All equal before federal constitution

Steve Oh | Apr 17, 08 3:27pm

I refer to the Malaysiakini report Tengku Faris: Non-Malays should not seek equality.

This report is disturbing. Does it mean non-Malays are to always be subservient and live like slaves in their country? Every nation has a constitution and laws that change with the times. Even a constitution may change when something that is included in it becomes unhelpful. That is why a two-thirds majority in parliament is needed to make constitutional changes, as a check, and there have been many since the original Merdeka constitution was adopted. In some countries a referendum is conducted on major important issues.

The Tengku’s statement that citizenship was a trade-off for special Malay rights is historically true and it was done by the British as a measure of political expediency than a genuine attempt to create a nation of equality and unity. The world was a different place than. By today’s standards a nation where one group of people will always occupy a pre-eminent position above others is untenable and unfair and against the principle of nationhood, not to mention Islam which many Muslim political leaders in Malaysia themselves have publicly stated, does not condone racial discrimination or precedence.

Whether Malays are ready or not to think of a nation of equals is something that will be seen in future developments but the 2008 election results indicate many are done with racial politics, the NEP and by inference, Malay domination. But what is on paper and what is in practice can be worlds apart. Even the Barisan government has blamed over-zealous officials for implementing policies beyond the spirit of the constitution.

What is needed in the country is trust in one another. It is a myth to think that only those of your own race will serve you best or even serve you at all, once you vote them into power. We have seen a politician like Lim Guan Eng go to jail for helping a Malay girl in distress. We have seen the Indians reject MIC’s supremo Samy Vellu because he failed to help them. It is my honest belief that a clean, efficient and trustworthy politician will serve everyone, and the opposite will only serve self, and that should be our goal – to produce politicians and leaders who will be colour blind and genuinely take care of the people’s interests without distinction.

The role and function of the monarchy and sultans are also described in the constitution. To Dr Mahathir’s credit, he regularised the need for the rule of law to function completely in the country by removing the legal immunity of the rulers when he was premier. There was a time when certain rulers set bad examples for the country and flouted the law. They acted like tyrants. And Mahathir clipped their claws. It is Mahathir’s greatest victory for the rule of law and for this I have often felt justice vindicated.

Rulers play a limited role as provided in the constitution and the real power of government is with the elected representatives. In matters of religion they play an important role within their states but beyond that, their influence is limited to their states. There is nothing to prevent members of the royal family from being directly involved in politics and earning their right to govern, as we saw in Tunku Abdul Rahman and with Tengku Razaleigh.

Tengku Faris’ statement, ‘it is not appropriate for these other ethnic groups to have citizenship, only to seek equality and privileges.’ I find baffling. As far as I understand, the constitution of 1957 makes no distinction of the rights of all Malaysians except that the Malays are to have certain special rights, Islam to be the official religion, English and Malay to be the official languages, role of the rulers in regulating Islam, etc.

While giving some additional privileges to the Malays, the constitution does not deny equality to non-Malays nor does it give the Malays any special legal or political rights beyond what the constituion has stipulated. The fact is that all Malaysians are already equal. That Malays are having special privileges does not make them superior or above others in the eyes of the law.

I do not think rulers should enter into the political fray or speak on behalf of only a certain group. A ruler, after all, is ruler of not only for the Malays but also for the non-Malays and all his subjects should be treated fairly. You can’t have some subjects more equal than others and speak only on their behalf and appear to be partisan.

A nation cannot be united by unequally yoked citizens. How will Malaysians grow into a common people if they are made unequal to one another and unable to stand alongside one another? A nation can only be a true nation of equals.

Rulers and politicians must ultimately serve every Malaysian and I think it is sad and tragic that there are leaders in the county who still think in racial terms and have to come out to champion their race when what they say adds no real value to progress and needs no reminding. They forget they are leaders of a diversity of people and all look up to him for protection.

I hope Malaysian leaders will start to think nation instead of race because that is how much of the present rakyat think and they have made their feelings and ideas known at the last election. Archaic notions of citizenry and privileges need reforming badly so that our community values are consistent with contemporary values. Perhaps there is something we can all learn from the rakyat.


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