I confess I must be quite obtuse, being simply still unable to understand why making the Rukunegara the preamble to the constitution would change anything. Dr Chandra Muzaffar also kindly confirms that he, Dr Tan Chee Khoon and others have “pushed for a greater emphasis on need”, that it has been espoused by a number of individuals and groups since the 1950s and that such an approach also resonates with Islam.
All well and good.
But what has come of all those efforts? The best of intentions and efforts are sadly, worth absolutely nothing if no result or minuscule results are produced. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Having admitted being quite unsuccessful in making substantive changes, a new tack is taken, that of incorporating the Rukunegara into the constitution. As confessed, I am still at a loss how this will now work.
A hypothetical approach
That is why I put forward some figures to show what could theoretically ensue if a purely hypothetical need-based approach were used. This was not intended to be an “aggressive attack on Special Position (SP)”, merely a thought experiment, on improving its implementation. How could one demonstrate possible improvements without coming up with a hypothetical model?
Admittedly, one has to have a scientific mindset to better tackle almost any problem.
For the avoidance of doubt, I wish to make it crystal clear that I have absolutely no reservations whatsoever about the continuance of the SP in perpetuity but make general observations that have all to do with implementation.
Article 10(4) of the constitution forbids the questioning of any matter relating to certain Articles including Article 153 “otherwise than in relation to the implementation thereof” and it is in that sense and only that sense, that I asked, purely hypothetically, about the effect of a needs-based definition, and provided a theoretical demonstration how it could play out.
I'm glad to learn about Singapore's version which is Article152(2) of their constitution. Certainly no one could object to a similar thing here, knowing that Singapore achieved First World status 20 years ago, while we canny Malaysians have wisely just moved the goalposts 30 years further down the road with National Transformation 2050 (TN50). Less stress for the warganegara. A kindly government that truly cares for us all.
Article 153 dates from 1957
There is one other thing that Dr Chandra got wrong.
Article 153 does not date from the 1971 Constitutional Amendments. This may be a common error.
Instead Article 153 dates from 1957 and was in the original Federal Constitution that was the desired end result of the Reid Constitutional Commission (RCC) With respect to Article 153, those 1971 amendments added a clause 8A which provided for quotas in public university admissions and in any educational institute.
It must be noted that the Reid Report specifically recommended that “the whole matter should be reviewed after 15 years, or by 1972, at which time a report should be laid before the legislature and the legislature should determine whether to retain or to reduce any quota or to discontinue it entirely”.
This was never done, 45 years ago. Instead May 1969 intervened.
Excellent work of the Reid Constitutional Commission
Please remember that the RCC was created in 1957 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II together with the nine Rulers of Malaya, for the purpose of determining a just basis for the formation of an independent Malaya, as it then was.
Among other things, it was entrusted to determine :
(iv) A Common Nationality for the whole of the Federation of Malaya, (as it was then); and
(v) The safeguarding of the special position of the Malays and the legitimate interests of other communities.
(using the same paragraphing as in the Reid Report)
and the fruits of its extensive, wide-ranging deliberations, were embodied in the 1957 Federal Constitution.
This was in the context of British Malaya as it existed then.
The 1957 Reid Report, which is easily available,is an invaluable reference if you wish to discern the thinking of those judges. There is also a remarkable prescience exhibited by the nine Rulers then if one were to give this report the attention it deserves.
Malaysian people are the winners
They say history is written by the winners.
The people of Malaya then, our forefathers, were in that case the winners. Fortunately, the historical record from 1948, when the Federation of Malaya began, until 1957 when the Federal Constitution became our supreme law, is also preserved in UK records and is easily accessed through Google.
That is when the story of Malaya as an independent nation, begins. Ignoring our origins is not an option.
Being confused about them is perhaps, understandable, given the vast apparatus that seems set up to deliberately rewrite history in an approved way, sow confusion and doublethink among us, all the better to comfortably keep ruling over restless millions, “who know not what they do not know” - the phase of unconscious ignorance.
An example in point is the film ‘Tanda Putera’ by local filmmaker Shuhaimi Baba which depicts the DAP and Chinese as being rude and arrogant to the Malays and being the main cause of riots. This film was widely disseminated by official circles especially to less-discerning rural crowds prior to elections.
The use of films as propaganda first began when talented German woman director Leni Riefenstahl made ‘Triumph of the Will’ for the National Socialist front to boost the government in the 1930s and was given unlimited resources for it.
However, one lives in hope that better education brings discernment.
And we are a better educated lot now, aren’t we?
Practical concerns of the RCC
What were the concerns of the Reid Constitutional Committee, regarding fundamental protections for the citizens? Para 16.3 highlights their dilemma.
The RCC referred to their terms of reference, which were:
(a) To safeguard the special position (SP) of the Malays and the legitimate interests of other communities;
(b) To provide a.Common Nationality for the whole of the Federation and to ensure that the Constitution shall guarantee a democratic form of government.
In considering these requirements, the RCC felt that the idea of a Common Nationality as in (b) above, was the basis of a unified Malayan nation. Further the RCC considered that, under a democratic government, it was inherent that:
( c) All citizens of Malaya, irrespective of race, creed or culture, should enjoy certain fundamental rights including equality before the law.
The RCC admitted that they found it difficult to reconcile (b) and (c) with (a) above.
(Please note these are not my opinions. These are the expert, considered views of the five Judges entrusted with formulating what eventually became our Federal Constitution and supreme law of the land. They are a matter of historical record. Those are not “alternative facts”; just matters of fact.)
In admitting their difficulties, the RCC then referred to representations by the Alliance Party, led by then Chief Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman who submitted that “...in an independent Malaya, all nationals should be accorded equal rights and privileges and opportunities and there must not be discrimination.”
The RCC remarks that the same view was expressed by Their Royal Highnesses in their memorandum in which they said that “they look forward to a time not too remote, when it will become possible to eliminate communalism as a force in the political and economic life of the country.”
Clearly, after 60 years, obstinate impediments to progress still thrive and are kept nourished. By donations?
Historical example of the United States
We can draw some parallels with the US constitution and their Declaration of Independence.
That Declaration starts off boldly, in para 2, with the simple words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Now, remember this was in 1776 or 251 years ago, when Jefferson and many other Founding Fathers owned slaves and when neither slaves nor women had voting rights. Yet there is a granite, fundamental truth in those words, which underpins everything since then!
How was it possible for men who nonchalantly practiced slave-keeping and thought women to be inferior beings fit only for procreation and child-rearing, to express such core beliefs, untrammeled by considerations of personal benefit, of class privilege and of men being inherently unequal?
And there is a paradox in those words.
First, whenever I say “men”, it automatically includes women. Because the male gender embraces the female.
Paradox of equality
The paradox is this.
Men are basically born unequal!
That is, they are born into different family backgrounds, and with different intrinsic qualities. Nature and nurture operate to a different extent. Can an average Ali come up with Einstein’s theory of relativity within a normal human lifespan? Can Mandy Chan sing like Maria Callas or can Maniam compose piano sonatas like Mozart? Clearly, both nature and nurture heavily influence one’s future development.
(I hasten to apologise, in advance, in case I'm now accused of racial bias for decrying the talents of the hypothetical Ali, Mandy Chan and Maniam. I aver, for the avoidance of doubt, that Ali, Mandy and Maniam are completely fictional persons whose imagined resemblance to any real person is totally coincidental.)
And yet the US believes “All men are created equal!”
That equality refers to equality of treatment by the state, equality of opportunity, equal access to state-provided services, equality before the law and things like that.
Despite inexplicably having such a rock-solid foundation, the US took a long time to get to its present preeminence.
It took 200 years more for President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Civl Rights Act in 1964 and then another 44 years, for the first Black American President to be elected. In the interim, there was a vast toll in lives lost, from the hundreds of thousands slain in the Civi War that ended slavery and the 1955 grisly murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, for whistling appreciatively at a white woman, among many others.
But the US started on firm ground and has made constant, if uneven progress, decade after decade, century after century, to become the most powerful nation in history.
The question is, is the United States today, weaker or stronger for having steadily increased the equal rights of their citizens, in accordance with what their Founding Fathers envisaged?And what does that, in turn, tell us about ourselves?
How do we feel about ourselves today?
It is in this sense that we may have lost sight of what was originally envisioned by early leaders and planners. The evidence is staring you in the face. Look around, listen and read widely.
Seeking to graft the Rukunegara onto an already anachronistic document is like building another floor onto a two-storey house. A basic engineering rule of thumb is, don’t build on top of existing foundations that were designed with one particular purpose in mind. Envision what you want today to suit your future needs. Then, design accordingly, remove the old foundations, lay down new foundations and build afresh. Only then can you have peace of mind in your new dwelling.
Do we have peace of mind today among ordinary citizens in our country?
Is racial and religious polarisation less today than it was from 1957-1968? If the answers are “Yes” then why seek change?
I'm glad we are agreed on one thing, that change is needed.
Nothing to fear but fear itself
However, it’s disappointing that Dr Chandra offers no rebuttal of the thrust of my letter - that it is basically disingenuous today, to operate a policy to uplift a needy community of citizens and then studiously ignore what that neediness is all about.
He offers no critique of possible improvements in implementation which an illustrated hypothetical model might achieve.
He is silent about a possible virtuous cycle that could result.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed his New Deal, implemented Keynesian ideas on economic and expansion with great success and told frightened Americans “We have nothing to fear but fear itself!” Is this why?
Dr Chandra refers to many attempts to correct the disparity but what precisely have all the numerous attempts by him and by others like Dr Tan Chee Khoon actually achieved?
This apparent futility is also a hard fact.
It is hard to admit that the end of all our striving, such as it is, is to be rewarded with nothing tangible.
TS Elliot says in one of his poems, “We must not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to end where we began and to know the place for the first time.”
A certain party also thunders periodically that it needs to be kept in power indefinitely in order to take care of those needy citizens. Wouldn’t hearing that grate to hundreds of thousands of perfectly capable Malaysians who are in business and the professions who are doing very well on their own steam, thank you very much!
There's a kind of political schizophrenia afoot about neediness that tars everyone with the same brush, so to speak, yet blandly glosses over its definition.
It’s as if there's an elephant in the room that everyone ignores.
The result is, that allegations of cronyism, corruption and patronage abound.
A benchmark for us?
Could this be why little Singapore, with no oil and gas at all, with 20 percent of our population and 0.2 percent of the territory, yet has a gross domestic product (GDP) close to ours?
I’m glad to note that Singapore also has a definition of SP.
We should always be willing to learn and improve ourselves, both as individuals and as a nation.
I recall the late Lee Kuan Yew once commenting, “If something sounds good, we try it out. If it doesn’t work, we chuck it out and look for another way.” That’s exactly the pragmatic, “possibilist” way from which we too could benefit!
After all, there are a lot of commonalities between us. Eg Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur and the National University of Singapore were once at par. Then the ringgit and the Singapore dollar. Our students’ command of fluent English. And of course, the two populations are composed of the same races, though in different proportions.
Singapore stands as a silent benchmark for our major policy failures. Rather than resent them, we should look within ourselves. But introspection is not a strong suit of those who prefer to rent crowds.
Lots more to say
Also, I do have a lot more to say about what Dr Chandra wrote.
For example, on religion, one might want to look up the Reid Report and find out what Their Royal Highnesses the nine Rulers in 1957 had said through their counsel. The counsel quotes Their Highnesses’ considered views and adds, tellingly, that “ that is a matter of specific instruction in which I myself have played very little part.”
Who knows about such significant asides in the corridors of power, during those momentous days?
I'd like to discuss the First Amendment to the US Constitution and Thomas Jefferson’s intention to make a wall of separation between the state and religion, about modern secular Muslim democracies like Albania, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkey and how they manage secularism within a majority-Muslim state like ours. And the late Professor Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, the number of Earthlike planets discovered by Nasa’s dedicated Kepler space telescope, all within our local galaxy and the estimated 10 billion trillion stars in the universe, while 94 percent of the universe is dark matter and dark energy of which we don't have a single clue.
Squatting on a little, obscure rock in the vast cosmos, of which we can only ever perceive 6 percent, what colossal hubris to think we know what to believe and that they are superior to all others!
Then there's the issue of poverty among other citizens who don't enjoy a special position. Some think there aren’t any poor people there and they’re all rich. Au contraire, the poor are always with us, as the Nazarene truly said and it’s far-fetched and cynical to think that some races don’t have them.
But, I thought that what I wrote about was enough to chew on, for the moment.
More light and less heat
This is Problem Numero Uno.
If we can quietly address it, and have a true dialogue among stakeholders, without putting certain issues beyond the pale, then that's pretty good going.
How lovely if thinking Malaysians could actually think about useful change, think about what is possible and talk respectfully about it with each other. Insisting that some topics are verboten is almost guaranteed to produce little useful or meaningful change for our mutual benefit. These are not zero-sum games.
I would urge that we do not seek to suppress views and that we try to shed more light not heat.
Politics is after all the art of the possible.