Search This Blog

Saturday, December 2, 2006

A Matter Of Protection, Not Privilege

I believe the time has come for us to ask difficult questions about this country and who we are when we say we are Malaysians. In the same vein, I believe that it is time for Malaysians to stop offering avenues of escape to those responsible for our well being and our collective future. We must confront the fact that something is very wrong at the heart of Malaysia.

Like many others, I was angered by some of the speeches delivered at the recent UMNO general assembly. As I considered the matter further, I began to appreciate that we may have benefited from having heard the sentiments expressed. Despite the feeble attempts to subsequently soften and explain away the obviously painful impact of the speeches, the truth had revealed itself; those who claim a virtual monopoly to lead this nation are racial supremacists and proud of it. All others, it would seem, are incidental to the vision of supremacist ideology as it was played out at the assembly.

The attempts at damage control were pitiful for the fact that they appear to have been aimed not so much at the healing of the community as a whole but more at attempting to exculpate the party. In this way, such efforts added insult to injury. The suggestion that the sentiments expressed were intended only for the party was implausible, disingenuous and clearly an attempt to avoid responsibility. From the outset it was obvious that this assembly, like others, would be heavily publicized. Like in previous years, the print media would be giving the event maximum coverage. Additionally, the assembly was to be broadcast live. These were matters known to all concerned and, I would say, factored heavily in how they positioned themselves. The extreme racism, for that was what it was, was put on display for the world to see as a miscalculated show of strength.

The justifications, offered as they have been instead of the apologies and humility we all deserve, have not gone far in convincing Malaysians that the racial extremism displayed is not an accurate reflection of how the UMNO, and as such by its own declaration the leadership, sees things.

And the way it sees things is obvious; while all of us are equal, some of us are more equal than others. I do not say this to incite disaffection. I have Malay friends who were equally disgusted by the goings on at the assembly. They show me that the attitudes celebrated at the assembly are not universally those of the Malay community at large.

Instead, I say this to lay foundation for the question of whether the Federal Constitution does provide for a privileged existence in the manner suggested at the general assembly.

The constitutional provision pivotal to any discussion of this subject is article 153. It refers to the ‘special position’ of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak and declares that it is the responsibility of the Yang Dipertuan Agong to safeguard these communities and the legitimate interests of other communities. It does not describe this ‘special position’ as a privileged status.

The founders of the nation did not at any point in time contemplate the creation of a two-tiered society such as some of some might have us believe. They contemplated the possibility that due to historical factors there might be a need to introduce certain measures so as not to allow for the dislocation or marginalizing of certain communities. This was not intended to translate into a promotion of particular communities to the detriment of others.

For this reason, article 153 recognises the legitimate interests of other communities. Further, it provides the means to ensure an adequate balance in the way protection measures are deployed. It is in this light that provision is made for reservation of positions in the public service and of scholarships, exhibitions and other similar educational or training privileges or special facilities given or accorded by the Federal Government and permits and licences where such are required under federal law. This balance is guaranteed further by the express declaration that the provision is not aimed at empowering the restriction of business or trade solely for the purpose of the protective measures. In short, there is no basis for wholesale reservations or quotas.

Put another way, despite suggestions to the contrary the Federal Constitution does not lend itself to any notions of a privileged existence for any community. It does however envisage a protected status for the Malays and the indigenous which allows for selective measures to be taken fairly and reasonably to a particular end. Any policy of the Federal Government aimed at achieving this end, whether the National Economic Policy, the New Development Policy or otherwise, cannot be seen as vesting greater rights than those contemplated under Article 153. Any other reading would allow for the kinds of abuses that are apparent.

The analysis offered above is not a difficult one. Article 153 is clear. It lends itself to affirmative action where such action is needed. Political expediency has resulted in the provision being mischaracterized and used to particular ends. This in itself is not surprising as politicians will operate as politicians do. What is of interest to me is how and why the characterization has been permitted by Malaysian society to perpetuate to the extent that as we come into our 50th year as an independent nation, the ‘two-tier’ notion has become so entrenched in our social landscape. And why is it that even as the notion continues to divide us, we insist on describing what happens in the country as being a part of a democratic process?

One of the principal reasons for this sad state of affairs is the nurturing of a climate of fear. Laws that allow for preventive detention without trial like the Internal Security Act, that stifle free expression such as the Sedition Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act and which impede necessary access to vital information such as the Official Secrets Act have kept many Malaysians in the dark and in fear. If they have not been directly threatened or attacked, these laws have allowed the unscrupulous to demonize concerned Malaysians as being anti-Malay or anti-constitutional. They have allowed for the perversion of the social contract theory.

Additionally, a conservative Judiciary which has shied away from developing a strong civil rights tradition in our legal system has perhaps unwittingly allowed for the concomitant undermining of the rule of law. This has weakened our sense of right and wrong.

In this way, policy stereotypes have been permitted to develop and in effect become the law. Our claims to social integration are a hollow boast. Harmony cannot be found at the bottom of the gun barrel that supremacist Malay thinking is pointing at all others including non-extremist Malays.

If UMNO is serious about making amends for what transpired at the general assembly, let us hear then from its leaders of a plan by which the Federal Government intends to take us back to the spirit of protection and the dismantling of the ‘privilege’ mindset. Let us hear an admission of how the climate of fear has led to the development of racist tendencies that no amount of platitudes will help us deal with.

Until then, Malaysians should be forgiven for thinking that they have arrived at the beginning of the end.



Anonymous said...


I was quite enlightened by this article regarding the laws that lay out the special position of bumiputeras in Malaysia.

I am intending to reproduce this article in my blog, with the view that my fellow malaysian friends may also be enlightened on this issue, and so we

Please do let me know if you are strongly against me decision to reproduce this article, and i will remove it from my blog site immediately.

Thank you. =)

P.s. will be viewing your blogs more often now, hopefully i can learn more!

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said...

Go ahead.

devonic said...

Good day..I've been browsing through your point of facts and find them more interesting than amusing..It's hard to come by articles which are supported through concrete facts and remedies to the facts itself..
As enlighten as I am,I do find that I actually am not aware of the many branches of the constitution arm as a whole and the law specifically..I dare not say it was an ignorance by me..I would rather put it,I was not exposed to this sceneries of constitution and laws, as my life is full with the life of engineering..But this should not be of any excuse nor hindrance for me and to those rest out there whom are not aware to seek our rights and the legal procedures we have..Thus I would like to suggest a way to enlighten people like me...
As a part of the Bar council team and a leading man in the Human Right activist in Malaysia,you could support for the education of law and human rights to be teached at the secondary education level.Instead of having the Moral Education which teaches us how to be humble and nice to others,why not these Moral Education are added contents such as Law education and Human Right educations.This will enable all to understand the constitution and the law better and we can easily understand what our dear lawyers and courts talk about..We can understand our right and limits accordingly..We can know how to react to certain issues and we'll not be easily swayed to any side if we have a strong grasp of the law..
Hope this suggestion will be considered much and the Bar council would like to champion this cause as they tend to have some effect on the legal atmosphere at the moment...
And Mr.Malik Imtiaz...Keep up your hard good work...If you saw an arm of a branch supporting you, do not forget ,there's a tree supporting the branch that holds you..

Anonymous said...

The last census put the muslim bumiputras as 50% of the total population of the country. So, malays for 50% of 26 milion. Then, you have Umno forming 15% of the malay population, and lets for argument's sake say that of the total umno membership, 10% are ultras and cronies, as opposed to the moderates who seem to have stood aside in the governance of this country through the government vehicle before us.

How did we get to this situation where 8% of the total population of this country determine, control, design, write and set ablaze the wealth and destiny of Malaysia?

Johnny Ong said...

in my work place, with me being the only m'sian chinese now, the malays are good friends of mine. they were also disgusted with the way umno played their cards.

Walski69 said...

Firstly, welcome to the bloggerhood. Secondly - it's about damn time!

Seriously, though, it's good to see you online, and I'm looking forward to lots of thought provoking stuff.

In the last decade, IMHO, little by little our beloved nation seems to be regressing, not progressing. The emergence of a supremacist mentality is only but one of the symptoms, especially of late.

Although I'm cynical about what lies ahead, I'm also hopeful. And I think the same feeling can be felt if you read enough opinions voiced out by many Malaysian bloggers.

Again, it's good to see you enter the blogsphere finally...

muststopthis said...


I dare say that Malaysia still has hope! Why? Because there are still Malaysians out there like you and your commentators who still have brains to see through the clout.

I have been told that the Federal COnstitution is only applied to Goverment and Goverment related agencies, and by that it means those in administrative areas of the governement. I am further convinced after reading a Federal Court judgement relating to a wrongful termination case4 involving a GLC.
So is it because of this loophole that we see this racial discrinating buggers who continue to taunt us (in us I mean non Malays, ie, second class/third class Malaysians...which is what we are lead to believe!)

Corgan Sow said...

Mr Malik, first of all congratulations on your new blog. The cyberspace is the future of media and free speech as far as I'm concerned - period la.

I agree with your analysis that the attempt to play down the fire-and-brimstones speeches in recent UMNO general assembly seems somewhat pitiful. The mainstream media's "sandiwara" in trying to highlight importance of racial unity were only interested in diverting attention from real scapegoats fanning the flames of hatred. Lame excuses which was even more painful to read including statements that other BN component parties like MIC and MCA are doing the same thing as UMNO in their own general assemblies, just in closed doors.

Abdullah Badawi's "Fatherly" figure leadership isn't working anymore for continuosly cynical Malaysians. While in his recent speeches, his words maybe sincere from heart, they no longer inspire Malaysians to "work with him". Three UMNO members who incited racist speches escaped with supposedly stern rebuke while no action has been taken against the "big fishes" - Khairy and Hishamuddin.

Like others who are truly concerned with greater future for Malaysia the only way is change of leadership in this country. Absolute power corrupts as they say and sadly compared with other countries, Malaysia's experience in regime changes is virtually none. Malaysians who have voted for BN for such a long time might find themselves reluctant to even vote for the upcoming general elections. If they can find courage for change, we can still find hope for this country.

chong y l said...

like jason, I'm requesting permit to "reprise" this article in Desi's Place, for muual benefit -- my ER's appreciation and promoting anew Blog!

A tehtarik towelcome a soul-matey-scribe who also composes PUISI!:)

Ivan Omar said...

At the outset, allow me to welcome to you the blogging world; I'm sure your knowledge and insights would be beneficial to those who have a lot to say but do not have the necessary guts, out of fear from certain government bodies.

During university days, I have always admired your ability to command respect with your own way; even if you were not the most popular or the most intelligent, nevertheless, you had an aura that attracted serious jealousy from the "Malay" stalwarts (oh, and yeah, you were dating SS as well! LOL)

As a debater, you made the university and the nation proud; you always had that 'thing' in you that many try so hard to emulate but fail.

Placing things in proper perspective, your entry vis a vis the UMNO general assembly gives the non-bumiputras the insight to what is truly happening in this country, from a legal point of view.

Like the rest, I look forward to your entries - not the poems though - and hopefully, they would give us a better outlook and insights to the biased system that we have in this country.

Good luck dude and God Bless...

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said...

Thanks, Ibivom. You'll have to put up with the poems from time to time though...

kensolusi™ said...

i turn deaf
from the loud silence
of a people
rocked in their perahu
by the taikongs

the waves
they were only were caused
by the rocking
meant to tell the shore people
we are in control of the high seas

we all disembark
in the shallows
of the spot
in the pond
where the traumatic journey

we were
in the same boat
but never again
will i want
these same boatmasters

the boat i want
but we shall ride
with melody
in harmony
as our forefathers

only now the pond
shall break its bunds
and we shall join
the global race

yes the race of mankind
in elegant silence

(thank you malik for taking the pain)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it would be nice if our judiciary can be like the US Supreme Court, who can independently decide constitutional issues. Of course, in Malaysia we'd need justices like O'Connor, Ginsberg and Breyer. If we get local versions of Scalia or Alito, we're doomed!

Anonymous said...

Encik MIS
I came across your blog today and is pleased to see another brave Malaysian speak up for the rest of the rakyat. Keep up the good work and thank you. As they say, sikit sikit jadi bukit.

Anonymous said...

You are not alone in your fight to save this country. Thank you for caring. If only we can stop saying I am Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan or Muslim, Non-Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian. Are we not all MALAYSIANS?

Anonymous said...

Dear MIS,

Very encouraging article, one which I will definitely reread and digest properly again when I have more time. Being legally educated and a Malaysian abroad, your article is very enlighting. It warmed me back to my mother country. I must say being a non-Malay and non Muslim, I am well aware of the much resentment and the anger of my community over what they perceive to be a state authorised discriminations meted upon them every day of their lives. As such they do not have a very good opinion of the Malays in general. However reading your article opens my eyes and I hope more people like you do stand up and be counted. Otherwise it would not be too dramatic for me to predict we risk open religious/racial hatred war one day in not too far in the future.

As such it is a finding indeed for me to come across a Malay who is prepare to stand up and speak of the truth when the time required like you.

Thank you and keep it up. We all owe it to our country to stand up as Malaysians and be counted when it matter most.

Maverick SM said...

I admire your knowledge, in particular, the rule of law and jurisprudence of which not many lawyers do.

Unknown said...

Dear Malik,

I read with mixed feelings your very informative and sincere article. I wish to congratulate and thank you.
I am a Malaysian born a Chinese of Chinese parents who migrated to Malaya in the early 1930's. We have gone through the Japanese occupation and also suffered the hardships and personal losses during the communist insurgence. Independence from British rule was like personal liberation to us and we looked forward to a meaningful existense in this adopted country of ours. We lived in Kedah those days and it was full of happy memories of having friends irrespective of race or religion. I remember having fights as a boy with Malay, Indian and Chinese boys ( and girls too!! ). We never entertained any racial grudges or hatred. Indeed, some of my best friends were and still are Malays with whom I had countless fights in school. Schools those days were never organised along racial lines.
I feel very sad now as I reach the twilight years of my life to see my adopted country which I love without any reservation, in such a mess.
What makes it even more difficult to accept is that it has come to this stage not because we are incapable of looking after ourselves but because some of us ( not just the Malays ) have allowed the evils of greed and thirst for power to overcome our sense of goodwill and love for our fellow beings. There are so many ways by which these people can perpetuate this self-destruct tendency.
As you quite rightly pointed out, the Constitution has been interpreted to allow these people to achieve their selfish aims. It is going to be a long and difficult task to undo the damages done. But with well balanced and right thinking men like you, it is not hopeless. It would, perhaps , may I suggest, be prudent to step back and look at the situation with a view to harness whatever means we have at our disposal to be more effective in our efforts to save the situation.
It would appear to me that direct political challenge would be like fighting a battle with your hands tied behind your back. Perhaps, if we can pass your message in whatever ways you deem fit to the majority of the non-UMNO Malays and the non-Malays, you will have embarked on a cause which will produce some positive results. The IT way is good but it is not enough as only a handful of us are in the position to gain from it.
I pray to God that the day will soon come when we can greet each other as fellow Malaysians with no hidden as well as official agenda of racial and religious segregation.

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said...

Dear Hsing Yong,

thank you for having taken the time and effort to write your comment. I appreciate the reasoned and sincere manner in which you have communicated a very important aspect of any strategy employed to correct the situation we are in. Taking a step back to allow for a bigger picture view is essential.

I believe that Malaysians must accept that the Constitution does provide for protection. Some of the language I have heard used to articulate frustrations with the 'privileged' mindset conveys a rejection of even this protection. This is counterproductive and only has the effect of clouding the issue further and providing a means of distraction. By focusing on 'protection' as opposed to 'privilege' and stressing the distinction in the any discourse on the subject, we may be able to isolate the small minority who wish to exploit the situation. I have discussed this with many individuals, in politics and outside, Malay and non-Malay, and they find the shift of emphasis workable.

Thank you again for your inspiring comment.

Unknown said...

Hi Malik,
Taking a step back also means taking a look at the over-all picture of what has basically gone wrong. Unless we know what the real problem is, the solution we work so hard to come up with may not be the answer.
There are myriads of things that have gone wrong since our independence.( A lot have gone right too. ) It is too long to go through all the possible causes. However,no matter how we point the accusing fingers, they invariably point back at us. We are responsible for what we are today. For most of us, it may be too late to change, for the seeds of greed and selfishness implanted in us have been allowed to take roots and have grown too deep to discard.
I refer specifically to our education systems which have totally ignored the importance of human values. Over the years, we have virtually eliminated this important aspect of education in our schools, colleges and unversities. Various religious bodies have been entrusted to undertake this heavy responsibility. No wonder, we have become so divided....not only along racial lines but more dangerous in accordance with religious doctrines. Human values transcend race and religion. It is these human values ( which are equally applicable irrespective of race or religion ) that are going to foster true unity among us.
With these thoughts in mind, I append below some important conclusions from a recent International Conference on
" Education and Human Values...their role in our survival".

1.Education should not, in the name of producing specialists, convert humans into skilled robots.
2. Education must have a SOUL, meaning it must awaken noble feelings latent in the Heart.
3. Education must have a moral base and fill one with moral courage to face the moral and ethical challenges of the world.
4. And finally, education must train one for life rather than merely for getting a qualification for earning a living.

The future of our country rests with our youth. Currently, we have no assurance of the quality of their characters and their moral standing. Most parents these days are too engrossed in labouring for the materialistic security of their children's future without realizing that it is character that will ultimately determine their future as well as that of the nation entrusted to them.
The above are the views of a senior citizen who has done his part in passing on to his children the importance of a good, moral, and strong character together with the need to be self-reliant,useful and considerate to others and never a burden to any one.

I wish you well.