Sunday, February 21, 2010


Academic Session 2009
Second Semester Examination
December 2009
WLA 103/03 Malaysian Studies
Time: 3 hours
Instructions to candidates:
1. Please check that this examination paper consists of sixteen (16) pages
of printed material before you begin the examination.
2. This paper consists of 3 parts:
Part A - Answer all questions in the MCQ Answer Sheet.
Part B - Answer all questions in this question paper.
Part C - Answer two (2) questions in this question paper.
3. You are not allowed to remove this question paper from the examination

Part B (20 marks)
Answer ALL questions. Write your answers in the space provided.
1. Name the four main administrators of the Sultanate of Malacca.
a) __________________________________________________
b) __________________________________________________
c) __________________________________________________
d) __________________________________________________
(4 marks)

2. List TWO (2) major duties of the following courts:
a) Magistrate’s Court
i. _______________________________________________
ii. _______________________________________________
b) Sessions Court
i. _______________________________________________
ii. _______________________________________________
(4 marks)

3. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations was formed on 8th
August 1967. Name the FIVE (5) founding members of the organization.
a) __________________________________________________
b) __________________________________________________
c) __________________________________________________
d) __________________________________________________
e) __________________________________________________
(5 marks)

4. What were the events in China that stirred up nationalistic feelings
among the Chinese in Malaya?
a) __________________________________________________
b) __________________________________________________
c) __________________________________________________
(3 marks)

5. The Malaysian Parliament consists of the
a) __________________________________________________
b) __________________________________________________
(2 marks)

6. Name two local leaders who actively opposed the Resident System in
Tanah Melayu.
a) __________________________________________________
b) __________________________________________________
(2 marks)

Part C (40 marks)
This section has three (3) questions. You are required to answer only
TWO (2) questions. Write your answers in the space provided in this
question paper.

Question 1
The Chinese and Indians came in large numbers to Malaya in the 19th century.
Discuss the factors that encouraged the migration of the Chinese and Indians to
(20 marks)

Question 2
Discuss each of the principles of the Rukun Negara. Relate how the objectives
of these principles can be a guide for the citizens of Malaysia.
(20 marks)

Question 3
With the advent of globalisation and a borderless world, youths are exposed to
a lot of negative influences. Discuss FIVE (5) possible measures to prevent a
decline in moral values among Malaysian youths.
(20 marks)

Thursday, February 18, 2010


The Federal Constitution of Malaysia is the supreme law of Malaysia. The 1957 Constitution of the Federation of Malaya is the basis of this document. It establishes Malaysia as a constitutional monarchy having the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as the Head of State whose roles are largely ceremonial. It provides for the establishment and the organization of three main branches of the government: the bicameral legislative branch called the Parliament, which consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate; the executive branch led by the Prime Minister and consists of Cabinet Ministers; and the judicial branch headed by the Federal Court.

The document also defines the rights and responsibilities of the federal government, the member states of the federation and the citizens and their relations to each other. As of early 2006, the number of individual amendments to the constitution is estimated to be about 650, a substantial number of which were technical and consequential amendments throughout the Constitution necessitated by territorial changes.


A constitutional conference was held in London from 18 January to 6 February 1956 attended by a delegation from the Federation of Malaya, consisting of four representatives of the Rulers, the Chief Minister of the Federation (Tunku Abdul Rahman) and three other ministers, and also by the British High Commissioner in Malaya and his advisers.

The conference proposed the appointment of an independent commission to devise a constitution for a fully self-governing and independent Federation of Malaya. This proposal was accepted by Queen Elizabeth II and the Malay Rulers.

Accordingly, the Reid Commission, consisting of constitutional experts from fellow Commonwealth countries and headed by Lord (William) Reid, a distinguished Lord-of-Appeal-in-Ordinary, was appointed by the Queen and the Malay Rulers.

The Constitution of Malaya was drafted based on the advice of the Reid Commission which conducted a study in 1956. The Constitution came into force on 27 August 1957. Formal independence was only achieved on 31 August however.

The constitutional machinery devised to bring the new constitution into force consisted of:

  • In the United Kingdom, the Federation of Malaya Independence Act 1957, together with the Orders in Council made under it.
  • The Federation of Malaya Agreement 1957 between the government of the United Kingdom and the government of the Federation of Malaya.
  • In the Federation, the Federal Constitution Ordinance 1957 by the Parliament.
  • In each of the Malay states, state enactments approving and giving force of law to the federal constitution.

The Constitution of Malaya (with significant amendments) was used as the basis for the Constitution of Malaysia when Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore merged to form Malaysia in 1963.


The constitution itself provides by Articles 159 and 161E how it may be amended (it may be amended by federal law), and in brief there are four ways by which it may be amended:

1. Some articles may be amended only by a two-thirds majority in each House of Parliament but only if the Conference of Rulers consents. These include:

  • Amendments pertaining to the powers of sultans and their respective states
  • The status of Islam in the Federation
  • The special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak
  • The status of the Malay language as the official language

2. Some articles of special interest to East Malaysia, may be amended by a two-thirds majority in each House of Parliament but only if the Governor of the East Malaysian state concurs. These include:

  • Citizenship of persons born before Malaysia Day
  • The constitution and jurisdiction of the High Court of Borneo
  • The matters with respect to which the legislature of the state may or may not make laws, the executive authority of the state in those matters and financial arrangement between the Federal government and the state.
  • Special treatment of natives of the state

3. Some articles may be amended by a two-thirds majority in each House of Parliament, and these amendments do not require the consent of anybody outside Parliament

4. Some articles, these are not the most important, may be amended by a simple majority in Parliament.


According to constitutional scholar Shad Saleem Faruqi, the Constitution has been amended 42 times over the 48 years since independence as of 2005. However, as several amendments were made each time, he estimates the true number of individual amendments is around 650. He has stated that "there is no doubt" that "the spirit of the original document has been diluted".[1] This sentiment has been echoed by other legal scholars, who argue that important parts of the original Constitution, such as jus soli (right of birth) citizenship, a limitation on the variation of the number of electors in constituencies, and Parliamentary control of emergency powers have been so modified or altered by amendments that "the present Federal Constitution bears only a superficial resemblance to its original model".[2] It has been estimated that between 1957 and 2003, "almost thirty articles have been added and repealed" as a consequence of the frequent amendments.[3]

A substantial number of the amendments were technical and consequential amendments throughout the Constitution, such as the Articles on citizenship, which were necessitated by territorial changes: the admission to and subsequent exclusion of Singapore from the Federation, the admission of Sabah and Sarawak, and the creation of Federal Territories. [4]

In July 2007, the Court of Appeal held that the doctrine of separation of powers was an integral part of the Constitution; under the Westminster System Malaysia inherited from the British, separation of powers was originally only loosely provided for.[5]


The Constitution is divided into 15 parts and 13 Schedules. Each part and schedule contain relevant articles. There are 230 articles in the 15 parts, including those which have been repealed.


  • Part I - The States, Religion and Law of the Federation
  • Part II - Fundamental Liberties
  • Part III - Citizenship
  • Part IV - The Federation
  • Part V - The States
  • Part VI - Relations Between the Federation and the States
  • Part VII - Financial Provisions
  • Part VIII - Elections
  • Part IX - The Judiciary
  • Part X - Public Services
  • Part XI - Special Powers Against Subversion, Organised Violence, and Acts and Crimes Prejudicial to the Public and Emergency Powers
  • Part XII - General and Miscellaneous
  • Part XIIA - Additional Protections for States of Sabah and Sarawak
  • Part XIII - Temporary and Transitional Provisions
  • Part XIV - Saving for Rulers' Sovereignty, Etc.


  • First Schedule - Oath of Applications for Registration of Naturalisation
  • Second Schedule - Citizenship of persons born before, on and after Malaysia Day
  • Third Schedule - Election and removal of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and his deputy
  • Fourth Schedule - Oaths of Office of Yang di-Pertuan Agong and his deputy
  • Fifth Schedule - The Conference of Rulers
  • Sixth Schedule - Forms of Oaths and Affirmations
  • Seventh Schedule - Election and Retirement of Senators
  • Eighth Schedule - Provisions to be inserted in State Constitution
  • Ninth Schedule - Legislative Lists (The responsibilities and rights of the Federal and State government)
  • Tenth Schedule - Grants and Source of Revenue Assigned to States
  • Eleventh Schedule - Provisions of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance, 1948 (Malayan Union Ordinance no. 7 of 1948), Applied for Interpretation of the Constitution
  • Twelfth Schedule - (Repealed)
  • Thirteenth Schedule - Provisions Relating to Delimitation of Constituencies
  • Notes - The original texts of articles 1 to 15 before they were modified.

Notable Articles

Article 5

Clause 1 provides that no person may be deprived of life or personal liberty save in accordance with law.

Clause 3 guarantees the rights of an arrested person to be informed of the reasons of his arrest and to be legally represented by a practitioner of his choice.

Article 6

Article 6 provides that no person may be held in slavery. All forms of forced labour are prohibited, but federal law may provide for compulsory service for national purposes. It is expressly provided that work incidental to serving a sentence of imprisonment imposed by a court of law is not forced to labour.

The National Service Act was drafted based on Article 6.

Article 8

Article 8 by clause (1) provides that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to its equal protection.

Clause 2 states: “Except as expressly authorised by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent, gender or place of birth in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority or in the administration of any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.”

The exception in clause 2 is used to justify the reservations and special provisions for the Malays and the Bumiputras of Sabah and Sarawak under Article 153.

Article 10

Article 10 (1) guarantees the freedom of speech, the right to assemble peacefully and the right to form associations to every Malaysian citizen. However, Parliament may by law impose restrictions on these rights in the interest of the security of the Federation, friendly relations with other countries, public order, morality; and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament, to provide against contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to any offence.

Article 10 is a key provision of Part II of the Constitution, and has been regarded as "of paramount importance" by the judicial community in Malaysia. However, it has been argued that the rights of Part II, in particular Article 10, "have been so heavily qualified by other parts of the Constitution, for example, Part XI in relation to special and emergency powers, and the permanent state of emergency that has existed since 1969, that much of [the Constitution's] high principles are lost."[6]

Article 10 (4) states that Parliament may pass law prohibiting the questioning of any matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established or protected by the provisions of Part III, article 152, 153 or 181 of the constitution.

Several acts of law regulate the freedoms granted by Article 10, such as the Official Secrets Act, which makes it a crime to disseminate information classified as an official secret.

The Sedition Act 1948 makes it an offence to engage in acts with a "seditious tendency", including but not limited to the spoken word and publications; conviction may result in a sentence of a fine up to RM5,000, three years in jail, or both.

The Public Order (Preservation) Ordinance 1958 allows the Police to declare certain areas "restricted", and to regulate processions or meetings of five persons or more. The maximum sentence for the violation of a restricted area order is imprisonment of 10 years and whipping.[7]

Other laws curtailing the freedoms of Article 10 are the Police Act 1967, which criminalises the gathering of three or more people in a public place without a licence, and the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, which grants the Home Affairs Minister "absolute discretion" in the granting and revoking of publishing permits, and also makes it a criminal offense to possess a printing press without a licence.[8]

The Sedition Act in particular has been widely commented upon by jurists for the bounds it places on freedom of speech. Justice Raja Azlan Shah (later the Yang di-Pertuan Agong) once said:

The right to free speech ceases at the point where it comes within the mischief of the Sedition Act.[9]

Article 11

Though Islam is the religion of the Federation, Article 11 provides that every person has the right to profess and practice his own religion. Every person has the right to propagate his religion, but state law and, in respect of the Federal Territory, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religion, doctrine or belief among persons professing the Muslim religion. There is, however, freedom to carry on missionary work among non-Muslims.

Article 13

Article 13 provides that no person may be deprived of property save in accordance with law. No law may provide for the compulsory acquisition or use of property without adequate compensation.

Article 32

Article 32 of the Constitution of Malaysia provides for a Supreme Head of the Federation, to be called the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, who shall take precedence over all persons in the Federation and shall not be liable to any proceedings whatsoever in any court.

The Consort of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is to be called the Raja Permaisuri Agong shall take precedence next after the Yang di-Pertuan Agong over all other persons in the Federation.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected by the Conference of Rulers for a term of five years, but may at any time resign his office by writing to the Conference of Rulers or be removed from office by the Conference of Rulers, and shall cease to hold office on ceasing to be a Ruler.

Article 121

The judicial power of Malaysia vests in the High Court of Malaya and the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak, the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court.

The two High Courts have juridisction over civil and criminal matters but have no jurisdiction "in respect of any matter within the jurisdiction of the Syariah courts." This exclusion of jurisdiction over Syariah matters is stipulated in Clause 1A of Article 121, which was added to the Constitution by Act A704, in force from 10 June 1988.

The Court of Appeal (Mahkamah Rayuan) has jurisdiction to hear appeals from decisions of the High Court and other matters as may be perscribed by law. (See Clause 1B of Article 121)

The highest court in Malaysia is the Federal Court (Mahkamah Persekutuan) which has jurisdiction to hear appeals from the Court of Appeal, the High Courts, original or consultative jurisdictions under Articles 128 and 130 and such other jurisdiction as may be presecribed by law.

Article 149

Article 149 gives power to the Parliament to pass laws to suspend a person's fundamental rights vested to him in Part II of the Constitution if the Parliament believes that the person is a threat to national security or public order notwithstanding the fact that the laws are conflicting with Article 5, 9, 10 and 13 and 79.

The laws passed to the effect of this article include, to name a few:

  • Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 (Revised 1980)
  • Internal Security Act 1960 (Revised 1972)
  • Official Secrets Act 1972
  • Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984
  • Sedition Act 1948 (Revised 1969)
  • Universities and University Colleges Act 1971n

The Acts mentioned above recognize the death penalty, the detention without trial, the caning and the silencing of people critical to the government to be lawful although they contradict with the articles on fundamental rights in Part II of the Constitution.

Article 150

This article permits the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to issue a Proclamation of Emergency and to govern by issuing ordinances that are not subject to judicial review if the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security, or the economic life, or public order in the Federation or any part thereof is threatened.

Article 152

Article 152 states that the national language is the Malay language. However, the Constitution guarantees the freedom of learning and using of other languages, except on official purposes. Official purposes here means any purpose of the Government, whether Federal or State, and includes any purpose of a public authority. To this effect, all court proceedings and parliamentary documents and meetings are conducted in Malay.[citation needed]

The official script for the Malay language is also stated in Article 152 as rumi or the Latin script. However, use of Jawi is not prohibited.

Article 153

Article 153 grants the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or King of Malaysia, responsibility for safeguarding the special position of the Malay and other indigenous peoples of Malaysia, collectively referred to as Bumiputra and the legitimate interests of all the other communities. The article specifies how the King may protect the interest of these groups by establishing quotas for entry into the civil service, public scholarships and public education.

Originally there was no reference made to other indigenous peoples of Malaysia (then Malaya) such as the Orang Asli, but with the union of Malaya with Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak in 1963, the Constitution was amended so as to provide similar privileges for the indigenous peoples of East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), grouping them with the Malays as Bumiputra.

The scope of Article 153 is limited by Article 136, which requires that civil servants be treated impartially regardless of race. Clause 5 of article 153 specifically reaffirms article 136 of the constitution which states: All persons of whatever race in the same grade in the service of the Federation shall, subject to the terms and conditions of their employment, be treated impartially.

Clause 9 of article 153 states Nothing in this Article shall empower Parliament to restrict business or trade solely for the purpose of reservations for Malays.

The Reid Commission suggested that these provisions would be temporary in nature and be revisited in 15 years, and that a report should be presented to the appropriate legislature (currently the Parliament of Malaysia) and that the "legislature should then determine either to retain or to reduce any quota or to discontinue it entirely."

Under Article 153, and due to the 13th May 1969 riots, the New Economic Policy was introduced. The NEP aimed to eradicate poverty irrespective of race by expanding the economic pie so that the Chinese share of the economy would not be reduced in absolute terms but only relatively. The aim was for the Malays to have a 30% equity share of the economy, as opposed to the 4% they held in 1970. Foreigners and Chinese held much of the rest.[10]

The NEP appeared to be derived from Article 153 and could be viewed as being in line with its wording. Although Article 153 would have been up for review in 1972, fifteen years after Malaysia's independence in 1957, due to the May 13 Incident it remained unreviewed. A new expiration date of 1991 for the NEP was set, twenty years after its implementation.[11]

However, the NEP was said to have failed to have met its targets and was continued under a new policy called the National Development Policy.

Article 160

Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia defines various terms used in the Constitution. It has an important impact on Islam in Malaysia and the Malay people due to its definition of a Malay person under clause 2.

It took effect after 31 August 1957 ("Merdeka Day" or "Independence Day") in West Malaysia, and took effect in Singapore and East Malaysia when they merged with Malaya in 1963. The article no longer applies to Singapore, as it declared independence from Malaysia in 1965; however, it does affect the legal status of Singaporean Malays when they enter Malaysia.

The article defines a Malay as a Malaysian citizen born to a Malaysian citizen who professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks the Malay language, adheres to Malay customs, and is domiciled in Malaysia or Singapore. As a result, Malay citizens who convert out of Islam are no longer considered Malay under the law. Hence, the Bumiputra privileges afforded to Malays under Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia, the New Economic Policy (NEP), etc. are forfeit for such converts.

Likewise, a non-Malay Malaysian who converts to Islam can lay claim to Bumiputra privileges, provided he meets the other conditions. A higher education textbook conforming to the government Malaysian studies syllabus states: "This explains the fact that when a non-Malay embraces Islam, he is said to masuk Melayu (become a Malay). That person is automatically assumed to be fluent in the Malay language and to be living like a Malay as a result of his close association with the Malays."

It is interesting to note that a Malay from Sabah or Sarawak is listed as a Bumiputra of Sabah and Sarawak in the Constitution, separate from Malays of the Peninsular.

Article 181

Article 181 guarantees the sovereignty, rights, powers and jurisdictions of each Malay Ruler within their respective states. They also cannot be charged in a court of law in their official capacities as a Ruler.

The Malay Rulers can be charged on any personal wrongdoing, outside of their role and duties as a Ruler. However, the charges cannot be carried out in a normal court of law, but in a Special Tribunal under the purview of the Council of Rulers.

Notes and references
  1. ^ Ahmad, Zainon & Phang, Llew-Ann (Oct. 1, 2005). The all-powerful executive. The Sun.
  2. ^ Wu, Min Aun & Hickling, R. H. (2003). Hickling's Malaysian Public Law, p. 19. Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia. ISBN 983-74-2518-0.
  3. ^ Wu & Hickling, p. 33.
  4. ^ For a chronology of the individual amendments to the Constitution see the notes to the 2006 Reprint of the Federal Constitution 2006 Reprint of the Federal Constitution. The Commissioner of Law Revision.
  5. ^ Mageswari, M. (2007-07-14). "Appeals Court: Juveniles cannot be held at King's pleasure". The Star.
  6. ^ Wu & Hickling, p. 34.
  7. ^ Means, Gordon P. (1991). Malaysian Politics: The Second Generation, pp. 142–143, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-588988-6.
  8. ^ Rachagan, S. Sothi (1993). Law and the Electoral Process in Malaysia, pp. 163, 169–170. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press. ISBN 967-9940-45-4.
  9. ^ Singh, Bhag (Dec. 12, 2006). Seditious speeches. Malaysia Today.
  10. ^ Ye p. 20.
  11. ^ Ye p. 95.
  • Mohamed Suffian Hashim, An Introduction to the Constitution of Malaysia, second edition, Kuala Lumpur: Government Printers, 1976.
  • Mahathir Mohammad, The Malay Dilemma, 1970.
  • Rehman Rashid, A Malaysian Journey, Petaling Jaya, 1994


Struggle for ethnic unity in Malaya after WWII (Pt 2) Print E-mail
Written by Ariffin Omar
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 13:14

The Federation of Malaya Agreement of 1948 was just a political arrangement leading to the birth of a political entity. It did not create a nation state nor did it bring about unity amongst the various communities. In 1948, Malay special privileges were upheld; citizenship was made more restrictive for the Chinese. Sovereignty was not in the hands of the Malays while a Federal Council was established and its members were nominated by the British.

At the same time that Malays saw Persekutuan Tanah Melayu as a Malay country exclusive to them, the non-Malays believed it to be embracing all the ethnic communities. These contradictory perceptions only testified to the deviousness of the British, in collusion with the Malay elite, who thwarted a viable alternative – the Peoples’ Constitution – that would have laid a solid foundation for inter-ethnic harmony.

Persekutuan Tanah Melayu bestowed citizenship but not nationality.

Such a tragic state of affairs did not go unchallenged. There were Malays and non-Malays who saw through the deviousness of the new political agreement concocted by the British and the conservative Malay elite and they mounted an opposition to the Federation of Malaya Agreement. Malays from Parti Kebangsaan Melayu led by Burhanuddin Al-Helmi and Ishak Haji Muhammad, Angkatan Pemuda Insaf led by Ahmad Boestamam, and Angkatan Wanita Sedar banded together to form Pusat Tenaga Rakyat to oppose the Federation. The non-Malays especially the Chinese had set up the All Malaya Council for Joint Action (AMCJA) led by Tan Cheng Lock. Together they formed the Putera-AMCJA coalition comprising Malays and non-Malays.

These Malays and non-Malays felt that the time had come to work towards building a united nation whereby everyone would have a stake in the country and they campaigned vigorously to put their views across. The aims and objectives of the Putera-AMCJA can best be described as the first step in the history of this country to work towards a serious attempt to promote a truly all embracing national consciousness that would embrace both Malays and non-Malays in the Malay peninsular.

The seriousness of its attempts can be seen in the alternative proposed by the Putera-AMCJA that the Federation of Malaya Agreement be replaced by the The Peoples’ Constitutional Proposals. These advanced the idea of a single nationality for all citizens who had to forego other nationalities and sever all other political connections and pledge total loyalty and allegiance to the new nation.1 This Constitution guarantees fundamental liberties and equality before the law.

The Putera-AMCA also suggested that Singapore must be included in the new nation-state to be established. What is remarkable about the Putera-AMCJA sponsored Peoples’ Constitution was that the nationality proposed was to be termed ‘Melayu’. This was an attempt to stress the nation’s links with its historical past.2 Even more significant was that the Melayu nationality that was being proposed did not carry any religious connotations. What has not been noted by historians and political scientists is the significance of the compromises arrived at in accepting Melayu as a nationality.

Definition of term ‘Melayu’

The non-Malays in the AMCJA accepted the arguments put forward by the Malays in Putera that:

“The term ‘Malayan’ to designate the national status was completely unacceptable to the Malays. They [the Malay delegates] felt that that the term ‘Malayan’ had always been used in contradistinction to the word ‘Malay’ to denote the non-indigenous inhabitants of the country, and that the Malays had therefore become accustomed to regarding themselves as excluded from the category of ‘Malayans.’ The use of the term ‘Malayan’ to designate the common national status would therefore involve abandonment by the Malays, as the indigenous people of the country, of their proper title, and the acceptance by them of a title which, in its accepted sense, included many who do not regard Malaya as their real home and as the object of their loyalty.” 3

For the non-Malays to accept Melayu as a nationality was indeed a big concession because they were so used to seeing themselves as Malayan and they expected the Malays to accept this and become Malayan too. The Malay delegates too made big concessions. In proposing that Melayu be accepted as the nationality, they were aware that were swimming against the tide of mainstream Malay opinion at that point in time. They were also aware that if this proposal was accepted, the term Melayu would embrace Chinese, Indians and others who need not be Muslims or observe Malay customs or even speak Malay as their mother tongue.

Beyond any doubt, the compromises reached between the Malays and non-Malays were a watershed.

The Malay delegates also accepted the principle that there should be equal rights for all with no distinctions between indigenous and non-indigenous citizens.4 The non-Malay delegates accepted that Malay would be the official language while the Malay delegates accepted that other languages may also be used for those not yet proficient in Malay.

Sovereignty of the people

In short, we need to be aware that in the history of our nation, there was an attempt to get the various ethnic communities in Malaya to work together in building a true nation state where all could have a common purpose and aim as well as loyalty. Indeed the superiority of the Peoples’ Constitution can be seen in its demand that sovereignty should reside in the people. The Peoples’ Constitution demanded a fully-elected federal legislative assembly and its framers argued that only a government elected by and responsible to the people would be able to look into the welfare of the people. In addition there would be a Prime Minister elected by the assembly.

The Peoples’ Constitution also deemed it unnecessary that the British High Commissioner should have any veto powers. He would merely be a representative of the British government and give his assent to bills passed by the elected assembly.

Even more significant is that the Peoples’ Constitution proposed that there should be a Council of Races consisting of two members each from the Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasian, Ceylonese, Aborigine, Arab, European, Jewish and other communities. This council would vet every bill passed by the Assembly to check whether it was discriminatory or not. If it were discriminatory, the particular bill would be returned to the assembly.

The council would also have the function of recommending to the assembly any measure which it considers necessary for the advancement or protection of any section of the people.5 Citizens would have the right to petition the council on matters within its mandated portfolio. Each state would have an elected state assembly with full legislative and executive authority. There would also be an executive council in each state headed by a Menteri Besar in the case of the Malay states and a parallel position for each of the states of Penang, Malacca and Singapore.

Thus we see that in comparison to the Federation of Malaya Agreement that was accepted by the British, the traditional rulers and the Umno elite, the Peoples’ Constitution was indeed far ahead of its time and by right should have been supported as a viable Constitution that would have laid a solid foundation for inter-ethnic harmony. Despite the good intentions of those Malay and non-Malay leaders of the Putera-AMCJA coalition, their attempt to get the Peoples’ Constitution accepted was not successful.

At that point in time, ethnic animosities and mistrust were the dominant features of inter-ethnic relations. Malays were unwilling to trust the non-Malays and the non-Malays were not confident that the Malays will be able to act fairly towards them. Malays and non-Malays both saw the British as impartial administrators who be counted upon to act fairly in any inter-ethnic misunderstanding even though there was ample evidence to show that this was simply not the case.

British protecting self-interest

The British in particular poured scorn on the Peoples’ Constitution.

W. H. Linehan, the noted academic and member of the executive committee established to examine constitutional reforms, condemned the Peoples’ Constitution proposing Melayu as a nationality as bogus in nature. He cited Chen Thung Hua, a ‘representative’ of the Perak People’s Association, who in response to the citizenship proposals of the Malayan Union voiced his opinion that the overseas Chinese preferred dual citizenship.

Similarly, Linehan endorsed the Malay Nationalist Party’s view that “if a Malay by becoming a Malayan Union citizen should lose his Malay nationality, the Party were opposed to the whole Malayan Union scheme.” According to Linehan, such views suggest the futility of having a nationality.6 Furthermore the British claimed that Malays would not acquiesce in non-Malays being termed Melayu as a nationality and that non-Malays themselves would not agree to have themselves designated as Melayu.7

Continuing with his scathing remarks, Linehan stated that the citizenship proposals of the Putera-AMCJA Constitution – that provides that any person born in Malaya automatically becomes a citizen and that any such person of the age of 18 or more could make a sworn declaration before a magistrate either that he did not desire citizenship whereupon he would not be a citizen or that he desired citizenship whereupon he become would a citizen – was farcical.8

According to Linehan, the citizenship proposals woul allow blackmailers, gang robbers, murderers and other criminals (who were mainly non-Malays) to become citizens who could not therefore be deprived of their citizenship or suffer banishment.9 There was not a single reference to the proposals put forward in the Peoples’ Constitution that sovereignty should reside in the people through elected federal and state assemblies.

The issue of fundamental liberties which are so important in a nation-state was ignored completely by the British in their criticism of the Putera-AMCJA Constitution. These issues were ignored because the British could not oppose the demand for sovereignty of the people and the observance of fundamental liberties. Thus silence was the best weapon to use against the Putera-AMCJA Constitution on these issues. The Council of Races, which would have been vital in maintaining peace and harmony among the various ethnic groups in a fledgling nation state was ridiculed by the British as something that would undermine the Malay position.10

It was clear that the British were rattled by the sophistication and logic of the Peoples’ Constitution of Putera-AMCJA and were hard pressed to reply to it through an open intellectual debate. Thus the Peoples’ Constitution was not thoroughly discussed because the powers that be that controlled the mass media and had political power at their disposal made sure that this radical Constitution would never be explained rationally to the various communities in order to gauge whether it would be acceptable to all.

At the same time it must be realized that the British had just gone through the arduous process of negotiating with the traditional rulers and the Malay elite within Umno and the parties concerned had accepted the Federation of Malaya Agreement as the replacement for the Malayan Union and it was unlikely that the British would open negotiations all over again with groups determined to undermine British political supremacy that was guaranteed in the Federation of Malaya Agreement.

The AMCJA-Putera coalition was also under police surveillance and every attempt was made by the British to reduce its influence and to weaken it. Several organizations classified as left-wing were proscribed and their leaders arrested and detained. Boestamam himself was arrested and put on trial for sedition. The Angkatan Pemuda Insaf was proscribed by Gent.

Burhanuddin Al-Helmi and Ishak Haji Muhammad were also detained by the British. It was clear that the Putera-AMCJA attempt to forge a working partnership would be opposed not just by the British but also by Umno which saw its attempt to make Melayu a nationality a serious threat to a party which thrived on the politics of ethnicity.

Umno campaigned vigorously against the Constitution that was drafted by the Putera-AMCJA using the arguments that it would undermine Malay interests. The idea of Melayu as nationality was a serious threat to Umno’s existence if it gained widespread support among the Malays. For Onn Jaafar who led Umno at that point in time, the only way to destroy that idea was to see it as a threat to the Malays. Onn attacked the idea of Melayu as a nationality mercilessly. He was quoted as having said that

“one matter which has been brought up by them from the beginning has involved an attempt to destroy the name Melayu, that is change the term Melayu and every custom of the Melayu… We have been renowned for hundreds of years as Melayu. In the past, every person wanted to become Melayu (masuk Melayu), but now we are asked to enroll or be enrolled as Melayu.” 11

Malay elite wanted non-Malays excluded

It is clear that Onn wanted the term Melayu to be exclusive. It was totally unacceptable that this term should be used to denote a nationality. To the Malay elite who were leading Umno at that point in time, the boundaries of the Malay community were impenetrable; non-Malays were excluded in no uncertain terms. But the door was open for the non-Malays to become Melayu (masuk Melayu) but only on the established terms of religious as well as cultural conversion.

For the non-Malays, acceptance on such terms was seen as too high a price to pay to gain acceptance by the Malay elite. Since attempts to promote Melayu as a nationality was seen and presented as a threat to the existence of the Malay community at a time when that community felt itself under siege, this noble endeavour to promote unity and integration in a fledgling nation-state was doomed to failure. While it is all too easy to apportion blame to certain individuals for the failure in laying the foundations of a truly integrated nation state, it must be realized that many factors were way beyond the control of these individuals and they themselves were victims of the situation which they could not alter.

Onn Jaafar himself realized the futility of a narrow-minded ethnic approach to nationalism and the obstacles it posed in demanding Merdeka from the British who used the reasoning that unless there was unity among the various ethnic communities the prospect for Merdeka was rather dim.

In 1951 Dato Onn made the brave proposal that Umno should be transformed into a Malayan nationalist movement and that it should be known as the United Malayan National Organization and it should demand independence from the British. But his proposal was rejected by Umno and tragically he himself was denounced as having committed derhaka (treason) to the bangsa Melayu.12 For Onn it was a bitter irony because after having fought so hard to preserve the bangsa Melayu, he was now accused of having betrayed his own people and had to leave Umno in disgrace.

His successor Tunku Abdul Rahman gauged the mood of the Malays well. In his speech after having been chosen to succeed Onn, he argued that

“With regard to suggestions from some of our people that independence should be given to ‘Malayan’, the question is who are these ‘Malayans’? This country was received from the Malays, therefore it should be given back to the Malays.” 13

According to the Tunku, Merdeka would be obtained for the bangsa Melayu. However, like Onn, he too would see the folly of such a pronouncement when it became obvious that independence would be a pipe dream unless there was unity among the various ethnic groups.

Unlike Onn he was shrewd enough to enter into a bargain with the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and later on with the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) whereby the ethnic identities of the political parties would be maintained but they would cooperate together in order to acquire a common objective i.e. Merdeka.

This Faustian bargain is still the basis on which mainstream political competition is carried out today. But as the pre-Independence political history indicates, the struggle for an alternative politics remains very much alive.

Part 1 appeared yesterday.

Ariffin S.M. Omar is assoc. prof. in International Studies at UUM. He is a founding member and former president of Aliran. He has published Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concepts of Democracy and Community 1945-50 (Oxford University Press, 1993) and edited a volume on The Bumiputra Policy: Dynamics and Dilemmas (USM Press, 2005). His essay ‘The struggle for ethnic unity in Malaya after the Second World War’ is published in the book Multiethnic Malaysia — Past Present and Future (2009).


[1] Refer to Pusat Tenaga Rakyat, The Peoples’ Constitutional Proposals for Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Ta Chong Press, November 1947, pp. 46-47.

[2] Ibid. pp. 11-18.

[3] Ibid., p. 20

[4] This was a far cry from the Umno view that the Malays needed to be protected and nurtured as they could not stand on their own two feet and face competition from other ethnic groups. Umno never realized that Malay backwardness was not due to any genetic or inherent weakness within the Malay characteristics but came about as a result of the rapacious behavior of the traditional rulers as pointed out by Munshi Abdullah and the negative effects of British colonial rule that deliberately neglected Malay welfare.

[5] Undoubtedly, this Council of Races would have been able to look into the problems of Malay backwardness and recommend the necessary remedial measures that should be taken to lift the Malay community from the clutches of poverty that had afflicted them as a result of their feudal political system and the neglect of British colonial rule.

[6] The British either failed to realize or pretended that they did not know that under their Malayan Union scheme, a Malayan nationality would be imposed upon Malays, Chinese and Indians.

[7] Refer to Sir Edward Gent’s letter to H.T. Bourdillion dated 4th. October, 1947. Enclosed with this letter are notes written by Linehan concerning the Peoples’ Constitution of Putera-AMCJA.

[8] Linehan conveniently ignores the fact that Melayu nationality effectively eliminates dual citizenship.

[9] Linehan and other British officials including Edward Gent should have realized that under the liberal citizenship proposals of the Malayan Union, those same blackmailers, gang robbers, murderers and other criminals would also become citizens and even assume Malayan nationality.

[10] Refer to Linehan’s comments as enclosed by Gent in his letter to H.T. Bourdillion dated 4th. October 1947. Linehan makes the claim that the Malays would be outvoted and played out in the Council of Races whose existence is will be limited to nine years and after which the Malays would be left high and dry.

[11] Utusan Melayu, 4 September 1947.

[12] See Onn’s speech in Ibrahim Mahmood, Sejarah Perjuangan Bangsa Melayu, Kuala Lumpur: Pustaka Antara, 1951, p.304.

[13] Ibid., p.314.
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Steve Oh - Purge racist policies that divide the nation |2009-12-29
Looking back at the past makes us wiser. But looking into the future is more crucial. And acting for the present and future is the critical challenge.

Whatever took place in the past is largely irrelevant after the formation of Malaysia in 1963 which one would have thought defined the new nation with new ground rules.

Nationhood regardless of academic definitions means all are equal under the same law. And what took place before becomes purely academic.

That special privileges were accorded the Malays should not be misunderstood as creating the permanent schism between Malays and non-Malays.

In some future age when the national conscience is mature it may have to re-visit some of these old grounds which were prepared under different circumstances because they cannot sit comfortably with a conscience decided by our contemporary values and sense of justice.

Sadly religion failed to play a role in guiding the people to make equitable decisions. Today at least we hear of PAS talking about equality and fairness and doing away with race-based policies such as the NEP, from a religious purview.

In building a nation everyone has to give and take and no one should feel he or she has more claims than the next person,because nationhood levels the playing field for all, and grants them equal rights and opportunities, at least from a legal and constitutional standpoint.

Building a nation is both a historic moment and process.

It is looking forward and not backward that makes a new nation promising.Why should a child be born today be made to feel less than a citizen because of his or her race?

It is the failure of successive administrations to fully explain the concept of nationhood and establish fair and sound policies to achieve those unifying goals as a nation that has resulted in the fragmentation and confusion.

While many blame the wasted 22 years the problem began before then and continues until today. It is the collective fault of the politicians and the citizens who condone their flawed ideas.

The dilemma is plain to see because of the insidious duplicitious double agendas of the politicians who are happy to see a divided nation despite the charade at national unity, so that they can pursue their own selfish ambitions.

Ultimately the Malays have got to see far ahead to realise that without the Chinese and Indian to power the economic engine, the economy will stall.

In future when the population of the non-Malays have dwindled significantly it will be Malays battling Malays and unless you rid the nation of the inherent unhealthy ideas and systemmic flaws, you will always have a retarded society.

And history has proof people of the same race can be cantankerous and belligerent toward one another,when material interests are involved.

It is time to grow up.

But until there are Malaysians who do not succumb to their temporal desires and act corruptly and devote themselves to building their nation for all, there is no hope of a bright future and 50 years down the road people will still be complaining about the same things.

The writer has confirmed what every historian has noted, that selfish interests and prejudice dictated the ideas and actions of those involved and until we see a radical change in the mindset toward a genuine concern for one another regardless of race or relgion among the political leadership, it is futile to talk of Malaysia as a cohesive nation.

Unless the irregularities are removed and race-based policies and practices are purged from the administration, Malaysia will remain a nation divided not only by its history but the situation today despite the hype of 1Malaysia.
lone - THE MALAYSIAN RACE. |2009-12-29
After the creation of Malaysia with the help of non malays projecting Malaya has multi racial, race and religion should not be overemphasized.One bad policy is using religion on MYCAD.If the kadazans & dayak bumiputra can accept the non malays on equal term why not the malays.Does the east malaysian bumiputras are inferior to malay bumiputras because they are largely Christians.If malaysia were to survive economically and look after the intreast of the rakyat and the monarchy system than we should think every citizen as equal irrespective of RELIGION and ethnic.Having two set of laws like the syariah law for the muslims and civil law for the non- muslims is not going to unite the Malaysians.We should go back to the 1957 and 1963 agreement where only civil law is supreme.Syariah law is only used for marriage,divorce and division of property among muslims.With the ammendment 121(1a) everything has changed now.More non malays will sent their children to national schools and racial intergration can be achieved if the goverment of the day can allow intermarriages without setting precondition that conversion is compulsory when non muslims are concern.Just look at indonesia and singapore.They are extremist group in ever country and don't bow to their demands.


Struggle for ethnic unity in Malaya after WWII (Pt 1) Print E-mail
Written by Ariffin Omar
Monday, 28 December 2009 19:27

British duplicity and collusion of the Malay elite contributed to keeping the various communities apart and made the struggle for a united nation state post-Malayan Union a distant dream.

In our study of Malaysian history we are always told that the best approach for achieving unity in this plural society is the Barisan Nasional way. In other words only by having race based parties that are able to come to some degree of understanding and cooperation can we achieve a fragile unity and some measure of peace in this country. However such a view is indeed erroneous because there were attempts to achieve a meaningful unity among the various ethnic communities based on shared common values and willingness to give and take. These attempts were not successful because of political and social factors that were not conducive towards establishing a genuine unity in Malaya.

In order to understand why we are trapped in the maze of ethnic and racial politics today, we must examine the past to see what went wrong.

To begin our discussion we will start with the Malayan Union. The Malayan Union was introduced by the British immediately after the end of the Second World War. In order to implement their plan, the British had to obtain the agreement of the traditional rulers in the Malay states. The aim of the Malayan Union was to integrate the large Chinese community and the smaller Indian one into a Malayan polity with a sense of ‘Malayaness’.

The British also wanted to do away with the cumbersome pre-war administrative structures comprising 10 government units consisting of the Federated Malay States of Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang and the Unfederated Malay States of Johor, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Terengganu and the Straits Settlements comprising of Penang, Singapore and Malacca. The British wanted to integrate them into a single, centrally controlled state with Singapore as a separate entity. Finally, the long-term goal of the British was to lead Malaya to independence.

To carry out their plan it was necessary to reorganize citizenship qualifications whereby 83 per cent of the Chinese and 75 per cent of the Indians would qualify for citizenship under very liberal laws. The British also intended up open up the Civil Service – hitherto a British and Malay preserve – to all communities.1

The Malay sultans would forfeit their positions as heads of their respective states but retain authority only in Islam. In other words, the British wanted to create a new ‘nation state’ from scratch and Tanah Melayu and other symbols cherished by the Malays as well as the bangsa Melayu would cease to exist. The bangsa Melayu would be subsumed into a bangsa Malayan that would encompass the Malays, Chinese and Indians.

2.25 million Malays, 3 million Malayans

The British were well aware that the Malays refused to be categorized as Malayans since they saw that term as a British creation that served the interests of the colonial regime. It was even recorded that, “a Malay is a member of the Malay race; a Malayan is a person of any other origin who happens to live in Malaya. There are 2,250,000 Malays; and 3,050,000 Malayans.”2

Therefore, it was clear that this scheme would not be popular among the Malay sultans but the British felt that through blackmail and coercion they might succeed in their plans.3

Harold MacMichael, a senior colonial administrator, was dispatched to the Malay states as the British representative and through threats and intimidation he succeeded in obtaining the ‘consent’ of the Malay sultans to the formation of the Malayan Union.4 The British felt that if they could coerce the sultans into accepting their Malayan Union scheme, the Malay rakyat would fall in line and accept their rulers’ abject surrender to the British scheme.

However, the British underestimated the opposition of the Malay masses to the Malayan Union scheme. When the Malays saw how utterly powerless the sultans were in protecting their status, rights and privileges as well as maintaining their identity as a bangsa, they reacted swiftly by re-establishing their pre-war state associations and opposed both the British and their sultans for signing away the sovereignty of the Malay states and agreeing to the Malayan Union Agreement whereby the Malay states effectively became colonies of Great Britain.

In introducing the Malayan Union, the British had sowed the seeds of enmity and distrust between the Malays and the non-Malays in the Malay states. Thus any attempt at rapprochement between the various ethnic groups was now impossible. Before the war, the so called ‘pro-Malay’ policy of the British has alienated the non-Malays because it was seen to favour and benefit the Malays at the expense of the non-Malays. But after the war, the Malayan Union had alienated the Malays by abolishing their rights and giving unrestricted citizenship rights to non-Malays. Thus British policies in the Malay states had always kept the various communities apart in a country which now had a plural society.5

Opposition to Malayan Union

The emergence of the various state associations such as Persatuan Melayu Selangor, Persatuan Melayu Perak and Persatuan Melayu Pahang meant that Malay ethnic-based associations were now taking centre stage and that it would be impossible to displace them. In addition, new association such as Perikatan Melayu Perak and Pemuda Melayu Kedah came into existence. The targets of their enmity were the British, the Malay sultans who had betrayed their rakyat and the non-Malays who were now seen as beneficiaries of the Malayan Union as they would soon be citizens enjoying the full rights of citizenship.

At the same time, the Malays – who saw themselves as the rightful owners of the Malay states – felt they would be marginalized and reduced to a minority community as well as relegated to the periphery of social, political and economic development.6

In the ongoing struggle waged by the Malay community against the Malayan Union, the sultans caved in first as they realized that without the support of their rakyat their positions as sultans would be meaningless. They disavowed the Malayan Union and joined the masses in opposing it.

While the British now faced the wrath of the Malays who were determined to bring down their scheme, the non-Malays suffered collateral damage as they were seen as a threat just because the British had planned to give them some political and social rights in addition to the economic advantages that they already had. The British had cynically roped the non-Malays into their scheme because they were useful pawns in the attempt to dilute Malay power. In addition, they wanted to ensure if the Malayan Union came to fruition, the non-Malays would always be beholden to the British for the favour done to them and that they would always support the British in checking any challenge by the Malays to British domination.7

However, the moment the British realized that Malay opposition to the Malayan Union was formidable and it posed a very serious challenge to their domination, they had second thoughts about their scheme.8 The British quickly abandoned the non-Malays in order to accommodate the demands of the Malay elite.

Since the sultans had failed to protect the Malay bangsa, the Malay masses now turned to the United Malays National Organization (Umno) which was formed in March 1946 under the brilliant leadership of Onn Jaafar to oppose the Malayan Union and the Malay sultans who signed the agreement. But after the sultans recanted and disavowed the Malayan Union they were out of the line of fire and Umno concentrated its energies on opposing the British and the non-Malays.9

To begin with, Umno was an ethno-centric organization composed of the various state organizations mentioned earlier. At the time of its inception, Umno had no idea or concept of nation, nationhood, nationalism or independence. It was not a nationalist party that was fighting to throw off the yoke of colonial rule as was the case in many other Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam or Burma. Umno was not fighting for independence but for continued protection of the Malays under continued British colonial rule for as long as necessary.10

If the British had not introduced the Malayan Union in 1946 but had carried on in the same manner as before the war, it was unlikely that Umno, a pan-Malayan Malay movement would have emerged since the Malay elite found little there was to quarrel about British rule. While there would still be the usual griping in the Malay press about the lack of social and economic progress of the Malays as was the case during the late 1920s and 1930s, precious little would be done to implement any meaningful policy that would bring about substantial changes within the Malay community because an educated and economically progressive Malay community would threaten the position of the Malay elite and their complacent relations with the British.

In hoping that the British would return to the status quo ante that existed before 1941, Umno was in effect perpetuating ethnic divisions where in theory Malay rights and privileges would be protected (at least in theory) while the non-Malays were seen and categorized as transients that would have no stake in the country and could be dispensed with as and when it was expedient to do so.11

Alternative: Federation of Malaya

However, it soon became clear that the status quo ante could no longer be maintained and that the British had to do away with the cumbersome pre-war administrative structure. In the political flux after the Second World War, there was no longer any possibility of reverting to the administrative system that existed in 1941. Thus we must examine critically what was the alternative to the Malayan Union and whether that alternative would promote ethnic integration among the various communities in Malaya and lead to the creation of a united nation state.

It should be noted that for the British what mattered most to them was that they would have able to bring the various Malay states as well as the settlements of Penang and Malacca under centralized control. This would serve their political and economic interests very well. British economic interests were substantial and a united Malaya would serve their interest considerably.

The Malayan Union ceased to exist in January 1948. When we examine the Federation of Malaya Agreement that replaced it, we can determine that it benefited three parties: \the British, the Malay rulers and the Malay elite within Umno.

Stockwell quoting from British sources notes that though the Malayan Union was withdrawn, the British succeeded on two counts in gaining what they really wanted. First, the MacMichael Treaties (though finally abrogated) gave the British immense advantages in the 1946-47 constitutional talks with the Malay elite. The latter had to agree to a federal form of closer union since the Malayan Union framework was the background for renegotiations as well as accepting a scheme of citizenship for the non-Malays.

Second and more important, the Federation of Malaya Agreement retained key elements from the Malayan Union though they survive in such a diluted form as to be unrecognizable.12

The Federation of Malaya Agreement of 1948 that replaced the Malayan Union did not create a nation state nor did it bring about unity amongst the various communities of Malaya’s plural society. It was not a Melayu nation nor was it a Malayan nation. It was just a political arrangement leading to the birth of a political entity.13 The mythical sovereignty of the sultans as well as the individuality of the states was maintained. Malay special privileges were upheld. However a strong central government with legislative powers was established under British control.14

Citizenship was made more restrictive because of Malay fears that the Chinese would overwhelm them numerically and also because there were doubts at that time as to the loyalty of the Chinese towards the Malay states.

But by no means can the Federation of Malay be considered a triumph for the Malays because sovereignty was not in their hands. There were no national symbols such as a national language, a flag or a national identity that would be accepted by all. The federal council was established and its members were nominated by the British. Even though the English name of the political entity that replaced the Malayan Union was known as the Federation of Malaya, legally it was named Persekutuan Tanah Melayu thus maintaining the illusion that the British conceded to the creation of a Melayu nation.

The fact that there were two contradictory descriptions of the same political entity replacing the Malayan Union emphasized even more the schism that existed between the Malays and non-Malays. For the Malays, Persekutuan Tanah Melayu meant that the country was a Malay country exclusive to the Malays while non-Malays saw it as a federation with a Malayan identity that embraced all the ethnic communities including the Malays.

Thus British duplicity as well as the collusion of the Malay elite contributed to keeping the various communities apart and made the struggle for a united nation state a distant dream. That the Malay elite at that point was not even prepared to accept the emergence of a nation state was very obvious in the fact that the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu bestowed citizenship but not nationality.15 The non-Malays were only given citizenship rights. They were not even referred to as Malayans in the final report. The term ‘Malayan’ thus had no legal status.

Part 2: The Putera-AMCJA counter proposal of a People’s Constitution was a missed opportunity for the term ‘Melayu’ – that would not have carried any religious or cultural connotations – to designate a nationality for the non-Malays.


Ariffin S.M. Omar is assoc. prof. in International Studies at UUM. He is a founding member and former president of Aliran. He has published Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concepts of Democracy and Community 1945-50 (Oxford University Press, 1993) and edited a volume on The Bumiputra Policy: Dynamics and Dilemmas (USM Press, 2005). His essay ‘The struggle for ethnic unity in Malaya after the Second World War’ is published in the book Multiethnic Malaysia — Past Present and Future (2009).


[1] K.J. Ratnam, Communalism and the Political Process in Malaya, Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1965, p.75.

[2] Michael Ardizzone, A Nation is Born, London, 1946, p.34.

[3] The British intended to bring up two issues to the Malay rulers in order to bring them to heel. One was the issue of collaboration with the Japanese Army and the other was confirmation by the British concerning their position as head of their states since some of these sultans had ascended their thrones during the Japanese Occupation and they needed to be confirmed as rulers by the British.

[4] There are several studies on the Malayan Union that could be read by those interested in obtaining more information. Among the better works are James de V. Allen, The Malayan Union, New Haven: Yale University, 1967; A. J. Stockwell, British Policy and Malay Politics during the Malayan Union Experiment, 1942-1948, Monograph No. 8, Kuala Lumpur: MBRAS.

[5] There was no official British plan to apply a policy of divide and rule in the Malay states. However, it cannot be denied that it was British economic policy that led to the entry of vast numbers of Chinese and Indians into the Malay states in the early 20th century to the point that the Malays became a minority in some Malay states.

[6] The Malay elite had always pointed out that they would not want to share the fate of the Native Americans who now live in reservations and who are completely marginalized from any social and economic development as well as being politically impotent.

[7] This view was expressed to me by several Chinese Malaysians who lived through that period and who are now in the mid 70s or early 80s. Some of them stated that they did not ask for the Malayan Union and that it was the British who had planned the whole thing without consulting any of the communities in Malaya.

[8] It was the Malayan Union Governor Edward Gent who recommended that the Malayan Union be scrapped and replaced by another political arrangement that would accommodate Malay demands.

[9] While the Sultan of Kedah and Perak objected to the Malayan Union and were forced to sign, there were others who signed because they were merely thinking of their own self-interests or because they had just ascended their thrones and needed British confirmation to remain as sultans. The sultans were aware of the fate of Sultan Ali of Terengganu who was dethroned by the British and the fate that befell Syed Hamzah of Perlis who discreetly stepped down to avoid problems.

[10] Umno was willing to put its faith in the British pledges made before the war and in past treaties that they would safeguard Malay interests even though the British hardly did anything to uplift and develop the Malays economically and socially. The fear of the non-Malays was so overwhelming that for Umno continued colonial rule was preferable to any attempt to work with the non-Malays to wrest independence from the British.

[11] See Mohamad Noordin Sopiee, From Malayan Union to Singapore Separation: Political Unification in the Malaysia Region, 1945- 1965, Kuala Lumpur: Penerbit Universiti Malaya, 1974, p. 26. see also Utusan Melayu, 15 March 1946 where point 6 of the protest cable sent to England specifically called for a return to the pre-1941 situation; and also ‘Umno – Its Aims and Objects’, in Malay League of Perak, Hidup Melayu, p. 12 where it was stated that the Malay Congress ‘urges H.M.’s Government to withdraw the aforesaid proposal immediately and restore the status quo with no change whatever for the present.’

[12] A.J Stockwell, British policy and Malay Politics, 1942-1948, p.166.

[13] The political scientist K.J. Ratnam puts it neatly when he states that “to sum up, it appears that the roots of the conflict lay in a single issue; were the British going to recognize the de facto position of the non-Malay communities who now claim to regard Malaya as their only home and hence considered themselves eligible for widely increased political rights, or were they going to continue recognizing Malaya as essentially a Malay country?”

[14] Many Malays now in their 70s and 80s who were either involved in the anti-Malayan Union dispute or who witnessed what took place are of the opinion that the Federation of Malaya Agreement was a modified Malayan Union whereby the British ended up with the substance of power and the Malays were left with the illusion of it.

[15] See Constitutional Proposals for Malaya: Report of the Working Committee Appointed by a Conference of His Excellency the Governor of the Malayan Union, the Highnesses the rulers of the Malay States and the Representatives of the United Malays National Organization, Kuala Lumpur: Government Printer, 1946, p.23.