infidel Chinese and evil-smelling Hindu from southern India toil, but of their work let some profit come to him.” (Sir Frank Swettenham, The Real Malay (London, 1899): pp. 37-40)

The economic situation of the Malays, pushed to the hinterland by the immigrants, became dire that they had to take loans from the chettiars putting their land as collateral.  When even the interest could not be serviced, these lands were taken into possession by the moneylenders.

The Federated Malay States government intervened and introduced a series of legislations to curb the Chettiars’ operations, one of which was the Malay Reservations Enactment, 1913, which objective was “to provide means for preventing the passing of Malay landholdings into the possession of foreigners” (Frederick Belfield, Legal Adviser, FMS, Report for the Secretary of State on the FMS Enactment 15 of 1913).

In 1910, E.W Birch, the eighth Resident of Perak, noted the need for such Enactment:

“It will mean that we shall free our peasantry from the clutches of those people who now remit to India the large sums of which they now bleed the people.” (Hastings Rhodes, Objects and Reasons, Malay Reservations Enactment of 1913, quoting a Minute by E.W Birch dated 7 September 1910; in Selangor Secretariat, File 3013/1912, Conf. File 10/1912).

Two constitutional changes were introduced in 1909, the establishment of a Federal Council, and the enactment to change the title Resident-General in the FMS to that of Chief Secretary.

The Governor responsible for these introductions, Sir John Anderson, said that the intention of these changes, in his words, was for “the full safeguarding of Malay interests.” (Proceedings of the Federal Council, FMS, 11 December 1909).

Sir Laurence Guillemard, High Commissioner for the Federated Malay States wrote:

“The moral is clear that real danger lies ahead if the Malays do not get their share of the benefit of the development of their own country.” (C.O 273, Vol 539, Laurence Guillemard to Secretary of State, 3 May 1927).

To put things in perspective, not only were the Malays left out economically, they were also already minorities in the Federated Malay States.  According to the census of 1931, the population of the FMS comprised of a Chinese majority (41.5 percent), followed by Malays (34.7 percent), Indians (22.2 percent) while various other ethnic groups made up the remaining 1.6 percent (Loh Fook Seng, Malay Precendence and the Federal Formula in the Federated Malay States, 1909 to 1939, JMBRAS, Vol 45, 1972: p.48).

When the discussions for the independence of Malaya took place, the MCA which represented the interests of the Chinese community in Malaya, agreed for the continuation of Malay special privileges that was already being enjoyed by the Malays under the Federation of Malaya Agreement of 1948 (Straits Times, 28 August 1956).

Even on the issue of making Mandarin a national language at par with Bahasa Melayu, the MCA Central Committee which debated the Alliance memorandum to the Reid Commission put the issue to a vote: 15 votes were against the recommendation that Mandarin be recognised as an official language, 14 voted for, 31 abstained (Straits Times, 28 August 1956).

Reid Commission was required by its terms of reference to “safeguard the special position of the Malays and the legitimate interests of the other communities” (CO 889/6, C.C. 2000/15, Summary record of Commission’s meeting, 27 August 1956).

The Constitutional Bill was then debated in the England’s House of Commons. Three amendments to the Bill was sought.

The third proposed amendment pushed by Conservative MP Joan Vickers (Devonport) noted that the 15-year limit for Malay special rights recommended in the Reid Report was omitted from the Bill.

However, the majority felt that any eleventh-hour amendment could upset the political compromises embodied in the Constitution (Commons Debates, 19 July 1957, pp. 1590-1591).  

The Secretary of State concluded that any accepting of proposed amendments would result in the reopening of all issues on which agreement had already been reached (Ibid., pp. 1592-1594).  

Therefore, all the proposed amendments were rejected and the Federal Constitution of Malaya, as part of the Malayan Independence Bill, was adopted unchanged.

These special rights were then extended to the Bumiputera of Sabah and Sarawak through Paragraph 62 of the Malaysia Agreement,  July 9 1963, pages 43 and 44.  

But this did not come easy. Many non-Bumiputera groups were opposed to the idea of according the natives of Sarawak with special rights.

A group from the Sarawak United People’s Party led by Ong Kee Hui had a contempt for the backwardness of the natives and had regarded their leaders as men of no consequences.  

This prompted the SUPP’s leader in Sibu Jonathan Bangau, an Iban, to resign.

The Ibans, however, told the Cobbold Commission that they were all for Malaysia and some even emphasised on the need for a speedy arrival of better education and development for the Iban community.  

In North Borneo, the only negative views were given by the British officials and expatriates as well as the rich (non-Bumiputera) local businessmen.

Both Donald Stephens (Chairman of the Committee of the North Borneo Alliance) and Stephen Kalong Ningkan (Secretary-General of the Sarawak Alliance) accepted the Inter-Governmental Committee report.  

Sarawak Council Negri voted unanimously to adopt the report on March 8 1963, while the North Borneo Legislative Council unanimously adopted the report on March 13 1963.

The special rights of the Malays and the Bumiputera are there to protect their interests so that they do not get swallowed whole in their own land.  

The Fijians learnt this the hard way when the Indo-Fijian (Indian descent) minority which numbered less than 40 percent of the population, dominated everything from government to economy, leaving the ethnic Fijians on the sideline.

If the rights of the Malays and the Bumiputera that were agreed upon by our forefathers are now being questioned, should they now not ask for a better position for themselves?  

Perhaps a 70-percent equity and quota in everything from now on, or something even better?

 

 

 

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