©New Straits Times
(Used by permission)
by Raja Aziz Addruse and Helen Ting, Kuala Lumpur
WE refer to the article penned by Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman titled ("Article 153 intended for long term"–– NST, July 13) in response to our article, "Understanding the special position of the Malays".
While Abdul Aziz is entitled to his opinion, we wish to
provide some information which is relevant to some of the objections raised by
We wish to first of all clarify that nowhere in our article had we questioned Article 153. Our objective was to make inferences as to the original understanding reached among the Alliance leaders on the issue and to tease out its separate existence from the New Economic Policy, a point acknowledged by Abdul Aziz as well.
Nonetheless, Article 153 appears to be the constitutional basis for the policies formulated in the name of the NEP, as otherwise, discrimination based on race or descent is prohibited by Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution.
In addition, it is important to note that Article 10(4) specifically allows for the questioning of the implementation of Article 153, where what is implemented goes beyond the scope of what has been prescribed.
The wish of the Alliance leaders to add a constitutional
provision for the review of the special position of the Malays "15 years after
the declaration of independence" or "every 15 years" was voiced by both Tun
Abdul Razak and Tunku Abdul Rahman on behalf of the delegates of the Alliance
during the private hearings they had with members of the Reid Commission.
Because of the 30–year embargo placed on these constitutional documents, the transcript of the hearing was inaccessible till the late 1980s.
This has hampered correct interpretations of the underlying intentions of the memorandum submitted by the Alliance to the Reid Commission, in the earlier academic works.
These documents and other official records have been published in a three–volume work entitled Malaya by Anthony Stockwell. Verbatim records of the private hearings of the Alliance delegates held by the Reid Commission members can be found in Volume III, pages 317–323.
Those interested to discover the underlying historical dynamics influencing the formulation of the Alliance Political Testament, intended for the Reid Commission, should refer to the excellent PhD historical studies done by Joseph M. Fernando.
It is based on the archival records made public after the lifting of the embargo and published by the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society with the title, The Making of the Malayan Constitution.
Tun Dr Ismail's statement on the Malays' special position (in The Reluctant Politician by Ooi Kee Beng) was taken from the unfinished autobiography manuscript that he wrote in mid–1967.
In any case, he is consistent on this point.
In the aftermath of the 1969 riots, he stated in a speech over national television on Aug 2 that the Malays themselves "must be the judges to determine whether or not the special position is no longer necessary for their survival" (emphasis added).
In the same speech, describing these constitutional privileges as having "a handicap" (using the metaphor of the golf game), he also explained that "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, their handicap completely".
Lastly, it is important to note the political context in which controversial provisions in the Federal Constitution, including Article 153, were made more difficult to amend, and the fact that questioning those provisions was made an offence only by the amended Sedition Act passed in 1971.
The question is, why then and not earlier?
We think that these initiatives should be understood in the light of the 1969 racial riots and the debate in the 1960s over issues related to the role of the Malay language as the national language, the Malaysian Malaysia campaign led by Lee Kuan Yew as well as the implementation of racial preferential policies.
Rather than as a political affirmation that these provisions are meant to be "for the long term" as suggested by Abdul Aziz, the more logical answer, based on historical facts known to us, is that the Alliance leaders wanted to pre–empt a troublesome replay of the trends of the 1960s.
This explanation would accord with the perceived functions of the special position, as expressed by Dr Ismail in the quotation we reproduced in our previous article and in this letter.
Our purpose in writing the article was to stimulate discussions and debate in a rational and healthy way on a subject which is of great concern to all Malaysians.
We are, therefore, heartened by the response of Abdul Aziz.